Developing Leadership Skills,
Distinguished guests, dear friends
In his speech yesterday President Valdas Adamkus said to this Conference: Gender equality is not a distant ideal for the future, but a precondition for prosperity and the good society. With this I sincerely agree. A democracy without the active participation of women in all fields of life can never be but a shadow of the real thing. Society needs its women as much as its men.
The workshop on Developing Leadership Skills focused on methods to improve the leadership skills of women and ways to increase their number in leadership roles. Women enjoy legal equality, the access of women to public education is not gender restricted and the number of women in the labour market has never been higher. Nevertheless, it is still relatively rare that women have leadership roles either in political life or in business. Despite very positive developments in this field in recent years women are still likely to be faced with obstacles that hinder their promotion to leadership positions, obstacles that may be contributed to their gender roles. Traditionally women have been trained to help, care for and serve others. Although these qualities contribute to the making of a good leader, these same qualities may also prevent a person from reaching a leadership position. In addition, a lack of schemes that facilitate it for parents to combine work with their family obligations, makes it more difficult for women to take on leadership positions in the labour market and in politics.
Overcoming the obstacles women have traditionally been faced with involves an effort on the part of individuals, companies and society in general. One cannot say that men are born natural leaders and that women must work hard on becoming ones. All potential leaders must identify their leadership skills and talents and their ability to use these talents. Training courses and seminars geared towards women are one way of enhancing the leadership skills of women. Leadership training, public speaking and personal networks are important elements in the development of any leader.
Already leadership training programs for women are in place in many countries. Some of them were launched after the Reykjavik Conference and seem to work well. In the workshop, leadership programs from Iceland and the United States were introduced and discussed. Many good programs from this region were also introduced in the workshop. I don't have the time to mention them all, but let me briefly point out two of them. One is a local project here in Lithuania. It targets young, unemployed women and gives them training for jobs, which need to be filled. This program has been a great success. Another example is the initiative of the Women's Voters League in St. Petersburg. It assists women in getting elected and offers them useful training once in office. This program as well has been a success. All these examples will hopefully be an inspiration to others.
In order to enable more women to realise their leadership potentials both in business and in political life more resources are needed. In our workshop the idea of creating a cross national training program for women in the Baltic region and Russia was raised. Such a program would build on models that have already been successfully run elsewhere. It is important to share best practices, but at the same time it is also important to keep in mind cultural diversities and to make sure that local needs are identified and addressed.
Female leaders as role models are extremely important. This point was emphasised in our workshop. Making female leaders visible is one way of changing traditional views on gender roles. Mentoring programs, where leaders take on aspiring, young women, may also be one way of encouraging women to take the necessary steps towards becoming leaders. Excellent examples of such programs were given in the workshop.
I would like to congratulate the Lithuanian Government on this very successful Conference. I also thank all of those who participated in the workshop and contributed to the fruitful discussion. I wish all of us the best of luck in achieving our goals.
Democratic government can only be realised when women are fully integrated into the political process, and enjoy the same opportunities as men. For at the core of democracy is a strong faith in individuals and the belief that individuals, regardless of their gender, race, religion or class, should be able to participate fully and creatively in public life.
Let's make that our common vision.