Throughout my career, on almost a weekly basis, I have found myself the only woman in the room. It has been disappointing, frustrating and on few occasions even intimidating, but it has also provided me with the determination to create opportunities for women and to challenge the status quo.
I remember the experience of meeting a small group of the Taliban elders in Kabul. Since the encounter took place at the British Embassy, they had no choice but to politely engage with me. The meeting went well – I was able to share some valuable lessons about the Irish Peace Process and establish some rapport with those rather intimidating men. During that trip, I learnt that Afghanistan had a higher proportion of parliament seats held by women than the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont (where I worked at the time), which was shocking, but also encouraged me to act.
On my return, I decided to host a dedicated TEDxStormont Women event to provide a platform for female voices in political and public life. I also developed and delivered several capacity building programmes to support and nurture the future female leaders and others interested in public service. Alongside this, I was appointed as Northern Ireland Ambassador for Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and organised gatherings to celebrate, empower and support women in business.
Currently, as a part of the Global Thinkers Forum Telemachus programme, I mentor young women, role which is both humbling and rewarding. I have also just been appointed as an Advisory Board Member for the Global Women’s Narratives Project, an exciting initiative whose purpose is to gather and share personal narratives of lived experiences of women around the world.
So, how the best to #BalanceForBetter? I can’t think of a better response than one of my favourite quotes by Amelia Earhart: “The most effective way to do it, is to do it”.
It is really not that complicated. Everybody, women and men alike, have many everyday opportunities to create more equal and balanced world. Some may be able to influence policy and bring on radical shifts; others, through simple ordinary actions can contribute to incremental cultural changes – just answer an e-mail when asked for support, talk to a younger woman, be inclusive, invite your female colleagues to meetings and events, don’t be afraid to ask for help and don’t be afraid to speak up.
Recently, I came across a really fascinating TED Ideas article on trying to tackle big problems – it suggests we should ‘think like a bee’. According to a beekeeper Marianne Gee, a bee in her lifetime produces only one twelfth of a teaspoon of honey, which is a tiny fraction of what a typical colony needs to survive. “A bee won’t even directly benefit from the honey she makes; instead, it will allow future generations to thrive after she is gone. This too is how we can change the world — by not worrying about the size of our contributions and by letting our efforts join the actions of others”.
Sometimes “thinking small may be the best way to think big”. So, let’s start balancing for better. You know it makes sense!
Eva Grosman is an Alumna of the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford; CEO of the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building and a Research Associate at St. Benet’s Hall, University of Oxford.