We are about to enter New Year, 2019. In a few days we will take a step in the future from the present. But there are certain incomplete tasks that we for one more time aim to achieve in the coming new year.
While listing the many global issues, women in leadership gained my most attention. On this particular weekend I was juggling the almost impossible task of being a working parent. In my case, work is being a leader of an organization which is even younger than my elder son, while also being a single mom and a pretty confused young woman struggling with issues of power and self-worth and voice.
I don’t know if you are like me, but I am representing the part of the world where a girl child is either killed in the name of honor or if manages to soar her wings is handled very differently in the name of culture, religion and above all man chauvinism. Becoming a corporate leader in Pakistan alone was an achievement but I’m constantly questioned by my inner self that have I made the difference? Whether it takes the form of leading in a relationship, or running a business entity, leadership is deciding what matters, what to prioritize, how to engage others, how to deal with conflict and to take a stand- sometimes unpopular one.
Let me remind you all of a well-known puzzle. A young boy is involved in a traffic accident, and is immediately rushed to the hospital for urgent surgery.
In the bustle and chaos of the hospital environment, the surgeon strides into the operating room. Think of a quintessential surgeon—brimming with confidence and authority, one who knows instinctively how to take charge. Yet this distinguished surgeon looks down at the boy and gasps, saying: “I can’t operate on this boy… it’s my son”.
Indeed, the boy is the surgeon’s son. Yet the surgeon is not the boy’s father. Who then? It is simple—the surgeon is a she, she is the boy’s mother.
But the irony is that plenty of educated people—even educated and erudite women—do not see this at first blush. They puzzle over it and circle around it; suggesting uncle, grandfather, stepfather—answers that really make little sense.
Unfortunately, this is the rub. When it comes to thinking about women in powerful positions, we are too often blinded by the daggers of the mind, infected by the malignant mind bugs that mire us in the prejudices of the past.
You know this. It is what you fight on a daily basis all over the world. It represents struggle as a woman leader in many organizations, where they could see important changes needed to be made, what would happen if we don’t make those changes. But no one listens; most of their ideas die behind the closed doors of meetings and occasionally they would resurface as someone else’s brilliant ideas and women just live with it.
It reminds us of Cassandra who was given the gift of prophecy by Apollo. When she refused to become his consort, he placed a curse on her whereby she would retain the power of foresight, but no one would believe her predictions. Women have been ignored, ridiculed, punished, even killed for their opinions forever. Cassandra’s tale is our tale, it is all of our tales, and we can change the way the story ends. But how? Stop whining. Are we going to be the doomed prophetess, or are we going to save our city? Accept the challenge to take the baton from Cassandra to find our own leadership voice and to speak with courage.
Let’s make sure we dedicate our work to an emotionally intelligent style of leadership; to the eradication of violence and greed in the name of progress; to the creation of policies that help women and men balance the needs of family, children, and work.
When women do well, society does better. A study of 60 developing countries estimated that the economic loss from not educating girls at the same level as boys amounted to $90 billion a year.
What holds women back is not competence, which they usually have; but confidence, which they often lack. While under-qualified and underprepared men leap forward, overqualified and over-prepared women hide in the shadows, doubting their abilities, holding themselves to an impossible standard of perfection.
I once read that ” The tight muscle called the cervix had to stretch from this o to this O. When something needs to stretch that much, it causes a lot of pain. If we fight that pain, if we react in fear, if we lose faith, we cause more friction and we slow everything down. We hinder the new life from being born. It’s not easy to relax into pain and to trust change and chaos. It’s natural to become frightened, to doubt oneself, to lash out, to give up. But women have risen to the occasion billions of times. We have created, nurtured, and sustained life against all odds
and all sorts of struggles. If we can deliver new life, we can deliver a new story of leadership.”
However, each of us has the strength of will and of character to face the challenges ahead and overcome them. And so let us launch a new year, with its many trials and opportunities. I know that we can achieve anything that we put our minds to, individually and together as women leaders. I am certain that this coming year will only bring greater glory to women in leadership roles across the globe.