The Male Perspective: My Own Empowerment Came Through Strong Women
Guest post on the strength of empowered women to empower men, by international development specialist, humanitarian and human rights activist, Gesù Antonio Báez
There’s a question that really bothers me that is unceasingly asked to ambitious women; how will you do it all?
The “all” implying she will be both mother, wife and career driven superstar which somehow seems not reasonable….to do it “all”.
I don’t get it.
I’ve rarely seen such a question presented to leading male professionals and I’m sure there are a plethora of them who juggle their careers in addition to their role as husbands and father. Yet society never asks this of men and by reiterating their question to women, we subconsciously indicate how we don’t expect women to become leaders and “Mavericks” in the boardroom.
Women are needed in leadership roles as it is vital in order to eliminate antiquated gender roles which society has tattooed on the general psyche of this generation.
We cause a great injustice to ourselves if we doubt and question the leadership capabilities of women, for it is in empowering women that we men have everything to gain; a different kind vision, creativity and a larger scope for professional partnership in the workplace.
My own empowerment came as a result of leading women. In the fifth grade, I struggled to write for fear of spelling mistakes and sounding stupid. My fifth grade teacher – Ms Trudy Amodeo – sat with me and told me, “don’t be afraid of what others say about how you write – let them talk about what you wrote.” She taught me to be the best I could be and thanks to her, not only did I eventually write well, but it became something I developed a strong passion for. My fifth grade teacher empowered me to no longer be fearful.
When I was working in my first professional job as a Latin American sales and marketing agent while still in university, the director of my department – an elegant and powerful English woman who always insisted on wearing pearls with her sweaters – gave me a book entitled “Secrets of Closing the Sale” by Zig Ziglar from out of the blue. I was puzzled; although I worked in sales, my heart was set in international relations and diplomacy with my boss knowing full well that once I received my bachelors, I would go out into the world to pursue my dreams. “You need to improve your selling points, Gesù!” She told me. I couldn’t see her point. “Janice, I hate sales” I told her frankly. She then took the pocket sized book from my hands and flipped to book to the first few pages. “People like people like themselves,” she read from it. “Does that sound like it applies just to sales?”, she enquired. I couldn’t see it then, but her words and that book became crucial to my own professional life, especially in how I interact currently with UN and NGO representatives, government officials and stake holders in my work with women’s health rights. In this gesture, my director empowered me to see outside the box and learn in order to better myself.
When I finally graduated with my degree, I did what every sensible young dreamer like me did – I moved to Paris. I moved to achieve my dream of working for a large international organisation, fighting to save the world and defend human rights. Alas, in the city of lights, I met much darkness; racism, criticism, poverty and vulnerability gathered around me like new friends wishing to play with the new kid at school – but with ill intent. Needing a job to pay the rent for a flat I shared in the 18th arrondissement, I took up work translating at the Gare du Nord rail station for a boutique catering to passengers whisking away to London on the Eurostar train.
On a particularly low day for me (having received the fiftieth job rejection in a month), I was dusting shelves when a lady – elegant and English just like my director – approached me to inquire about lavender, which the boutique I worked in sold in abundance. Luckily, I was a lavender fanatic and helped the lady (who’s name I discovered was Elizabeth) in selecting a bottle of eau de lavande to spray in her home. “It’ll turn London into Provence in no time!” I told her with a smile, to which she responded with a hearty laugh. Lavender discussions then turned into talks about me.
I told her of my dreams and of all that I hoped to achieve, my eyes beginning to shine as tears swelled in them while I remembered all of the rejections and criticism I was receiving. Elizabeth explained to me how she was a senior journalist with the BBC, specialising in the UN. “If you want to enter that world, be yourself and don’t give up” she told me. “Too many people try to be someone they’re not or forgot who they are once they reach success. Don’t ever change yourself for others – always be you.”
Twice for three weeks, Elizabeth visited me in my boutique at Gare du Nord, always encouraging me as before. “Don’t ever give up and always be you!” Elizabeth empowered me to realise that the biggest gift I could give to the world was simply being me and the key success was to be true to myself. In this, Elizabeth changed my life.
Years have passed now and I find myself in London, leading development programs in women’s health and rights while engaging with people I would’ve never dreamed to have met before, such as being in the presence of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in Berlin and both shaking hands and working with Graça Machel, wife of the late Nelson Mandela, at a WHO board meeting in London.
My own empowerment came through strong women who were empowered enough to share their strength with me. In denying leadership opportunities and not recognising or valuing strength in women, we crush our full potential as a human race.
Women are needed. Women are vital. Women are important. If anything, they are our true teachers in leadership and if they already have the titanic task of potentially becoming mothers and raising a future generation to take charge of this world, how can we possibly deny them from taking the reigns as leaders as all?