Bryn Mawr Alumnae Reflect on WPSP Colloquium

Posted January 9th, 2012 at 5:21 pm.

Bryn Mawr Now guest blogger Sara Alcid ’12 was among the Bryn Mawr students who attended the Women in Public Service Project Colloquium on Dec. 15.

Countless outstanding and inspirational female public servants were in attendance at the Women in Public Service Project’s colloquium on December 15th, many of whom are graduates of the sister colleges: Bryn Mawr, Wellesley, Smith, Barnard, and Mount Holyoke. I was lucky to be able to speak and correspond with Bryn Mawr alumnae Inyang Ebong-Harstrup ’82 and Amanda Glendinning ’05 about their impressions and thoughts regarding the content of the colloquium.

Inyang Ebong-Harstrup ’82, who currently serves as Deputy Director of the United Nations Development Program, thought the colloquium was “an excellent forum, star studded with women whose experience is very important and we were privileged to hear from them at first hand.”

She wishes greater attention had been paid to the challenge of balancing one’s career and personal life, which is a discussion that is still taboo, but must be addressed alongside women’s leadership because the politics and norms of care still disproportionately burden women in expecting them to serve as primary caretakers. This makes the work/life balance difficult for both men and women to navigate, as it is loaded with antiquated gender roles and expectations.

Incorporating discussion of this issue into future forums that the Women in Public Service Project facilitates could even be instrumental in shifting the discourse surrounding work/life balance, considering the influence, prestige and “game-changing” nature of the project’s supporters and participants.

Ebong-Harstrup also expressed her concern over the fact that “North/South and cultural dimensions were not as actively articulated and managed as [she] would have liked.” She noted that the advice given and strategies discussed at the colloquium for securing political office were “very Northern/Western centric and lacked cultural nuances and sensitivity.” Addressing this issue will be key to the success of the project in attracting women from both “the North (beyond North America) and South,” Ebong-Harstrup suggests.

Ebong-Harstrup plans to stay involved with the Women in Public Service Project and shares the initiative’s passion for “the role and engagement of women in public service,” which she has demonstrated through her development of a Women in Leadership Development Program for women being recruited and appointed as Resident Coordinators, the highest ranking United Nations positions in any given country. This leadership program “focused on both the personal and professional lives of these
women in a holistic way, so as to ensure not only their success, but also their continued rise through the most senior echelons of the UN system,” she said.

Ebong-Harstrup is also interested in working with both the colleges and the State Department to ensure that the project captures “the emerging changes between the North and South” and approaches leadership development in a manner that does not privilege Western values.

A former Bryn Mawr Student Government Association President, Amanda Glendinning ’05, also shared her reflections on the colloquium with me and thought “the body of it and the message of the speakers were very inspirational.” Glendinning is currently the head of case management at Pathways, Inc. and was certainly in agreement with the colloquium’s message regarding the importance of women “promot[ing] each other and enhanc[ing] each other’s self-confidence.”

She hopes to remain involved with the Women in Public Service Project by becoming part of its network of mentors and assisting with fundraising.

“I would love to mentor women whose interests fall in line with mine. I also hope to be involved in their fundraising aspects as no project like this can exist without funds,” Glendinning said.

I asked her to share any advice she has for young women looking to enter public service because of her history of high achievement at and beyond Bryn Mawr.

“While in college you get the experience that you need while learning to balance other aspects of your life– and while receiving mentoring services from the school and from other inspiring women. This can take people a long way. Also by participating in student government and public service early on, young women can learn how to fail and in doing so how to become an effective leader. It will inspire a person to keep pushing and inspire a person to do better and take risks. I definitely grew from my experience as SGA president,” she remarked.

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