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IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Debbie Mannas

IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Debbie Mannas

Jessie Liu IWD2021


Disclaimer: Please note that all commentary and opinions provided in this interview are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by. 

What skills and attributes do female leaders bring to create diverse leadership at management level? 

The best female leaders I know are not afraid to make human connections to the work they do, and are fearless about saying things like “we want a better world”, instead of making it all about the bottom line. The most inspirational male leaders are unashamed about articulating the world they want to create, but compassion and vulnerability come naturally to most women, and is a natural style for a lot of great women leaders, and we need to be bold about it. 

What does “choose to challenge” mean to you? 

I have challenged the expectations set by family and society on my career, my music, who I married, when and how many kids I should have, what my home should look like, and whether or not I do housework, go to community events etc. Society places a LOT of expectations on women, while men have a pass at doing anything related to home or family if they work full time, and are praised no end when they participate at home. Not so women. We try to do it all, and it’s breaking us. Or we opt out of our careers. And sadly we judge other women when they don’t meet these expectations of womanhood. We need to challenge our own mind-sets and judgements. 

The other thing I’d choose to challenge is our expected “martyrdom”. Taking care of ourselves and having a guiltfree personally-fulfilled life, pursuing our hobbies and passions, if we so choose is an absolute essential for fulfilling our potential. Men can make the time to play golf, run marathons, para-glide, have boys nights out, etc., but women in the workplace are judged for making time to do activities outside of work and home, such as art, theatre, music (shopping seems to be acceptable!) etc. I feel like there are “masculine” and “feminine” hobbies. Nobody suggests to a man that he should stop having a corporate career to become a professional golfer or athlete, but it has been suggested to me multiple times that I should throw up my career to become a full-time musician, despite my professional achievements… the subtle hint is “you’re spending too much time on your hobbies, so you must not be spending enough time working”. I’ve noticed that it’s OK to post on LinkedIn how you trained for and ran your marathon (loads of likes and comments), but not OK to post about the artwork you just completed or the show you just did (radio silence). And silence speaks volumes. When we don’t celebrate the whole woman for all her achievements, we are sending a silent signal of judgment. 

What is one lesson you learnt the hard way? 

I've learned that being good at what you do is not enough, and fairness/justice is never a given. You have to connect with the “right” people, learn how to sell and influence, but most importantly, know when to walk away, because your mental health is just not worth sacrificing. Resilience is something that has come to me through heartbreak and a personal choice to move on, and has been hard won. 

What are you really, really good at? 

I pride myself on my versatility and adaptability. I learn really fast and am good at connecting the dots and being able to see patterns in seemingly unrelated events and outcomes. It allows me to accept that many things can hold true at once, and create strategies that are aligned to multiple outcomes and multiple stakeholder benefits. I’m also really good at singing and song writing. 

What has held you back in your career to date and how did you overcome that barrier?

My mixed race and gender. As I said before, being very very good at what you do is not good enough when you’re the wrong gender and colour, and I’ve been excluded from many groups because of it. I seem to fit in no category. But rather than being a victim, it’s actually liberated me from expectations and allowed me to tap into my creativity and innovation, unrestrained. I’ve been able to come out of left field and do things others didn’t think of doing, or challenge the status quo without fear of not belonging for better results. And I’ve formed really empowering relationships and friendships with like-minds because of it. 

I know that if my face was a different colour on my music albums I might have more opportunities. So I’ll never really know what heights I might have reached; I can only do what I can to make my own opportunities, and prioritise the things that give me joy, rather than let someone else have power over my energies. 

Why is it important that we “choose to challenge” and call out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping? 

Stereotyping puts us in boxes and limits our potential to serve our clients, families, societies, countries, and humanity. It narrows our talent pool dramatically and sentences half of the population to a life of constraints. It deprives the world of brilliance. We should choose to challenge for all these reasons, but most importantly, because it is the RIGHT thing to do. To misquote Edmund Burke slightly, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good PEOPLE to do nothing.”

Click below to read the full edition of IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Female Leaders Across The Globe.