10 Women Changing the Landscape of Leadership

Friday, March 5, 2021

In critical fields like agriculture, science, finance and technology, they have staked a claim with their pioneering work and are building a path for the next generation.

Verónica Pascual Boé, of Spain, recalls being asked by customers early in her engineering career: Can I speak to the man in charge?

“At first I got angry,” she said. “But then I discovered it was quite fun to say things like, ‘I promise you will not waste your time’” — and mean it.

Ismahane Elouafi, of Morocco, spent three years training to be a fighter pilot — until the military halted her program, believing that women were not equipped for the job.

“I was 17, and found it really unjust, really unacceptable,” Ms. Elouafi said. “Why could I not do what a man could do?”

Today, Ms. Boé is an aerospace engineer, leading a company that builds driverless vehicles. Ms. Elouafi went on to study agriculture and genetics, recently becoming the first chief scientist of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Each of them, in her own way, is upending norms in fields historically dominated by men.

A growing number of women are also breaking barriers in fields like finance, science and technology. And while equality in these industries won’t happen overnight — women still account for about a third of those in scientific research and development — they are working hard to create a path that may be easier for the next generation.

Those women include Aya Mouallem, an electrical engineer from Beirut, Lebanon, who is working to encourage girls to study technology.

(The gender gap in her industry has been widely documented, beginning at an early age, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.)

There’s Fatoumata Kébé, an astrophysicist who grew up in a working class suburb of Paris, the child of immigrants from Mali. She leads an organization that teaches astronomy to students who may not otherwise have that opportunity.

Ms. Kébé studied her father’s astronomy encyclopedia as a child, but it was not until she was 24, gazing at a star-filled sky while on a trip to Yosemite National Park, that she said she realized she had found her calling. “It was as if I had been struck by lightning,” she said.

And they include Fernanda Canales, one of Mexico’s most respected architects, who is working in an industry where just three of the world’s largest 100 firms are headed by women, according to a 2017 survey.

The women you will read about here say, for the most part, that they have found their calling. In the words of Ms. Canales: “My generation is rejecting the situation of past generations where women weren’t allowed to lead.”

They are also cleareyed about what hasn’t changed enough — including support for working parents. Emma Hodcroft, a molecular epidemiologist in Switzerland, noted that scientists often have to make important career choices in their late 20s and early 30s, at the same time many might consider starting a family. “But of course women pay a higher price as far as household expectations,” she said.

As these leaders upend the old rules, they are finding ways to create more equity for the next generation. These interviews have been edited and condensed.

Click here to view images of these women and view original story

Story by: Jessica Bennett