Last Wednesday was a special day! After two years filled with quarantine, working from home and social distancing, we were able to meet in person. I was truly delighted to welcome many talented women, full of passion and purpose. Four women graced us with their presence and shared their journey with us. They were thought provoking, but most importantly challenged our perspectives.
Irene Hochauer Kpoda (Event and project manager at the Vienna Institute for International Dialogue and Cooperation) shared with us, how critical her passion for people influenced the choices she made in her life. Her commitment for driving change in her community and beyond was inspired by the former political leader in Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara. With her association Barka Barka in the southwest region of her home country, she promotes the education of children and women economic empowerment through a variety of projects. Her engagement with the Burkinabe community has culminated with her nomination as the representative of the Burkinabe diaspora in Austria and 6her other European countries. In her eyes, self confidence and self reliance are key for people to take their future into their own hands. She is convinced that putting people at the centre of our actions is the only sustainable way to bring about development and peace during these troubling times.
Rael Shete (Human resources Admin and certified career coach) described how benefiting from mentoring was a turning point in her own life. It helped her recognize and use the gifts and skills she was equipped with, beyond her regular profession. She emphasized how critical it is for women to invest in themselves (in regards to time, knowledge and resources). She affirmed that progress dose not happen by chance; it is an intentional decision, which requires proactivity, consistency and commitment. She is dedicated to adding value to people’s lives through coaching for interview preparations, career advancement, personal branding, job or life transitions, conflict and crisis management in the workplace etc. In addition, Rael is keen to give back especially to the younger generation through education in Kenya. In addition, she promotes a positive engagement of the diaspora through her numerous social endeavors in her neighborhood in the outskirts of Vienna, Austria.
Sheron Dzoro (Immunologist, PhD in Molecular, Cellular and Clinical Allergology) vividly shared how she overcame adversity in her journey growing up in the ghetto of Mufakose in Harare- Zimbabwe, facing limitations as an immigrant worker in Botswana, and obtaining a scholarship to study in Austria. Dr. Dzoro opened up about her personal losses, including the tragic and sudden passing away of her father when she was 13 years old, which left her family vulnerable and in financial distress. It was left to Sheron’s mother to single-handedly provide for Sheron and her 2 older siblings. Sheron gratefully acknowledges that without the strong vision and persistent determination of her mother, she could not have made it through high school and university.Through the support of mentors who identified and nurtured Sheron’s excellence in conducting medical science experiments, several doors of opportunity opened up for Sheron in the international arena. Of course, her journey is not without hurdles. Sheron shared some of the difficult experiences she has encountered as a highly educated black African woman, finding her place in the professional world and living in Europe. She also gave a message of encouragement by sharing her coping mechanisms and the many lessons she has learnt and continues to learn from daily challenges. Some of Dr. Dzoro’s key approaches include living one day at a time, seeing the glass that is not only half empty but also half full irrespective of the circumstances, letting go of hurts and disappointments, and celebrating successes! As a woman of faith, Sheron jokingly added that faith without actions is dead.
Nelly Ngoy Kubelwa (electro-mechanical engineer in an international organization) recalled her previous work experience in the private sector as a woman in a male dominated field. Born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she moved to Belgium for her university studies, and start her professional career. Surrounded by predominantly male colleagues, Nelly witnessed acute discrimination: male collaborators acting in a condescending way, derogatory and racist comments, denial of her hierarchy when faced with cases of misconduct. After several attempts (aggressive reactions, conciliatory efforts, discretion, adaptation etc.). Nelly decided to seek a better position in a company that will value her skills and expertise, whilst respecting her as a woman. In a nutshell, she advises women to be discerning when fighting a system that does not yield positive results to level up and go for companies or institutions that will embrace and celebrate your diversity.
Her intervention sparked a very interesting debate on feminism and which strategies women should adopt when faced with gender based discrimination in the workplace or in society at large? The perspectives were diverse and varied and I would say, quite passionate. The least one can say is, this topic definitely deserves a full debate on its own… Stay well and see you very soon!