International Women's Day Portrait: Astrid Manroth

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On the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8, we shine a spotlight on eight women plus one – the Director of Gender, Women and Civil Society – who are making a difference at the African Development Bank. This is the fifth in the series.

Interview with Astrid Manroth, Director Transformative Energy Partnerships

First, please introduce yourself by sharing an anecdote or an experience, personal or professional, that has made you who you are today.

When I first moved to Cameroon as energy specialist for the World Bank a couple of years after having completed the Young Professionals Program, I was relatively young. As a result, initially the Cameroonian authorities and some colleagues looked at me with some doubts. Some also tried to tell me that my priority should be to raise a family rather than working in Cameroon. However, I was committed to the development of Cameroon’s energy sector and to building the World Bank’s energy sector portfolio. So I had to earn the respect of the authorities and some of my colleagues. I did this by working hard, focusing on the best technical solutions for the country, building a relationship of trust with the authorities, staying out of politics and working in partnership with other development partners, including the African Development Bank. After I prepared the complex Lom Pangar hydropower project for board approval, brought local banks into the financing of the Kribi gas to power project through an innovative use of the World Bank’s partial risk guarantee and helped the government create a rural electrification fund – altogether leveraging about $1 billion for Cameroon’s energy sector from public and private sources – nobody doubted me anymore.

In your view, would you say being a woman has been an obstacle or an advantage in the evolution of your career?

In my experience, being a woman has been an advantage when I worked in organizations that have embraced a culture of multiculturalism, respect, meritocracy and diversity. I have also been privileged to experience the benefits of inspiring women in senior management who make it a point to support and promote women in their organizations. In contrast, being a women has been a disadvantage when working in institutions that have a less international culture and where politics prevail over meritocracy. The so-called “old boys’ clubs” still exist. In this context, I have experienced my fair share of what I consider discrimination against women in my career as well. This needs to change. Enough studies exist today to demonstrate that a diverse workforce, including the empowerment of women in the workplace, result in better organizational performance.

What does March 8th mean for you? In your view, should every day be International Women’s Day?

In the ideal world, we would not need a Women’s Day in our calendar. However, the world still has a long way to go before achieving equal treatment of women in societies and in the workplace. Until then, we need an International Women’s Day; we need organizational targets to achieve gender parity in management, boards and in salaries as well; and we need formal and informal networks that support and empower women.

What advice or words of wisdom would you give young women who would like to learn from your career and follow in your footsteps?

Obtain a good education. Work hard. Believe in yourself, listen to your inner voice and follow your vision. Never let anyone doubt or stop you. Find a role model and seek mentorship. As Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”