Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister's Message To Women: Be Yourself, It's Good Enough
“Never feel like you have to tick all of the boxes on everything to be able to feel like you can do a job. I have heard it said many times before and it is so true. If you sit and wait to feel like you are the most confident person in the room you are probably going to be left by yourself,” says Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Ardern is the world’s youngest female leader having taken office at the age 37, which is no small feat given that currently there are only 15 female world leaders out of a total of 193 UN member states.
Ardern says that if she had listened to her self-doubt she would never have ended up in the position she holds today. “I know there was a mindset that led me to this place. It wasn’t that I found some miraculous way to overcome the natural self-doubt, particularly the heightened self-doubt that women tend to feel. It was more that I eventually just said yes,” she says.
Once she was nominated, Ardern says she quickly began to realize that she had to own who she was and what she stood for. “There was no time to over-prepare or rehearse, the only choice I had from that day forward was just to be myself. I feel like that has served me well. I don’t think that the next generation should fear just being who they are, rather than confirming to an expectation of what they are meant to be.”
In this interview, Ardern shares how she overcame her battles with the impostor syndrome and her plans for advancing the next generation of women leaders.
Michelle King: Did you always think that you could become Prime Minister?
Jacinda Ardern: No. Definitely not. When I was a teenager I joked about it once and my peers would tease me for it because I was the only person they knew who belonged to a political party. Did that mean I realistically thought I would end up in this position? Absolutely not.
In part, this was because my view of politics (and even my career) was that the things I wanted to achieve didn’t require me to be in the top job. Or so I thought. A lot of what I wanted to do were things like addressing child poverty, and being in a position to make a difference, which wasn’t about personal ambition. But it became really clear to me, the longer I was in politics, that unless we were in a position to form a government, I was never going to be able to achieve those things. I had a role to play in that too.
Taking on a leadership role doesn’t mean that you only have to be personally ambitious. It is actually about saying that (to achieve) all of those other things actually might mean stepping up.
King: Women often feel like impostors at work, especially in leadership roles, have you ever experienced this?
Ardern: Absolutely. The reason I am so open about this is because I was 15 years old when my favorite teacher told me that he suffered from impostor syndrome. He explained to me what it was and from that moment on I realized that you can be amazing at what you do and still have this experience. But it shouldn’t hold you back.
There are ways to turn self-doubt into a positive, constructive thing. It makes you work harder. It makes you ensure that you are always well prepared and one step ahead of everyone else. It is just about making sure it doesn’t tip over into a space where you are too hard on yourself.
King: What do you think the biggest challenge women in the workplace face today?
Ardern: Guilt. Whether it is placed on us or whether we carry it ourselves, there is this constant expectation that we need to be doing more in every element or aspect of our lives. To be a better sister, a better daughter, a better partner, better at our jobs, better at care giving - just everything. I think we just carry so much expectation and guilt. It is hard to know how to balance that other than to say, it is a wasted emotion.
King: How do you plan to help women overcome these challenges to advance at work?
Ardern: What I hope we can do, as people who have some control over the environments that women work in, is to be enablers. To try and take some of that pressure off so that decisions can be made by women and in their best interests. Too many women are in low wage work, they don’t have money or security as a result.
So, lift the minimum wage, move on pay equity, reduce the gender pay gap, increase paid parental leave and encourage flexible work. Those are just some practical things I would like to see us do and I hope we deliver this as the first piece of legislation that we put into parliament.
King: You were asked in an interview about your plans to have children and responded with, “It is totally unacceptable in 2017 to say that women should have to answer that question in the workplace.” To advance gender equality do you think all women should speak up?
Ardern: It is easy to talk about that in theory. I feel that there is a responsibility when you are in a position like this that you use your voice because not everyone can.
I remember having a conversation once on pay issues with another woman who said, ‘Well I just think that it is up to women to go in and demand that their salaries be lifted and they need to take responsibility for doing that.’ Immediately my mind jumped to the women who works at a supermarket for ten years and whether or not they feel they could use that same power as someone who works in a corporate world.
I am loath to judge or imply that women should feel that they are always in a position to do that. I feel that it is our job to amplify women's voices until they feel like they can. That’s why I have no hesitation on speaking out on issues like that.
King: What do you believe success (in your role as Prime Minister of New Zealand) looks like?
Ardern: Our time as politicians is incredibly important to us, but our names in the future will just disappear and the only thing we can hope for is to have left something behind that endured.
For me there are a couple of issues that I would like to work on that endure beyond political cycles, and they include child poverty and well-being and climate change. We should be able to take politics outside of these issues, they are generational and they need lasting solutions. I would love to lay the foundation for that.