Ambassador Stephanie Sullivan’s Remarks
Vital Voices Global Mentoring Walk
March 5, 2022
Executive Director Brigitte Dzogbenuku;
Mentors and Mentees;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Our fabulous MC;
All protocols observed:
Thank you so much, Brigitte, for the kind invitation to participate in this event again. I was here in March 2020, right before our whole world changed, and I’m happy to be back again.
Happy Women’s History Month! And Happy International Women’s Day (a couple days early)!
I leave for Cape Coast later today for the national celebration of Ghana’s independence. So, happy Independence Day too! And tomorrow marks 65 years of the U.S. Ghana relationship as well! I am so pleased to be a part of this event again. Mentoring is important for everyone – for young people, for people seeking to advance in their careers, for students, for parents, but especially for women and communities too often excluded from opportunities and leadership.
Because we haven’t yet achieved full equality for women in society, education, and careers, we need to be there to help each other.
I have a few thoughts about mentoring, and I hope you will take them to heart:
- As you succeed, remember to lift others up to succeed in their own journeys. Our mentors here today have already embraced this, but now it will be up to mentees to look for opportunities to support somebody else. Others mentored me, and you’ve already had life experiences you can harness to help others.
- Learn from setbacks. It is rarely a straight line to the top. There will be many stumbles and falls along the way, and it is at those points when mentorship is crucial in righting the path. It’s important to be honest as a mentor – talk about your own setbacks and how they contributed to your personal and professional growth. I finally passed the Foreign Service exam on my third try! It turned out to be a test of persistence. They say it took Thomas Edison 1,000 tries before he invented the lightbulb…where would we be if he had given up after 999 tries?
- I encourage you all to be open to serendipity. Sometimes the path you initially set out on doesn’t work out. But that’s okay because something else – perhaps something completely unexpected – will surely come along. After university, my Plan A was to study at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. I didn’t make it all the way to the finals, and instead joined the Peace Corps as a teacher in the now DRC. I taught at a girls’ boarding school outside the capital. While there I met a diplomat for the first time and decided I would like to pursue diplomacy as a career. This happened through serendipity, because of Plan B!
- Don’t compare yourself to others. You can find inspiration from role models, but don’t beat yourself up with comparisons. It is tempting to worry that you are falling behind somehow or less talented than others. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all. Don’t be bothered by pressure from family or friends to adhere to a timeline that doesn’t work for you. Focus on what you bring to the conversation and being the best you that you can be! Be authentic. Nobody can be you as well as you can. Everybody has their own timetable. I got “stuck” at a certain rank while my peers were promoted ahead of me. But I was building up valuable experience that came in handy later, and look at me now, a Career Minister, the equivalent of a three-star general!
- Be kind to others along the way; you never know when you’ll come across them again. It matters how we treat people from all walks of life. This becomes especially true when we reach positions of leadership and become responsible for setting the tone for organizations and more junior colleagues. For example, I was a little grumpy with my team this morning but I apologized to them, and will try to be better.
And finally, for today’s leaders, don’t stop at mentoring. It is important that we also seek out those young women you can sponsor – advocate for to ensure that they are noticed, put “on the radar,” breakthrough the traditional barriers, and advance into positions of leadership. Recognize that we as mentors also have a lot to learn from our mentees. They can offer a fresh perspective on our challenges, including with multiple generations in the workplace, not to mention they are usually better at technology.
It’s not enough to be the first woman in a specific job or position – we also need to support and advocate the next generation so that we’re not the only woman ever in a specific job or position, instead that we were just the first of many women there.
Women’s empowerment is an important part of what we do at the U.S. Embassy and we are happy to support this program again this year.
I’m pleased that our program, the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs has trained more than 160 Ghanaian women on how to manage and grow their businesses. And mentoring has been a critical part of that program. We will be opening applications for our next cohort very soon.
We will also be hosting a Women’s Empowerment Lab later this month to help Ghanaian and American women entrepreneurs connect, develop relationships, and take advantage of export opportunities to the United States and to Ghana.
With the release of the first-ever U.S. National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, the Biden-Harris Administration reaffirmed that advancing the rights of women and girls is both a moral and strategic imperative. It’s nice to know that the Biden-Harris Administration includes the first female vice president of the United States, isn’t it? And … I don’t think she will be the last.
In every country, including Ghana, women and girls experience challenges, impeding their full and meaningful participation, keeping their societies from reaching their full potential.
Gender equity and equality is not only a human rights issue – it is critical to free and fair democracy, inclusive economic growth, international peace and stability, preventing and responding to gender-based violence, and more effectively addressing global challenges such as the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our world needs all voices to meet the challenges of today. We simply cannot afford to leave anyone out.
That’s why it’s so important for women to mentor each other. I look forward to seeing today’s mentees become mentors themselves, do amazing things as leaders in our communities, and help each other maximize our potential.
Thank you for your kind attention.