Wednesday, January 31, 2018

An American Feminist Listening to Rwandan Feminists

After traveling over 36 hours, I quickly checked into my hotel and showered. I then ran off to a women's empowerment panel at a cute cafe on top of the Kigali Public Library, overlooking the beautiful hills of Rwanda. For my entire professional career, most of my weeknights are spending organizing and attending similar panel events about women's leadership. It was such a cool opportunity for me to start my vacation doing something so familiar to me. I was so eager to listen to what the women had to share, and very curious to hear if the narrative of feminism they shared was similar to that in the United States. Overall, it felt the same, and I learned so much from this rare opportunity. I left feeling empowered and connected!

I came with an open mind, trying hard to remove whatever biases I may hold and to listen with no expectations. I was the only visibly White person in the entire room, which consisted predominantly of young Rwandan women and a few men. I very much recognize the tremendous privileges I had as a White American woman who had the financial means to travel so far. I assume many of the other women in the audience were young professionals. I wondered what topics would be discussed. Were the challenges these young professional women were experiencing any different from those myself and my peers in the States were experiencing?


The narrative of feminism they used sounded just like the one I hear back home. Many of the panelists and audience members explicitly used terms such as feminist, patriarchy, and reclaiming. The main themes were owning your power and building a sisterhood to support other women and girls as we each individually grow in our leadership. Topics shared included confidence, body image, female relationships, marriage, abortion, and sexual harassment. Many of the comments included an intersectional approach, inclusive of various sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses. Many also recognized their urban and professional privilege and expressed a desire to support the advancement of rural women and girls in villages. Not to my surprise, I did not explicitly hear the phrase "women of color," which of course makes sense given the context of Rwanda. While in the States, in many feminist conversations, women of color, race, and ethnicity are increasingly being mentioned, I didn't notice this in the comments at the event. Overall, the stories shared by the panelists and the audience members deeply resonated with me as I too struggle not only to empower women everywhere, but also myself. Check out #GirlTalkinRwanda and #GirlsTalkinRwanda to learn more about what was discussed.


Rwanda is the #1 country in the world in terms of having the highest percentage of female Parliamentarians. I was very curious to hear how or if this would come up during a women's empowerment event. It was mentioned a few times and mainly with frustration. Those who shared explained that they wanted their female Parliamentarians to do more for women and girls. It also seemed that these Parliamentarians were much older than the women at the event. I hope more young women run for office in Rwanda soon!

Attending this event affirmed my hope that women all over the world are finally stepping into their power to change the world for the betterment of everyone. At this very moment, women and girls in most countries have more rights than they have ever had before. Of course, and especially now in my country, we must defend those rights daily, for they can be taken from us at any moment. However, I will continue to believe that empowering women leaders and those from other underrepresented communities is the best way to change the world.

Thank you to Girl District and Innovation Village for hosting this amazing event! Special thanks to the truly inspirational panelists, Judicaelle Irakoze, Founder and Director of Choose Yourself and Abigaelle Closet; Tricia Twasiima, Ugandan Feminist Lawyer; Aline Kabanda, Country Director, Akilah Institute; and Julian Ingabire Kayibanda, Country Director at International Child Resource Institute.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Proud Product of Women's Communities

Emerge California, Class of 2015

The best way to change the world is to empower women leaders, and those from other underrepresented communities. As the American suffragist Alice Paul declared almost a hundred years ago, "There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it.” My personal definition of feminism is creating an equal world, free of all forms of discrimination and oppression such as sexism, genderism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, etc. My vocation is this feminism.

The best way to empower women leaders is to give them a supportive community to grow in. While the path to empowerment is an individual process, one person can only take themselves so far in his or her growth. Being in a community, where everyone shares their stories of overcoming struggles and supports each other in such growth is imperative to personal transformation. A person needs to know they are not alone in their challenges. They need to see others who have made it to inspire them to become the greater self they seek to be. This is especially necessary for women and those from underrepresented communities who look up the career ladder and don't see many leaders that look like them.

I have dedicated my career to building inclusive communities, predominantly for women. Moreover, as I have grown in my career doing such, I have and continue to have great challenges growing as a female leader myself. I truly hope to write a book someday soon about this epic journey! I am eternally indebted to the countless women who have supported me along my leadership path. I literally could not have done it alone. As an alumna of these various groups, my community continues to give back and support me.

As a cisgender woman, I have personally found it incredibly valuable to be a part of communities just for women. While I strongly believe in inclusiveness and inviting men and people of all genders into feminist conversations, a unique safe space is established in women only spaces. When people from underrepresented communities are together with each other, they can feel safe to be vulnerable and share their experiences of discrimination. A special bond is created that produces deep, meaningful relationships through this shared identity. While co-ed groups must also exist, single sex environments have special benefits for empowerment.

Below are the various women's communities I have been a part of, many of which I have be privileged to help build. In the future, I hope to write my PhD dissertation examining the best practices to create such sustainable communities.

I encourage you to click on the links below for the various groups I have been a part of. While I have been and continue to be a part of many organizations, these are the ones that have been the most meaningful to me. I challenge you to seek out similar communities for yourself, or even to build new ones that do not yet exist.

As Madeline Albright often shares, "There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women." I spend every day of my life making sure I don't end up there!

Training Programs

Congressional Fellowships on Women and Public Policy (formerly WREI)

Emerge California

We Lead program, American University

WILpower program, Leading Women in Technology

Progressive Women's Voices

FemFuture

The White House Project & Ploughshares Fund Women in Nuclear Security program

Professional Women's Organizations

Ericsson Women in Leadership (WIL) group

Women Get It Done

Watermark

Women in Government Relations

Nonprofits & Higher Education

Women in Management (WIM) groups at Stanford GSB

Women's Information Network

Alpha Omicron Pi (AOII)

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

UPWARD

Running Start

Public Leadership Education Network (PLEN)

Sewall-Belmont House & Museum

Saturday, September 10, 2016

I Didn't Go to Burning Man to Party!

I didn't go to the Playa to party. I didn't do drugs. I didn't have sex. Sure, I drank alcohol, but I didn't get drunk. A hangover in the pounding heat of the desert would have been terrible! While I wholeheartedly support everyone's choice to experience Burning Man however they want, I choose to have a less traditional experience. Literally, my Playa name is Sober. But overall, I still got a natural high from the Burning Man experience!

I went to the Playa to challenge myself, and be a part of a one of a kind, powerful community. Literally, for only one week a year, there is no place on the entire earth like Burning Man. Together, 70,000 souls create a city just to destroy it, but with the intent to rebuild next year. But I really want everyone to know you don't have to do drugs or participate in sexual activities to have a transformative experience. This can still be a fun place if you are not into those things!

I'm a super nerd. When you arrive on the Playa, you're given a book with the schedules of a variety of activities you can participate in. I immediately dive into the book, circling the myriad of exciting options. I went to a workshop on how to be an ally to the deaf community. I learned negotiation tips for women. I volunteered with my camp as we facilitated clay making workshops and ran a bar specializing in Scotch and Hop. I wrote the names of those who had passed in the last year on the Temple. I got matched with my soulmate in a camp designed like Costco! I watched an off Broadway quality theatrical performance, and listened to inspiring live music. I explored art exhibits, placed in the awesome background of the desert. I accepted beautiful random acts of kindness from strangers, whether that was a hug, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a handmade pendant. I cheered with crowds as the Man burned. But I also sat in silence with tens of thousands of people as glowing ash hovered above us as the temple burned.

Deprive yourself of running water and electricity for a week, and you'll learn to deeply appreciate them. Gather all of the trash you accumulate in one week in one place, and you'll be more aware of your consumption habits. Participate in a camp where your survival is dependent upon shared responsibilities, and you'll understand what it means to be an active citizen of a community.

After waking up at 4:30am in a dark 40 degrees to quickly pack your tent to rush in the Exodus line to leave the Playa, I ended up being forced to wait about six hours in the orchestrated pulsed lines. The Playa constantly provides ample opportunities to cultivate patience! In the final pulse before we finally departed the Playa, everyone exited their cars to mingle and soak in our last moments together. People gave out popsicles and shared snacks. Others invited fellow travelers to draw on their car. We were eager to hit the road, but with the bittersweet irony of leaving our home.

On the one way road out of Burning Man, people returned to their normal default world ways, and passed slower vehicles. You drive by multiple small businesses to collect your trash or get hot food. You slowly reintegrate into society. My sincere belief is that we all reenter the world as changed individuals, bringing a new powerful perspective for good.

Having gone twice now, I hope to return to the Playa again next year. Thank you to the Man for sacrificing yourself each year. I get it now. He has to burn so we have a reason to recreate it all again next year. We must start from nothing.

Going through significant personal and professional transitions over the past few years, I'm reinvigorated by the Burn. The only way to start again is to completely let it all go to create from scratch. This is also a concept of the female protagonist Daenerys in Game of Thrones. Oh, and I think it is a strong theme regarding Jesus and Christianity. From nothing, who I am is the possibility of possibility. Thank you Burning Man!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

American Identity Abroad

What does it mean to be an American, meaning one from the United States of America? I asked myself after choosing to visit Turkey a month after the recent military coup, despite significant discouragement from American friends and family. Does being an American mean to look White and speak English? Absolutely not, but that's what many from other countries often automatically depict as an American.  As one who fits that stereotype, I try my best to recognize the multiple privileges that gives me.

Being an American generally means one is free from the fears of living in an unstable democracy where terrorist attacks happen frequently or the democratically elected government can be threatened by a military coup. While our political parties may be extremely polarized, these do not result in violence between the parties. When regime changes occur, they are peaceful transitions of power. Americans live in a safety and stability unrivaled by other countries, but at the same time, we normalize mass shootings.

Being an American means you have virtually unlimited access to any consumer product you want, including clothing and electronic items that cost many times more if you buy them outside the States. But being an American can also mean you live in a workaholic culture, with limited vacation time and a societal expectation to keep advancing in one's career and economic status. However, with this can come with a pride in one's work as well as a great exchange rate when traveling abroad.  Americans may be more comfortable with massive amounts of personal debt rather than higher taxes.

Some Americans are afraid to visit other countries, but in essence, being an American can mean playing the game in easy mode. We are warranted extraordinary privileges that many citizens of other countries don't experience. At the same time, many Americans traveling abroad will identify as Canadians, to deflect the hatred often associated with our country. When asked where I'm from, I proudly say California. It does not deny my identity as an American, but brands me with what I believe is the best state in our Union, largely responsible for the cultural, political, economic, and technological advancement of our nation.

The United States is my homeland, the nation I choose to live in and hopefully raise children in someday.  I am beyond grateful to have been born and raised in the United States. Above all, I love my country because the American Dream, meaning the ability to actualize one's goals and aspirations, regardless of what socioeconomic status you start at, is more feasible than any other country. All human beings, regardless of where they are born or live, deserve such human rights.

Of course, this American Dream is much more difficult for some communities than others. A truly level playing field does not yet exist, and multiple forms of discrimination exist based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, level of ability, etc. I want to keep improving my country by encouraging the advancement of leaders from underrepresented communities in all sectors of society. Diversity leads to prosperity. I want my country to be a better ally rather than a dominant bully in how it treats other countries.  While I often intentionally and unintentionally perform the stereotype of a loud, proud, overly friendly American, I also want to be the citizen of a nation that has a better reputation globally.

Empires don't last forever, but what does last is the historic legacy of supremacy and domination. For example, even today, in some places, mothers threaten their children to behave by using racist phrases such as "I'll feed you to the Turks!" If the US loses its current role as superpower, what will others negatively say about us in the future?  What could it mean to be an extremely wealthy and democratized nation that is appreciated, well-liked, and respected by other countries?

I'm very interested in learning how you articulate what it means to be a human from your country or national identity. Please share your ideas. Thank you!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Ambition Addict

My ambition literally keeps me up at night! Sometimes, it eats me alive. However, I think that overall it's a good thing. To date, it's led me to get many feathers in my cap. But, I need to learn how to better temper it. I want to better know how to still be ambitious, but also be present and grateful for what I currently have. For instance, I want to be happy where I am, rather than just constantly looking for the next thing. I guess I need to be more patient and grateful!

I think I was predominately born this way. My parents nurtured it, but more often they encouraged me to not go too hard on myself. That was something I was never good at and am only now getting better at. In high school, one year I took seven AP courses. Ultimately, I was so determined, I convinced my parents to let me do what I wanted. Generally, once I'm fully committed to something, no one or no thing gets in my way! 

Perhaps my current levels of ambition may be too much, bordering on the level of unhealthy. Gender is also a strong factor in this. Society expects, but makes it difficult for women to simultaneously fulfill many roles. It also puts many barriers in our way.  For example, if women want to advance in male dominated spaces, we must conform to traditional, masculine leadership styles. But at the same time, we are expected to be feminine. It's complicated! 

Meditation and mindfulness is all the buzz. I'm sure I could do more of this, but that's still not a silver bullet. One must develop a plethora of intersecting, regular healthy habits to tame the wild beast of one's ambition. I'm working on it! Regular exercise definitiely helps! I try to get enough water and eat healthy. 

So overall, how is ambition constructive or destructive for you? How have you effectively managed it? How do gender or other socioeconomic factors impact this for you? 

Cheers to going after your dreams in productive ways! 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What Does Diversity Mean to You?

Diversity is a buzzword nowadays, especially in Silicon Valley.  Fortunately, many are starting to really wake up to its importance, but are still confused about what it is or how to improve it.  I thought I'd ask myself, "What does diversity mean to me?"

Diversity is beautiful.  Diversity is challenging.  Ultimately, I think it means that while we are all a part of the same human species, we experience life differently due to a variety of and often combination of factors.  Those differences provide each of us with distinct advantages and disadvantages.  These in part give each of us unique perspectives on what it means to be human.  Often those unique perspectives, especially when coming from a disempowered position, are frequently ignored or devalued, which becomes problematic.  For example, growing up as a female comes with a variety of societal expectations that girls should be quiet, polite, and humble.  Consequently, women are socialized against exerting traditionally defined masculine leadership norms such as self-promotion or assertive negotiation.  As a result, we see that men dominate the top leadership positions in most sectors of society.

When reflecting upon how to define diversity, a relevant question then becomes how does one self-identify in terms of diversity? I identify as a heterosexual, White, Catholic, middle-class, highly educated, able bodied, native English speaker, Irish-American, young professional, single, cisgender female Democrat. Those are all heavily loaded terms.  Some of those categories give me great privileges, and depending on the context, others do not grant me such privileges.

While I claim to be aware of my privileges and actively seek to be an ally to others who are different from me, I am not perfect.  Sometimes I say or do things are not entirely inclusive, and I'm most grateful when others help me see that.  I am constantly learning and growing in what in means to be an ally.

What does diversity mean to you? I would love to hear your comments please! Thank you!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Youngest at the Table

For better or worse, I frequently find myself the youngest at the table – whether that be the board room, the dais, the faculty club, etc.  Being an ambitious young professional can definitely be advantageous.  Fortunately, I have personally experienced that many of those in positions of power want to include the voices and perspectives of those from younger generations.  I do believe many are genuinely trying to include diverse voices.  My best advice for getting there is to fake it till you make it!

Go for it!

Yes, it’s most definitely intimidating to be the youngest person in the room. Sure, it may seem like a stretch to think you’re qualified or may actually get the position, that it’s not too far of a reach.  However, the only guaranteed way you will not get the opportunity is if you don’t even try.  Just apply! Just try! Of course it may not work out, but you never know unless you put yourself out there.

Dress and act the part

I am petite and look very young for my age.  In a previous blog post, I wrote about how I go by “Pamela,” even though I don’t really like it, and much rather prefer to go by my nickname “Pammy.”  Sadly, first impressions really do matter.  I make a sincere effort to dress up and to look and act very professional.

Do your homework

Make sure you are prepared! Take the time to do significant research and know what you are getting into.  Talk to others and listen to their opinions.  Be open to feedback.  The reality is that people may be especially judging you if you are younger, so you need to show them you know your stuff!

Own it

As a younger person, you do have a unique perspective that’s needed. Recognize the value you can add. Don’t be afraid to shamelessly promote that and even explicitly state that.  For example, you can share, “As a millennial, I add a unique perspective to the upcoming demographic shifts…”

Act as a peer

You always need to be actively networking, not just with your peers, but with those who are perhaps a level or two above you, and where you want to be going.  For example, I wanted to join the board of a nonprofit.  Quite honestly, they had a cool program for young professionals that I very much could have participated in.  I choose not to apply to it, but to rather position myself at a higher level.  Consequently, the board members and staff looked at me more as an equal.  Once I finally made it to the board, sometimes my fellow board members would send me invitations to expensive fundraisers that by no means could I afford to attend.  I laughed when I got the invites!  But it meant they saw me as a peer.  Similarly, I would think of ways to engage them and their interests.  I tried to think of opportunities they would be interested in and shared those.

Accept the risk

I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that it is much harder to take on big positions earlier on in your career.  You may get something and just not entirely be ready for it.  There may be a very steep learning curve.  But regardless, I do think it is absolutely worth it to take a great opportunity.  Even if you fall hard, it means you learned that much more earlier on in your career. You'll be that much more experienced and stronger for the next thing.

Have you been the youngest at the table? How did you get there? How did you make it work? Please share your comments below!