EJS Center Board Member Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and former Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, spoke candidly about the travails of being a woman in a top leadership position. Interviewed by Dr. Rosie Campbell, Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, for a special episode of A Podcast of One’s Own to coincide with International Women’s Day, they shared some of the experiences that inspired them to join forces to write “Women and Leadership: Real Lives, Real Lessons.”
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, who recently became the first woman and African to be selected as Director-General of the World Trade Organization, said:
“As a woman leader… the first female Finance Minister of Nigeria, the first female Foreign Minister —it’s a tough job… You do experience several gendered moments… I was looking at my experience over my life, and through these roles, and wondering, do other women go through this? I wanted to put out something that other women could look at, that would make them see that they’re not alone, that other women leaders have the same experiences… Even when you’re in the top leadership position, there can still be self doubt, you can still encounter problems.”
Ms. Gillard stressed the importance of creating supportive networks and environments in which women can learn from each other and raise one another up.
Dr. Okonjo-Iweala emphasized that women of color often deal not only with sexism, but racism as well:
“Women of color feel it even more… I hope women of color will read this book and they’ll see some of themselves in every lesson. They’ll also know that if you’re a woman of color, you’ve got people like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Joyce Banda, you’ve got myself—you can get through it.”
Describing what is referred to in their book as “the politics of scarcity,” Ms. Gillard explained why the narrative of women being pitted against one another persists:
“Women have been coming from the outside into what historically have been male institutions, whether that’s parliaments or companies or the news media… It can be easy for women to get into their heads that, ‘If I want to be in that room, if I want to get that promotion, then the best way of doing that is to take the place of one of the current women who’s there,’ rather than looking at the whole structure… let’s not pit women against women, let’s actually bust this open so that half the spots are for women.”
The book features personal stories from some of the world’s most accomplished women leaders, including former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Amujae Coach and former President of Malawi Dr. Joyce Banda. Through conversations with these women, the authors explore gender bias and try to answer the question of why there are not more women in leadership positions.
You can listen to the episode of A Podcast of One’s Own here.