Sarah Harte is our ISSU Regional Officer for the West of Ireland.
She was recently elected at our Regional Council in Galway this year. Here, Sarah shares her thoughts on women in leadership.
As today is International Women’s Day, it is the perfect time to celebrate and highlight the importance of role models to young women and girls. The power of role models often goes unrecognised but they can have an immeasurable effect on the lives of young people, particularly girls. It is important to be able to see someone who you can identify with in a position to know that you can make it there.
Historically, the vast majority of leaders in this country have been men. This often meant that women and their achievements were not acknowledged or written about leading to a lack of women that girls could look up to. That is not the case anymore as more and more women rise to the top of their fields. The playing field is becoming more equal but there is still hurdles facing many women. For example, just 22% of all TD’s at present are women and this is a record high.
There are always certain challenges facing people who aim for power but men and women tend to face different attitudes and challenges. Having a lack of self-confidence can hold you back as it is the fundamental basis of any good leader. If you do not have faith in your own ability it becomes difficult to expect others to. This is something that is learned from early on in life. Putting yourself forward to head up a project in school may reflect into putting yourself forward for election in the future. This is something that some of my friends struggle with, some of the most intelligent girls I know underestimate themselves and therefore hold themselves back. As children, we emulate what we see in others and this does not end as we age. If you see self-confidence you will learn to mirror it. We mimic these behaviours without ever realising it from the people we watch. That is why it is important that there are women we can look up to. Another behaviour that we learn is the different ways in which we talk about ambitious men and women. Often, men are commended for taking the leap and putting themselves out there, while women are penalized. There are certain words and phrases that are reserved for strongly opinionated or outspoken women and I have been called a few of these in my time.
Personally, I have always been drawn to strong women as people that inspire and motivate me. Films, TV shows and books with women at the helm have interested me since I was a child and in the last few months I have read books by and about Mary Robinson, Malala Yousafzai and Hillary Clinton. I admire these women greatly for their resilience, perseverance and sheer mental strength despite different adversaries. One thing that the above-named women have in common is that they all have varying levels of a high profile, political or otherwise. This is not the case with all role models or even most of them. They do not have to be the first female President of Ireland or the first woman with a real shot at winning the White House. They can be a local politician, a teacher or a Foróige leader. Someone who takes an interest in your future, who wants to see you get on well because maybe someone did the same for them. Their words of advice are the ones that you remember and they are the people you don’t forget.
That is why it is just as important to have role models as it is to be one. I know that my 14-year-old sister learns more from me than she’ll ever admit. I feel like I owe it to her to set as good an example as I can. I know that she is watching me. I have had so many people look out for me and I know that they are there for me if I need them and that is something I will always be grateful for.