This is a guest post written by Lamia Bazir
Last September, I spoke on the theme of “Women and Leadership” at the 3rd Annual Leadership Conference organized by the Leadership Development Institute in Morocco. This event mattered to me as I felt honored to see that my trajectory inspired young students and activists. I also felt the responsibility to share my own struggles and learnings, as it is not always easy for women to become leaders.
For me, leadership development is not a shallow process. I explained that “the goal of leadership is to excel, reach full potential, inspire and push other people up. Do not summarize it into a pursuit of positions or titles.” I believe leadership goes beyond being in a position of power in the economic, social or political fields, but that it entails the ability to inspire, mobilize and lead others towards positive action.
Then, I analyzed how despite some progress, women still face a glass ceiling as few women are at the top of many professions worldwide. On the one hand, the structure itself can create obstacles to women’s advancement. For instance, legislation does not always provide equal rights for women and consequently excludes them from certain services, power circles and even professions. Unequal access to education can prevent women from building the capacity and the skills to increase their options and enable them to advance.
Even in some countries where both legislation and education have been improved for women, the job market is not adapted to women’s needs and lifestyles as it is often fashioned as if all women were single men. Work requirements, hours and modalities often don't take into account women’s life cycles (such as childbearing and rearing) and have to gain in flexibility in order to enable effectiveness, persistence, and productivity for female workers.
On the other hand, I shed light on the soft limitations for women, embodied in what I call “social and cultural inhibitors”. This includes gender stereotypes that create pressure and expectations limiting women’s choices and confining their behavior. This also translates in some attitudes towards female education and career that do not encourage leadership and promotion.
Consequently, I recommended:
1) the integration of leadership modules in school curricula to encourage women to develop both the skills and the will to pursue leadership and executive vocations
2) the showcasing and celebration of female role models.
Finally, I explained that the reason I have been successful so far is that I developed personal knowledge and strength. Leadership skills are insufficient without a strong personal project. Both women and men are subject to external pressure and inner doubts that can lead them to lower ambition and lose leadership assets unless they have built the capacity to resist, thanks to a strong faith in their assets and aspirations. Therefore, I advised students attending the conference to work on themselves, now!