By Lindsey Stanberry | Refinery29 | 8 March 2017
In 2017, everywhere we turn, we are presented with the undeniable power of women — at protests, town halls, and political events across the country. Despite so many differences — age, race, socioeconomic background — we have united around a common cause. And no one can slow us down.
Today, on International Women’s Day, we celebrate the power of women by featuring 12 female leaders from around the world.
Women Deliver, a leading global advocate for the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women, asked these celebrated change-makers what it takes to be a woman in leadership. They were generous with insightful advice for the next generation of women leaders.
From the former Second Lady of the United States to the Senegalese Minister of Health, these 12 women prove that you should never underestimate the power of women.
"There’s a favorite quote of mine from Eleanor Roosevelt which reads, 'One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.' While many of us have believed passionately in women leaders for many years, now is a time for action. My advice to budding female leaders would be: Believe in yourself and your potential. I believe that being confident in my abilities and what I have to offer is the single most important reason I have been successful in my career."
– Lauren Moore, Johnson & Johnson
"Keep the vision of why you want to lead and not least what you want to lead towards. And keep articulating the vision for the work to your staff and partners. That is what makes the difference between a manager and a leader. Make sure that you really want to go that extra mile to become a leader. It takes hard work, time, tenacity, and sometimes trade-offs and compromises with personal life. Ask not first, how can I do this or that?, but who can I do it with? Networking, alliance building, and daring to hire people who are better than you, is what is going to get the job done well — and help you rise to and in the C-Suite."
– Katja Iversen, Women Deliver
"My mom, who was only able to go to school for six years because she had to help out on the family farm, taught me that nothing is impossible, as long as you use your talents to the max and are willing to work hard and long hours. That gave me the self-confidence that every girl and every woman needs to get to where she wants to be. So here's my advice: Trust your own talents, work hard, enjoy the journey, and don't forget to celebrate your successes!"
— Lilianne Ploumen, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in The Netherlands
"First, you have to be very honest and ask yourself, what do I really want? Say it out loud to yourself, write it down and stay true to it. Then, seek out mentors and sponsors to help you achieve your goals. They are not the same. A mentor will coach you on how to flourish professionally – and often personally. A sponsor advocates for you and your advancement. Both are critical. It’s also critical you give back. A true leader takes the time to coach and advocate for others. We have to support each other! And finally, work hard and seek out incredible experiences – don’t be afraid to take a step back to learn from an experience that will help your career path. Be generous with yourself, investing in experiences that help you grow and feed your passion. Not every step needs to be 'up' to build your career."
– Beatriz Perez, Coca-Cola
"As the leader of a political party, I learnt quickly that – despite being the most experienced in the room – I had the double jeopardy of being the youngest and a woman. Older men made quite clear that was an unacceptable arrangement. But I stayed true to my beliefs and principles. I also learnt that appeasement doesn’t work. Numbers do. And we need more women! My advice to women – regardless of age or background – is that our experiences are worthy and legitimate, regardless of how long we have been alive or what we have done. Our diversity and difference deserves to be reflected and represented. I also strongly advise you to have support networks: politics is a hard profession to pursue alone. Like-minded friends and allies are important, not only to support you when things are tough, but to ensure your views are tested and challenged, to make sure you are representing people and their ideas as well as your own. We cannot expect women to be homogenous; in fact, we should hope our different views are represented. But I do expect women to support each other in an environment where they are outnumbered. Gender equality is arguably the greatest human rights challenge of our time: we need you in politics to ensure we achieve it."
– Natasha Stott Despoja, Former Senator, Australia
"I encourage young women to engage in leadership roles or seek political office. Although these positions can be challenging because of gender inequality, cultural context, age, responsibilities linked to the position, social constraints, and more, it is important that women – particularly young women – make their voices heard to ensure that their communities have better lives.
"No matter how difficult the road gets, you should never give up. I have five key pieces of advice for women who are seeking leadership positions:
1. Have a clear set of values, goals to reach, and changes you wish to make (your vision)
2. Do not follow people but rather follow your dreams and believe in the positive changes you want to make
3. Remember that the decisions you make impact other people’s lives
4. Be self-confident and motivated – this is crucial
5. Be yourself!"
– Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Former Minister of Health for the Republic of Senegal
“All too often, women are told they can’t — that they’re not good enough or they don’t belong. My message is — yes, you can. I was raised by my mother and grandmother — two strong women who taught me that no woman should be held back from realizing her dreams just because she is a woman. One crucial thing that can make a huge difference is having a mentor. My foundationsupports women in developing and emerging economies to grow successful businesses — as part of this we run an online mentoring program which connects women entrepreneurs with men and women mentors from across the world. We know that having the support of a mentor can boost your confidence, expand your capabilities, and open the door to new opportunities. I firmly believe that any woman can rise to success, as long as she has access to the skills and tools she needs to realize her full potential.”
— Cherie Blair, U.K.
"My advice to young women seeking political office is to go for it! Hone your sense of purpose and embrace the opportunity to change the course of your nation. It will be challenging and it will require resilience, but if you stay true to your purpose, the opportunity to shape your country will absolutely be worth it."
– Julia Gillard, Former Prime Minister of Australia
"I was privileged to lead my country, New Zealand, as Prime Minister for nine years. The route to that was long and arduous, and there were many setbacks along the way. My advice to younger women setting out on the path to leadership is to be prepared to play a long game. No one will lay out a red carpet for any of us. We have to build the networks and alliances necessary to reach the top."
– Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand
"It was one of my greatest honors to serve our country. But I knew at the time that, if I wanted to stay true to myself, I had to keep teaching. Because teaching is not just what I do; it’s who I am. As a lifelong educator, I couldn’t leave that behind. I couldn’t just move to Washington and only live Joe’s life. So, ever since then, I’ve pretty much been living a double life.
"For the last eight years, I taught community college while also fighting for the issues that matter very much to me, including supporting military families, bringing attention to community colleges, and highlighting girls’ education around the world. I wanted to embrace the platform given to me in my role as second lady.
"You see, it really all begins with trying to know as much about yourself as possible. What do you care about? What will you fight for? Then, give it your whole heart. Through your strength and perseverance, you will succeed."
— Dr. Jill Biden, Former Second Lady of the United States
"Assuming a political office is to embark on a journey of public service, working for and with the people you will serve, not dominating them. It is about being decisive. It’s leading and following at the same time."
– Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women
"Know your 'true north' — the values and goals that motivate you to your position — and advocate for them consistently and relentlessly. Nurture your allies — those who share your true north and who want you to succeed. Let them help and support you. Before you can change something, you must first understand it. Listen to learn, not to reply. You won't learn much while you're talking."
– Moya Dodd, FIFA