27 September 2023

Caribbean queens: What’s there to learn from a country run by women?

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Kelly Hoey* says the island of Aruba sets an example as a place where women can pursue their careers without the landmines of sexism and gender double standards.

Aruba is a country led by women.

In government, policy, and business, women are prominent — starting from the Prime Minister, Evelyn Wever-Croes (pictured) and flowing down through all levels of management to entry-level positions.

I made this startling discovery recently and wrote about how Aruba may just answer the question “what if a country was run by women?” for The New York Times.

I intentionally described the discovery as startling.

Similar to the women I interviewed in Aruba, I’m a career-focused woman whose professional pursuits started in the 1990s in male-dominated industries.

This is where our career paths diverge.

While my career has tales of #MeToo sexual harassment as well as having to navigate the knee-capping and back-stabbing tactics of Queen Bees in the workplace, I was stunned to discover this was not the norm for women in Aruba.

Actually, none of the women I spoke with had these experiences.

Imagine being able to pursue your career ambitions without the landmines of sexism, double-standards and scarcity?

I’m not being Pollyanna about Aruba.

It is a small island nation with its own unique economic challenges.

However, the glass ceilings women face in that country look a lot similar to the ones their male counterparts bump into everyday as well.

But what are the lessons for the rest of us, who regardless of age or seniority, continue to push forward in our career and professional ambitions in places other than an idyllic island paradise in the Caribbean?

What can we learn from the career success of these women leaders in Aruba?

Here is what I have taken away from my leadership conversations in Aruba.

Don’t just complain

It is easy to focus on the challenges in front of us, especially when those challenges appear large and insurmountable.

Complaining doesn’t lead to solutions, focusing on solutions does.

Take Kimberly Bryant, founder of Black Girls Code, as a role model.

Rather than complaining about the lack of opportunities for teen and pre-teen girls of colour to learn skills in technology and computer science, she created a solution.

Now, one girl at a time, Bryant is make a difference and chipping away a much large women-in-tech problem.

Let your voice be heard

It may be daunting to raise your hand the first time to express your point-of-view but what’s the cost of staying quiet?

Learn to speak or your voice (i.e. ideas, solutions, perspective) will not be heard.

Celebrate, but more importantly, support your tribe

Yes, Aruba is a small island nation and yes, everyone seems to know each other, however, familiarity and friendship do not provide an excuse for dropping formalities or coming up short when it comes to supporting a friend in their career.

Absolutely celebrate a friend’s long-awaited promotion or big year-end bonus, but more importantly, recognise the need to support each other at the level of the role we’re in — each and every workday.

Don’t take it personally

Career success, like change, can be a frustratingly slow process.

Don’t take it personally.

I’ll confess: I was an extremely frustrated 20–something-year-old lawyer because I felt that everyone else’s career was progressing faster than mine.

I desperately wanted to succeed so yes, I did take it very personally when I was passed over or overlooked (in spite of my diligence and commitment and long hours).

Fortunately, I didn’t let my personal disappointment spill over into my relationships with colleagues.

There is strength in collaboration — and being a persistent team player.

Value confidence with integrity

With scandals and revelations rocking the headlines, snaring leadership from Silicon Valley to the auto industry, leaders with integrity are needed more than ever before.

For me, the visionary and principled leadership of the late Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface Inc. (a carpet manufacturer), immediately comes to mind.

Anderson pushed the company to innovate with an eye to its environmental impact, regardless of the effect such innovation would have on the company’s overall profitability.


Because in the mind of this visionary CEO, it was the right thing to do.

* Kelly Hoey is a writer, speaker and social media influencer. She tweets at @jkhoey and her website is jkellyhoey.co.

This article first appeared at www.forbes.com.

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