A Response To Women And Leadership

The Victoria International Leadership Programme at Victoria University offers seminars to educate people on the most pressing issues in our society. The most recent seminar last week on Women and Leadership, organized by the French Embassy, was about the incredible story of Mrs. Loretta Daunakamakama.

The story of Mrs. Daunakamakama is one of overcoming adversity to reach new heights in what we as women can achieve. After coming to New Zealand with no English skills, Loretta has progressed with leaps and bounds to the extent that she is a graduate of Auckland University and works in governmental leadership positions such as the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), along with being involved in various charity and startup organizations. She started working at age 14 to support her school fees and extracurriculars, and stated that her turning point was moving away from home. I can heavily relate to Loretta’s experience growing up in a difficult environment. I believed my turning point was when I moved away from home at the ripe old age of 13 to a boarding school in Havelock North, which pushed me in ways I had never been pushed before.

Her story helped inform why we were learning about her as an individual. Seeing her progress from where she began to where she is now, having created the Awesome Women Network in September 2017, demonstrated the importance of resilience. She further went on to discuss how her career had been impacted by being a minority, which meant that sometimes people misinterpreted her meaning and as a consequence she ultimately lost opportunities. Furthermore, she linked herself to the global trend of the challenges of women in leadership today and the challenges of the leaders of tomorrow. She referenced the need to reframe the perception of the imposter syndrome, viewed as a negative concept in society. Mrs. Daunakamakama discussed how women who have imposter syndrome exhibit low confidence and low self-esteem, referencing former prime minister Helen Clark and her speech. Reflecting on this, I see that we all are conditioned in our fundamentally patriarchal society to act this way, specifically in New Zealand where Tall Poppy Syndrome is prevalent. We are afraid of portraying our achievements, but at the same time have a need to show that we are just as capable as a man for a particular role. Addressing the future leaders of tomorrow, Loretta referenced four issues which are still heavily prevalent within our society today. She discussed whether prejudice against women was a long-standing cultural bias against women or due to the fact that women aren’t seen by some as ideal candidates because of their priority being family as opposed to a company. She further referenced anti-harassment campaigns such as #MeToo, #TimesUp, and #WeToo, and further contextualized this in relation to women speaking up. Loretta herself speaks up for those who are marginalized and for those who are unheard. She also introduced gender stereotypes and predisposed gender roles in relation to the femininity of pink. Finally, she referenced biased evaluations in relation to the objectification of women and how young girls are marketed to feel unhappy about themselves for the purpose of companies making money.

She invited us to look into our society and challenge preconceptions just as the women in the Awesome Women Network do, as Loretta does, and as many other female leaders like Michelle Obama do who were discussed during the workshop session of the seminar. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed her seminar and gained valuable insight into a feminist icon within New Zealand who I had not previously encountered.

Sophie Simons
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