What a distinct privilege to have attended the “10×6 Women: Leaders’ Role Models” seminar earlier this week. The program was creatively formatted for ten gifted women to speak on an inspiring idea for six minutes. The packed audience heard an amazing group of female leaders – true role models. I was incredibly inspired by their stories of their own struggle and success.
It was an elevating experience for me personally, after which I reminisced about those leaders that helped me overcome hurdles in my own career path. It always seems to come back to the people who laid the groundwork before us – the role models in our lives. Women and men who have inspired, guided and supported aspiring female leaders in the lifelong process of fulfilling their purpose and forging their own path.
Inspiring Role Models
For example, consider Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Luxembourg, Fleur Thomas. She had a humble upbringing, but strong female role models around her. Her simple aspiration was to be a librarian, yet her grandmother’s strong work ethic compelled her to pursue ever challenging work.
Ambassador Thomas encountered the same struggles that many women face while navigating their way in a male dominated workplace. But she quickly learned that when resistance becomes too great, she needed to pivot. She needn’t stay on a career path that would limit her progression.
Be a Model to Others
She became an air stewardess, then moved into the Department of Defense – once again, experiencing a male dominated workplace. But each new experience was readying her to deal with those obstacles that previously had circumvented her pursuits.
Recalling her grandmother’s ethic of hard work, Ambassador Thomas determined to pursue higher positions and more responsibility. She remained true to herself during the process. “If you don’t’ have role models in your organization, be one.”
Stacy Cummings, recently appointed to NATO in Luxembourg, became the highest ranking woman in the organization ever. As she shared a photo of all of the previous heads of NATO Support and Procurement (all male), Stacy emphasized that “representation matters”. When women see other women leading successfully, it encourages other women.
“How do we increase participation of women in leadership?” It requires encouragement and mentorship. Be surrounded by people who can help develop skills. Over the years Stacy gradually pursued more access to women leaders. Having access changed her perspective and opened doors. “No one cares more about your career than you do.”
Daring Ourselves to Succeed
One of the ten speakers, Gabriela Nguyen-Groza, took a different tactic in her six minutes. She described what she calls the “Shitty Committee”. Those negative thoughts and doubts that gather. The misgivings in our minds which hold us back from pursuing, much less succeeding, in career and life.
The “Shitty Committee” stunts the growth of careers even amongst women with experience and a proven track record of success. Unfortunately, we tend to put obstacles in our own way; we listen to the “committee” telling us why we can’t make it.
Gabriela concludes that our female role models should be women who perceive no limitations. Women who take their careers and lives into their own hands. Gabriela concludes that “leadership is about not having limits…but daring to succeed.”
Common to all of the speakers was an underlying theme – that anyone who dares to pursue success, whether in career or in life, will have to walk into unfamiliar territory, fraught with obstacles, sometimes hostile to your ambitions and often working against you.
However, those who tend to succeed share common attributes: they have strong role models; they reach out to reliable women for support; they seek out mentors and they don’t allow their own self-doubt derail their pursuits.
A special thanks to Paperjam + Delano Club here in Luxembourg, who organized this and other leadership series. The 10×6 is a format that truly delivers, as it takes a grander idea (e.g., “who inspired you to lead?”) and creates a forum for diverse perspectives. Keep up the good work of helping to develop Luxembourg’s leaders!