Larisa Bowen-Dodoo is Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Levers in Heels, Africa’s leading digital media enterprise highlighting rising African women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She also supports the British Council in the delivery of its Social Enterprise programme in Ghana. Larisa is a member of the Global Shapers community, a multi stakeholder initiative of the World Economic Forum. More of Larisa’s work at leversinheels.com
Your initiative ‘Levers in heels’ is giving voice to African Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). What would you say has brought you the success you’ve had so far with this project?
It is more about the sense of fulfillment than success for me. I find that there’s great value in recognising and sharing the significant stories of remarkable women to inspire the next generation of female STEM leaders in Africa.
Based on your work and interaction with women leaders, what would you say are the issues that are relevant to women’s success?
I find myself thinking about issues of women empowerment every day. I think about how we can create a pipeline of women leaders to pave the way for more women in the future. I struggle using the word ‘success’ because there have been many arguments over what it means to be successful. Some people think being rich means you are successful. Others think attending multiple conferences or winning awards make you successful. Everybody has their own idea of what success means to them. I like to use the word ‘growth’ because there is purpose and victory in growing. From my own career experiences, I’ve come to the realisation that if there is one thing that women can do to grow in their careers, it’s this; they should be mentored by other ‘grown’ women, women with experience. Mentorship has proven again and again to be a key factor in the career advancement of women.
What do you see as the biggest barriers younger women coming up will face in becoming more influential in their communities and how can they prepare to get ahead of the curve?
In the context of our African communities, you realise that for so long, we have undervalued women’s knowledge, perspectives and experiences. Traditional gender roles, still widespread in our African societies, also serve as the main barriers to women rising and becoming more influential in their communities. Even when women move into these influential roles, they are conditioned by biases to maintain this status quo. To get ahead of the curve, we need to believe in ourselves and be more self-aware and assured of our abilities. Don’t let anyone suggest to you that your gender would be a disadvantage in doing so.
We mostly hear about the challenges that women face but what would you say women leaders are doing well (inspite of the challenges)?
In order to gain the same recognition and respect as men, women usually have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good. I’d say this makes women leaders more effective and competent despite the challenges.
As a member of the Global Shapers Community, what would you say are the most critical areas that need more focus to benefit young people and why?
The Global Shapers community is a multi-stakeholder initiative of the World Economic Forum, led by young exceptional people making a difference in their communities. The community was formed to include youth in global decision making that affect our lives.
In the Global Shapers community in Accra, Ghana which I happen to be a part of, we constantly work to develop innovative ways to engage the youth in our community, in ways that are relevant to employability, entrepreneurship, leadership, education, technology, creative arts & literacy, and civic engagement. We believe that in doing so, we are positively shaping the future of Ghana with the youth in mind.
How do you create opportunity for yourself that other young people can learn from?
Figuring out what I wanted to do in my professional life was one of the most daunting tasks of self-exploration I have experienced. It took a lot of courage, self-learning and making mistakes (and learning from those mistakes) for me to figure out and work towards career options that interested me. To create your own opportunities, you need courage, and you need to get out of your comfort zone!
What’s the strongest and most frequent compliment you’ve been paid as a leader and how does that influence your leadership?
The most frequent compliment, I’d say, has been that I am passionate. No matter how much experience I have gained, I persevere and constantly push to do something bigger, better and greater. It is also good to know that I lead by example and service, not because I feel like it’s what I should do, but because it is my way of life, and I genuinely care.
What attribute of yours are you confident will take you places and how?
Passion. Passion is what keeps me learning and growing. It is what makes me forget how much time I have spent working on a project I care about. It is what drives me to work harder to achieve my goals and dreams. Experience comes with passion.