Breaking Glass Ceilings: Scholar Learns to Embrace Her Leadership Potential

International Women's Day 2018

In celebration of International Women’s Day and the African Women’s Leadership Conference at Wellesley College, Scholars explain how gender has shaped their leadership journeys. Marie-Antoinette Addo is a Scholar at Arizona State University, where she studies Human Resource Management.

I have not always wanted to be a leader. I thought leadership was for men or women who rebelled against the status quo. I tried to be quiet. Be in the back, listen and follow. I never wanted to be the one who made the decisions, the one who was liable for a group’s success or failure. I did not want the burden or potential to fail.

This was until I realized that leadership is not a burden, but a privilege. I realized that leadership did not always mean that I was making all the decisions alone, that I had others to work with. I learned that leadership was team work and that I could be a leader in my own unique way.

As a woman, I have been told that the man always led. That is what I believed. That is how I lived my life. And then I met a wonderful leader — she was fearless, strong, eloquent, demure yet bold and everything I learned a woman should not be in that position. I quietly studied her — I watched how she spoke, how she walked, how she interacted with people higher and lower in status than her. I found that she was exceptional and she inspired me to begin my own leadership journey.

When I got over my prejudices and fear of the role, I dove in head first. Being a woman opened more doors for leadership than I thought possible. I was nominated for leadership positions because my natural tenderness as a woman was valued. My quiet but firm nature was appreciated. And highly regarded was my fear, because it meant I was careful and not reckless. My soft and calming voice demanded respect and attention.

As a woman, I have also been rejected for some leadership roles because women have stereotypically been branded as emotional beings, who cannot put emotion aside to carry out a duty. Females are branded as rash and unreliable, and unfortunately, this is a stereotype that has followed me throughout my leadership journey.

Albeit challenging and frustrating, being a leader is equally rewarding and satisfying. I have learned, being a leader, that gender is always going to play a part in the positions for which I am offered or am nominated. My gender made me even more tenacious and determined to break through the glass ceiling that inhibits the progress of my leadership journey and to celebrate the struggles and successes female leaders before me endured.


Meet Marie-Antoinette Addo

Marie-Antoinette Addo

Marie-Antoinette’s story is part of a series for International Women’s Day that is highlighting stories from Mastercard Foundation Scholars about how gender has shaped their leadership journeys. Stay tuned for more.