Amujae Leader Yawa Hansen-Quao has described how the support of her family and network helped give her the confidence to ignore other people’s disapproval.
In a recent episode of the Brandbuilder Africa podcast, Ms. Hansen-Quao recalled how, as a young Ghanaian girl growing up in the United States, she was teased at school. When she was at university in Ghana, she worried about people’s opinions of her ambition. When confronting these obstacles, she remembered her father’s advice:
“First, you must never let laughter stop you… People will always have opinions of what you do and who you are, but you can’t let their opinions and their laughter stop you… Second, don’t let people steal your voice. Your voice is your power.”
Now Executive Director of Emerging Public Leaders, she has realized:
“You cannot be your best self by yourself. None of us was created to be an island. You need those circles: who’s behind you, who’s with you, who’s ahead of you. You need to seek out mentors, coaches, and counsellors, and don’t be afraid to invest in yourself.”
Once she learned to accept and nurture her ambition, she was able to make peace with the underlying fear that people would judge her for it. At university, she became the first woman in Ghana to become president of a university student council association.
“I saw a platform that I felt I could lead, and I went with everything that I had… I had been on this journey to stop being afraid of the things I was innately attracted to.”
Ms. Hansen-Quao said she would not have been able to overcome the fear of her own ambition without a support network, which is why she says she is always looking to bring other women along with her.
“For a lot of women, as we advance in leadership, we become so isolated and there’s no one to bounce anything off… No matter how rough the journey is, if you’re building your relationships with people behind you, with you, and ahead of you, then you’re not isolating yourself and you’ll have enough people around you to give you what you need.”
Speaking about women’s leadership in Africa, Ms. Hansen-Quao said that she believed “it does take a different set of skills” to navigate the cultural and societal barriers unique to the continent. When asked if she thinks Africa is ready for more women leaders, Ms. Hansen-Quao said:
“I’m not sure that any continent feels ready for women that are fearless. I’m not sure that we need people to be ready. I think that you show up. The more fearless women that emerge, the more we normalize ourselves.”
You can listen to the full podcast here.