How to become leaders, drivers, innovators and game changers

Women Of The World – Ruth Foulkes

As I talk with friends and colleagues, both male and female, about their hopes and dreams for the future the same themes keep emerging; choice and gentleness…which made me think about my understanding of both.

Gentle for me fits beautifully with grace. We can be leaders and drivers, innovators and game changers and we can do it all gently, with grace. We can do it strongly and passionately, being benevolent with compassion and understanding.

Choice is about freedom, respect and opportunity, having the resources and options. My hope is that women can have freedom of choice, without prejudice, to be whom they want, and grow in a culture of gentleness with an openness to vulnerability, where women can give and receive with a generosity to self and others.


Women’s Suffrage 

2018 saw the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in NZ, many years before other democracies. Kate Sheppard the most prominent member of the women’s suffrage movement in NZ is seen on our $10 note.

Jacinda Ardern our Prime Minister, successfully juggles work and home life. She is not only our youngest ever Prime Minister, but our first to have a baby whilst in office. She is skilful, diplomatic, intelligent, genuine and humble…a great role model to our young women, it was so appropriate that she wore a beautiful korowai (Maori cloak), and referred to a Maori whakatauki (proverb) on her visit to Buckingham Palace in April, emphasizing our biculturalism.

He aha te nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

New Zealand is a bicultural society and in 2018 there were some more positive moves towards establishing more openly and thoroughly a bicultural way of being. I set the challenge however to explore the true meaning of biculturalism, and how fully we embrace it as a nation.  Respect, choice and understanding for, and from all.



Over the last year, I have been volunteering with a women’s group through mental health services and have seen first-hand the impact that trauma, violence, neglect, and continuous undermining has on so many women; the lack of respect, lack of choice and lack of autonomy. I celebrate with these women the giant steps forward they take each day, for some getting out of bed is an achievement let alone showing up and participating. As a nation we are striving to understand the mental health needs of all our people, and how best to meet these needs. There is still a long way to go, but there has, over recent years, been a big push to de-stigmatise mental ill health.


TED Talks

I recently listened to a TED talk by the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie on the danger of a single story, and linked this closely to some current thinking and work I am doing around cultural intelligence. What sources do we use to inform our cultural understanding? How easily are we influenced by those single stories?  I am curious to know more about how the world sees New Zealand. The Ted talk inspired me to read more of Adichie’s work.


I also revisited a you tube clip of Severn Cullis-Suzuki speaking to the UN conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 when she was only 12 years old, about the responsibility to protect the earth for future generations, and wish I had the courage to make my voice heard so eloquently. It is our responsibility, for ourselves and future generations


On 12 July 2013, another young woman, Malala Yousafzai spoke at the UN aged 16, a year after being shot for campaigning for worldwide access to education.

#MeToo began in 2017 but gained momentum on 2018. It has helped women to break their silence and speak up, it has increased awareness in workplaces around the world, and businesses are having to respond. Women are gaining the confidence and freedom to choose, and take more control for themselves.

All of these women make me feel so humble, they have been courageous and spoken out for the rights of women, where I am only beginning to find my voice.


My vision and hopes for women of the future, for my daughters and my daughters’ daughters are:

That they are respected for the individuals they are. That they have unbiased access to all that the world offers and all they aspire to be and do, without prejudice. That they feel safe and valued and worthy, and they are loved and valued for who they are. It is our responsibility as parents to raise both our sons and daughters with these values.


I also hope that they have a beautiful clean and vibrant world in which to live, the responsibility for which again sits very firmly with us, those currently leading and driving change, to make good choices and decisions environmentally. We must work hard to conserve our natural resources in such a way that we can all share and be a part of the richness it offers. I try to make ethical considerations in all my actions, in how I live and what I do… making an effort to understand whether, for example, my actions perpetuate exploitative practice or whether they provide a necessary income…there are arguments for both but I want to be able to make an informed choice, and know my choice counts for something, which brings me back to choice.

I want for myself and my children the right to choose.

My hope is that we all have the respect we deserve, equal rights and opportunities world-wide. This is not just a wish I have for women it is a wish I have for everyone, it is not a privilege, it is a right.

I want my daughters to have choice and to feel that they can be who they truly are. I want the same for my son but he at least has the advantage of historic social privilege due to gender, something still evident in 2019. I want the women of 2019 to feel that they are seen and heard with the respect they deserve. I listen to Jacinda being interviewed and am overwhelmed with admiration for her gentle choice of words, her calm persistence to say her truth without fear, despite the intense and often rude way she is interviewed. Again Jacinda, a great role model. Clearly she had a great debating coach… who I happen to know is also a gentle, gracious and generous woman.

I am blessed to be surrounded by many strong women, all quietly gracious who challenge and support me. A goal for me for 2019 is to gather regularly with these strong and gracious women to talk about the things that matter, support each other in our endeavours, increase our positive impact on the world, and help each other grow.


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