Stockholm in my American Heart

Natalia is a journalist and public speaker on behalf of U.S. Embassy Sweden, focusing on women's empowerment and entrepreneurship, a passionate story-teller and proud mom.

Women’s Solidarity in the City of Lights: Global Women’s Summit

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Miriam Sapiro, former deputy U.S. Trade Representative now at the Brookings Institute, used this famous quote by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to launch the first panel of the morning at the Global Women’s Summit in Paris last week. Over one thousand women from all over the world– Malaysia to Mongolia, and California to South Africa– chuckled, smiled knowingly and even lowered their eyes at hearing those well-known words.

The group of female entrepreneurs, civil servants, politicians and industry leaders had seemingly all felt the bruising blow of being belittled, not supported or worse undermined by a fellow member of the sisterhood. There is truly no worse betrayal. Because as women, as mothers and wives, sisters and daughters, trying to make it in the professional world and “have it all”, we know in our core how hard it is. The guilt, insecurities and frustration is something we all share. And we need each other to survive and flourish.

Ambassador Sapiro deftly captured the spirit of solidarity in the room with those words. The women at the summit had unified to learn, connect and pull others up as they climb the ladder or scale the jungle-gym, as Sheryl Sandberg has described it, of today’s corporate world.

That has been the passion and goal behind the Global Women’s Summit’s fearless and tireless President, Irene Natividad. Irene has dedicated her life’s career in uplifting women’s causes and for over twenty years the Global Women’s Summit has been a vehicle for enacting change through solidarity and international¬† connectivity.

Irene’s talent at bringing people together was on clear display on the warm and sunny Paris opening of the 3-day conference. On the eve of the D-Day celebrations in Normandy, a night when Europe’s leaders and President Barack Obama descended upon Paris, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls took the time away from that to come address us at the summit. This was symbolically significant: women’s issues were serious and key to not only the success of women but also the success of all of society. Nations will be become more innovative and productive by maximizing the talent of their entire population, not just half.

This was a point Ambassador Sapiro also underscored. As both the U.S. and Europe continue on a road of economic recovery, the role of women is key to revival. In my opinion, empowering women to start their own businesses, take their creative ideas to market and structure their own workplaces and working styles is especially important.

Thus it was especially instructive to listen to lectures on spurring the tools needed to promote entrepreneurship such as role models, access to capital, investment networks, sponsors and matching skilled labor to the business model. Other thought-provoking panels included one with all male CEO’s demonstrating the ironclad business case for women’s leadership and how diversity has made their companies more productive. A panel that also sparked a great deal of passionate dialogue was one focused on integrating work and life, and asking the question: can women really have it all?

In this panel in particular, the example of Sweden was invoked a few times when describing cheap and quality daycare as well as structured maternity and paternity leave.

Naturally, it was fantastic that for the first time the conference had two inspiring Swedish panelists (not serving on the work-life balance panel) — Anna Serner, CEO of the Swedish Film Industry, and Gun Nowak, founder of FACE Stockholm.

Having Swedish female leaders in a globally-oriented conference founded by an American made such perfect sense to me! Women’s leadership is one of the strongest shared values between the United States and Sweden, two nations working on gender equality in a serious and substantive manner. Both of our nations have a legacy of giving back, and looking to solve global challenges through cooperation and social responsibility. These values shone during the 3 days of sunshine and sharing lessons learned in the City of Lights.

Perhaps it was Gun Nowak who made us all look deep inside ourselves and how are personal values are manifested in us. As her panel spoke about management tools and ways to form a brand, Gun looked reflectively and then lit up like a spark:

“Do you realize that no woman has ever said to me, ‘I feel beautiful’.”

Gun followed up by saying she often tells women they have a great face or look fantastic, and time and again women respond by bringing themselves down.  For me, it is woman like Gun and Irene, who lift other women up and help us see the best in ourselves that reserve a special place in heaven.

No man or woman is an island. We need to work together and shine the light on each other’s strengths to become stronger ourselves. This is what dawned on us all in the City of Lights.

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