She said when she and other female colleagues had to fight for a seat in the parliament and did not get selected.
Women should never blame their gender for not getting what they want, Britain’s Former Prime Minister Theresa May told a predominantly women audience at the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai on Monday.
“Don’t think you don’t get something because you are a woman, said the British MP who was the second woman to be elected as the Prime Minister of UK after Margaret Thatcher.
In a conversation with Lana Nusseibeh, UAE Ambassador and Permanent representative to the UN, May shared her experiences as one of the few women parliamentarians who had to steer through a male-dominated turf. “I never looked at it as though I was a woman in parliament. I think it is very important that you don’t think of yourself just a as a woman.”
She said when she and other female colleagues had to fight for a seat in the parliament and did not get selected, some would say maybe it was because they were women. “Then I said to myself that I will never say that. I will always say.. what questions did I not answer well; what subject I need to know more about. Don’t think you don’t get something because you are a woman.”
Speaking about the pressure on women to be put out a personality when occupying high offices, May said she always believed in being herself. “It is important for our own self esteem to be yourself. I did it in my way and I was myself . And, hey! I became the Prime Minister,” said May to thundering applause from the crowd.
On a lighter note, May admitted that her high-flying career politics did throw up some gender- specific challenges like getting her heels stuck while she was walking down the Downing Street and also having to change in a cockpit.
“I needed to change on a particular journey and I had to change on the flight. And it was one of the air force aircrafts that had no changing facility. They took me to the cockpit with two pilots. I was thinking. Really!?” The staff of the then Home secretary made a changing room for her by using tapes to stretch out a sheet as a curtain.
She was responding to a similar anecdote shared by Nusseibeh about ending up with a broken heel while being part of a foreign ministry delegation.
To a question on the importance of women mentoring other women, May said women in leadership roles should actively encourage other women to come up and share their experiences which is different from men.
“Men network a lot. They use their contacts to help them through in their career. We don’t do enough of that.”
She added that women are under pressure that “we have to know it all. We have to do it all. So, we don’t like to ask.”
May also spoke about the obstacles women face and the need to have the right process that values women and do not even unintentionally “play into the strength of a man rather than to the strength of a woman.”
“The main obstacle is just people thinking that this is not for women. And that is why having women in such roles is important and to show that women are doing those roles and doing them well. And may be they are doing it differently than men but they are doing well and sometimes better.”
When jokingly prodded by Nusseibeh on whether women are better listeners than speakers in response to an example May used about how more men, by and large, came up to give their big speeches for the candidate selection process, May retorted, “I think, on the whole, Yes!”
“I think women are better listeners. And in politics it is important. Because you are actually trying to improve the lives of people and to do that you need to listen to those people and hear what the problems are that they need to address,” said May.
Anjana Sankar is a journalist by profession and a humanist by passion. Her cluttered desk is not indicative of her state of mind.
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