The global UN Women theme for International Women's Day (IWD) 2021 is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”. This theme celebrates the tremendous efforts of women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future.
With this theme in mind, we sat down with Water Papua New Guinea's Country Directors Jenny Mori and Navara Kiene, to discuss women in leadership with these two inspiring leading women.
This year’s theme is Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world. As a woman in leadership, why do you think women at every level of leadership is an important issue for gender equality?
Jenny: Women in every level of leadership is an important issue for gender equality because women feel, act, see and do things differently. For example, women as leaders when making the decision on the construction of ablution blocks in schools will give more insights such as where the incinerator will be located, girls shower and bathroom locations, where the boy's access will be located etc. Women leaders can make more insightful decision on design because they know how girls feel and act when they have their menstruation.
Navara: Leadership ultimately involves decision-making and strategic direction and I think you need women to be making decisions and providing guidance at all levels because we provide a different lens to things that men don’t necessarily have. Usually, I think this is one of empathy and emotion. You need balanced input from both men and women for the most effective results. Women would also be more likely to understand and consider the needs of other women, more than men would, so we need that representation in leadership.
I feel the biggest point of empowerment for me is the WaterAid leadership’s confidence in me to take on the leadership role and theirs, and my fellow PNG team’s, confidence and support of women in leadership - Navara
Could you share what makes you feel empowered as a leader in your career and at WaterAid? What have been the barriers and the enablers for your leadership?
Navara: I feel the biggest point of empowerment for me is the WaterAid leadership’s confidence in me to take on the leadership role and theirs, and my fellow PNG team’s, confidence and support of women in leadership. This has been really empowering for me and an enabler for me to take on this leadership role. I think it has also helped that I have been able to take this leadership journey with Jenny, who I look up to as a longer-serving member of the team and also Rachel, who was encouraging me to take on the leadership role as soon as I had started. It's been great to work with fellow PNG women who are role models to me.
Jenny: I am empowered as a leader at WaterAid because of the openness to express myself, which has made me gain more confidence and exposure. Also, WaterAid provided areas for me to develop my leadership skills. I don’t see this as a barrier, but it’s a learning area for me on public speaking and speaking to an audience where I am not familiar. There are a lot of enablers for my leadership at WaterAid, firstly WaterAid's values, leadership from CE down, always providing leadership guidance. Free working environment, expressing an opinion and discussing constructively.
I think COVID-19 has really changed the context of women in leadership roles, more women have stepped up during the time of this pandemic. - Jenny
I have never seen myself as a female manager or leader, just as a leader - Navara
As women in leadership, what insights into barriers and enablers, highs and lows can you offer from your perspective and how do you think COVID-19 has changed the context for women in leadership roles?
Jenny: As a woman in a leadership role, one of the insights I would give as a barrier is to have an understanding of the culture/background and history of your leadership role and where you are working. I think COVID-19 has really changed the context of women in leadership roles, more women have stepped up during the time of this pandemic due to changes in structures in various organisations and companies. Women have been part of the decision making on how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect organisation and employees families and their wellbeing. Women have been part of the decision making on the “Business Continuity Plan” during this pandemic period and have taken organisations/companies through with success and also some areas to learn and continue making changes.
Navara: The biggest insight out of COVID has been the emergence of more women leading and emerging as leaders and I think this has been because of women’s inherent resilience and emotional strength that is so useful during emergencies such as pandemics. An insight from me would be that barriers are only there if you put them there. While I am fully aware that especially PNG has significant cultural and social barriers that disadvantage women, in many areas including the workforce, politics and leadership, I think it will affect you more only if you dwell on it. The change needs to start from the individuals ignoring or overlooking those barriers. I have never seen myself as a female manager or leader just as a leader. When I work or deal with male colleagues or partners, I just see us as counterparts, not as female and male. I think you need to have a mindset free of inequalities to think, behave and also demonstrate and inspire others that we are in fact equal and should never feel inferior or unequal.
What advice or encouragement do you have for the girls and women who will be future leaders of Oceania?
Jenny: Have a vision of where you want to be in your career taking into account what’s around you/people you are working with and the organisation/company you are working in.
Navara: Referring back to my previous response, I would advise women and girls that the biggest barrier is you and your mindset. Inequality and barriers will only exist where you allow them to. Don’t have a gendered lens where you are ‘female’ working in a particular field or you are dealing with ‘male’ counterparts. Ultimately you are a strong capable ‘person’ that can do whatever you want to do and become whatever you want to become.