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On March 4th, NationBuilder partnered with Atalanta to host Women Who Win, an event where eight incredible women gathered virtually to share their experiences in prominent leadership positions—including challenges, opportunities, and the advice they’d like to impart to other women stepping up to lead in this moment. 

In her keynote, NationBuilder CEO Lea Endres spoke about the powerful examples women around the world have set within the last year, emphasizing that, despite the barriers they face, women’s leadership isn’t just nice to have; it’s a requirement for solving today’s hardest challenges. She then set the stage for a series of inspiring interviews led by Atalanta CEO Eva Barboni, capturing widely varied experiences from around the world that shared several common themes.

Intimidation and violence can deter women from leading
Regardless of where they are in the world, women who stand up for themselves and take on leadership roles are more frequently faced with intimidation, threats, and violence than men. Online harassment has become a deterrent, especially for the next generation of female leaders, and a key contributing factor that discourages female politicians from standing for office again. Recalling the tragic assassination of Jo Cox in 2016, Catherine Anderson, the former CEO of The Jo Cox Foundation and incoming Executive Director at the London Marathon Charitable Trust, UK, spoke about how the threat of violence has blocked political leadership pipelines for women in the UK—emphasizing the need to create robust support networks to raise awareness about the issue and help women feel safer stepping up to lead.

Building community can help lower the barriers
We all have a role to play in supporting those who decide to lead and in encouraging other women to lead, too. Creating communities with other women where experiences can be shared was a key element of Rumbidzai Chisenga’s experience as the Director of Programs at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development, South Africa. She stressed, among other things, the value of bringing women together to expand their understanding of leadership trends and best practices. For Erin Vilardi, Founder and CEO of Vote Run Lead in the US, a grounding principle in creating the infrastructure for women considering a run for office was to center the experience of those who face the highest barriers to leadership, knowing that whatever they built would help lower the barriers for everyone. 

Building the confidence and setting time aside for self-promotion and networking also came up in several interviews, as well as the importance of seeking the help that the people in your network might be able to offer. Daisy Powell Chandler, Director at Public First, UK, encouraged women to overcome the fear of how they might be perceived and directly express their goals, since sharing where you want to go makes it more likely that others in your orbit will help you get there.

Women have the potential to create cohesion in times of crisis 
Some highlights from Rumbidzai Chisenga’s interview were her takeaways from how women across the African continent took on leadership roles to serve their communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted how this has been a moment for women in often overlooked careers to emerge as strong leaders, from nurses and frontline workers to statisticians preparing data the government needed to monitor the spread of the virus. In particular, she mentioned the WHO Regional Director as a woman getting noticed for her ability to create cohesion as a leader.

Authenticity is a strength, not a weakness
The speakers continuously touched on how women should be confident in their own styles of leading—and not just when it comes to running for office. Ana Iparraguirre, a Political Consultant in Argentina, remarked that despite the fact that fewer women run for office than men (and women who do run face harsher scrutiny as a result), she’s seen a change across South America in how women embrace different ways of leading, even when that means defying traditional expectations. 

Similarly, Erin Vilardi shared how important it is for candidates to not try to fit a mold. “Bring your whole self to the table, the things you care passionately about, the connections you have in the community,” she said, “and we will help you transfer the skills you have from the private sector—being a mom, whatever they are—and show that they are such strengths.”

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