Theresa Kim is one of 34 delegates chosen to participated in the WPSP Women’s Leadership: Public Service and Global Health workshop in Paris, France. A Statistician and Program Manager at the University of Washington, Theresa is also a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, one of the WPSP founding partners.
For five days, Smith College and The US Department of State hosted 34 women from 17 nations for The Women in Public Service Project (WPSP): Public Service and Global Health Leadership Workshop (PSGH) in Paris, France. Most women arrived from Francophone nations, and some represented English speaking nations. Delegates communicated in both French and English. Our careers and development vary; some of us are established physicians, some of us are members of the ministries of health, and some of are in the process of completing our degrees. We have different jobs, speak different languages, and live in different countries, but all delegates of The WPSP increase participation and efficacy of women in public service. The PSGH workshop more specifically:
* Provided us delegates with enhanced skills for attaining elected and appointed positions in the public sector;
* Enabled us to establish a professional network within and outside our home countries;
* Supplied us with concrete tools and training to increase scope, efficacy, and feasibility of our ongoing work;
* Communicated strategies, tools, and materials that we could deploy on returning home for training of other women in public service.
The earliest activities of the workshop included a friendly ice breaking activity among the participants and a welcoming video from US Representative and Smith Alumna, Jane Harman of the Wilson International Center for Scholars and Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Director of the Global Women’s Leadership Initiative. The ice- breaker aimed to have us learn from and about our differences. We asked other people, “Where is your favorite place to vacation?” and “What do you like about this place?” By discussing the beauty, excitement, or tranquility of one place, you encouraged another person to learn more about that place. The welcoming video, on the other hand, demonstrated how we were similar. Our feelings of struggle and loneliness are not unique, and thus climbing the ladder requires us to keep a close network for support.
Besides understanding differences and accepting struggle, what else does it take to become a leader? The verb to lead means to go in a direction with someone else by holding a hand, rope, or something else. It is an action of taking initiative in a manner in which you want others to follow. It means we must set a fine example for those who wish to learn from us. It does not mean pushing someone to do something against his or her volition. It does not mean dictating. It does mean mentoring, understanding how others learn, and knowing when someone is independent enough to handle circumstances with less guidance.
The advice we receive to lead is that we need to listen, develop thick skin, and help each other. Harman has warned us that leadership can be a state of solitude. However, as more females complete higher education programs and enter the workforce, there will be more of us who summit. We can and should provide a supportive circle to each other as we advance. Our pasts share many similarities and differences despite coming from 17 different nations, speaking different languages, and having different governments. We have all wanted to serve since our formative years; it was not a thought that we developed overnight. We might have made a haphazard decision in our education or career, but our experiences have enhanced our current tool sets. We struggled to gain knowledge whether it was pulling up all nighters in a class, having superiors tell us, “No,” or not having any financial or personal support during a project. On our way to successful destinations, we will encounter failures during the journeys.
As working women, there are choices that we must make in our lives. Do we want to share our lives with a partner? If we ever marry, will we have children? For our health care choices, what is the best contraception for us, and should we postpone familyhood until we reach more financial stability? If we have children, how can we fairly distribute child-rearing? With our children and demanding jobs, how do we balance our personal and professional lives? For so many women, health, emotional and physical, are compromised in order to meet the demands of both of shifts. Adequacy isn’t sufficient as we feel a need to exceed all expectations because we are perfectionists. I have a solution. Take a break and ask for help, and then let us accept help when our friends, family, and colleagues offer. We are afraid of others judging us for lack of knowledge or for not nurturing children enough. We are our own largest critic.
The diversity of speakers addressed the goals of increasing female presence in public service, the agony of the “second shift,” examples of scientific data and how to best present results for policy and lawmakers, technology and social media as means to supplement health care, and the history and significance of female education. Each of the speakers provided a unique and exceptional point of view for becoming a public health and service leader. Best of all, they catalyzed dynamic dialogue following the presentations. Dr. Robert Dorit said that hierarchy impeded dialogue. We delegates neither acknowledged hierarchy in the first place nor hesitated. The comments and questions from the delegates were by far the most fascinating portion of the week. We recognize that Marissa Mayer has worked her way to the top of the technology industry, a male-dominated field, and she has a child so this balance must be possible. Yet delegates remind the speakers that women in this position are not of average income, so affording high quality child care is not going to be a struggle. Indeed, Doctors 2.0 has the potential to expedite communication between healthcare providers and patients, but what solutions can tech companies offer to villages without electricity, mobile phone reception, and internet service? We have the obligation to promote women’s rights so that we all benefit together rather than assuming that only a certain status of women are entitled.
Lastly, to lead, we must help each other. We enthusiastically offer services when someone needs us. We ask questions from each other to learn more and to see how we can aid someone who has a certain wish. Then at the same time, we should not hesitate to be that person with a wish. It is a continuous cycle where we all pay it forward by asking and answering questions. We cannot decrease the loneliness of female leadership unless we participate in mentoring and asking for help equally. It is our responsibility to aid other young women and girls with their goals so that when we retire, they are ready to step up to the upcoming challenges.