Women of Power speak – RECAP

Power as appealing as it is, we find most avoiding it. Is it that we don’t understand it, or is it that we think we are inadequate to perform? What is women’s experience with power? How can we bring more women to positions of power? All these and more were discussed during the monthly event on “Women of Power Speak” at the Hilton Addis on March 03, 2022.

The anticipation for the evening was felt much sooner in the day as guests arrived earlier than usual. The house was packed with people full of excitement to hear “Women of Power Speak”. After about an hour of networking, guests were called to enter the hall to attend the program for the evening.

Kemer Temam, AWIB’s 2021 President, took to the stage to welcome guests and thank the sponsors for the evening – Birhan Bank and Appable Technologies. After a short message from the Birhan Bank team, Kemer introduced Abigeya Getachew a Judicial Reform Program Director of the President of the FSC and a former AWIB board member, the moderator for the evening.

Abigeya began by apologizing to the audience for the absence of the third speaker Dr. Lia Tadesse, Minister of Health of the FDRE who couldn’t join us due to a pressing work commitment abroad. Followed by the introduction of Hikmet Abdella, Director General of Accounting and Auditing Board of Ethiopia (AABE), and Melika Bedri the Founder & President of Zam Zam Bank.

The first question posed to them was How they understood “power” and what it meant for them?

Melika Bedri said power is a tool for her to accomplish her responsibilities. It is an instrument for her to influence teams and people around her in order to direct them to a certain goal. The kind of power differs according to the position you hold and the context with which you have it; but where ever it originated from, it is the ability to influence others to do as you please.

Hikmet also agreed with what Melika said, for her power does not always mean becoming the CEO of the company or the Prime – Minister of a country, you can find incredible power in a mother raising her children or, like in her case, with an older child responsible for her younger siblings. Therefore, it is the ability to influence others to bring the desired result. However, men and women have significant differences in the way they exercise their power. She believes women are fair when using their power because they are filled with humility and compassion.

How did you get your power? How did you reach the position you are now in?

It was a long road and fight for Melika as she remembers – she was in the early years of her marriage, had little children that needed her attention, and because of this, she was excluded from becoming a part of the transformation team for the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. When she learned this was the reason for her exclusion, she fought back demanded a seat at the table. It was the first and most significant step she took towards walking up the managerial ladder.

Hikmet on the other hand recalls her sense of authority was groomed by her father, her role model, at a very young age by assuming responsibility for her 5 younger siblings. However, her first official leadership position was when she was elected President of the Association for Oversees Students at her University in Britain. For the shy and introverted high schooler, studying abroad away from family offered Hikmet new ground to explore and discover her true potential as a great leader.

Most people say women shy away from power. They are either afraid of claiming it or are reluctant to use their power and influence others. First, do you agree with this observation, and if so, why do you think is the reason?

It is not difficult for Hikmet to understand why people might be afraid of power. When talking about influencing people it needs to be understood that it may not always be for the better. Leading people towards a bad destination – making mistakes is something to be cautious of, but this should not pull us back from taking positions of power; rather it should push us to make the best possible decisions.

Melika believes that it is because women don’t have enough role models that are working to encourage and make way for them. Women that are already in power are doing very little to support other women to join them at the top.

She also explained how women who are already in positions of power, herself included, are worried about what people say, how the fear of overshadowing or overpowering their co-workers and superiors holds them back from truly expressing their potential. So, she told everyone there not to be afraid of who they are and who they can become, rather claim it and be proud.

Unfortunately, just because you have the title or position of power as a CEO or Director-General doesn’t mean it is going to be smooth sailing exercising it. Therefore, how do you assert yourselves to utilize your power?

It is all about conscious leadership for Melika. She wants people around her, especially women, to feel empowered therefore, she builds teams and tasks them with different assignments. This strategy helps in getting better-quality work done and also fosters future leaders.

Hikmet told us that she had to continuously assert herself. She notes “It is a man’s world, especially in Ethiopia. They try to dismiss you and your opinion if you let them, you might be the last one asked for comments, sometimes they might not even want to acknowledge your presence, but I make sure my voice is heard and assert myself.” She said she is a women’s advocate everywhere she goes and she advises young women to go the extra mile, look at the next step and empower themselves.

Have you ever experienced a situation where people undermine your authority?

Melika agreed this is a very common thing to happen and she has experienced it before and gave the recent interview of our President Shale Work Zewde to show how frequently women of power experience it.

Fortunately, Hikmet has not experienced a similar thing. She said it is not that no one has tried to be dismissive of her authority but because she continuously asserts herself there is no room for anyone to undermine her.

With a brief summary of the speakers’ answers, Abigeya opened the stage to questions from the audience.

Some of the questions included:

  • How do you balance the responsibility of family and work?
  • How did you handle expectations of family and society to get married, have children and not focus on a career?
  • A person can’t always be in her “A” game every time, to feel emotion is to be human so how vulnerable are you?
  • How do you respond to people doubting you and have you ever doubted yourself?
  • How do you get back when you feel burnt out?

Some of the answers include:

Both speakers agreed most if not all responsibilities of the house are burdened on the shoulder of the woman. However, having a supportive spouse is very instrumental. The culture and societal expectation of women to get married and have children prior to advancing in their career weigh heavy on them.

Self-doubt is much harder to overcome than other people doubting you. If you can win the battle within then proving your worth to others is going to be a matter of time. However, if you doubt yourself and your potential then you will surely set yourself up for failure.

They also mentioned that it gets lonely at the top because there is not a lot of people going through what you are and experiencing the same things so it is very vulnerable. Groups like AWiB’s FCBC help in providing a platform of outlet to bring together like-minded women so they can share their experiences learn from one another and grow together. Going on retreats and spending time with friends is also a very good way for them to unwind and recharge when they feel burnt out.

After a very engaging question and answer with the audience, Abigeya wrapped up the evening by thanking and presenting gifts to them. The evening concluded with Kuriftu Resort and Spa gifting one night stay at their new resort in Awash for the speakers as well as 6 other FCBC members.

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