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International Women's Day Portrait: Victoria Flattau
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 eighth in the series.
Interview with Victoria Flattau, Young Professional and Country Program Coordinator, Regional Development, Integration and Business Delivery Vice-Presidency
First, please introduce yourself by sharing an anecdote or an experience, personal or professional, that has made you who you are today.
If it wasn’t for that one way ticket I bought six years ago in search of professional enrichment, my career would not have led me to where I am today. After years of designing public buildings and spaces in Africa from the US, I wanted to apply this expertise from the field. And despite arriving by boat to Tunisia with the rising smoke from the US Embassy attack, I was unmoved in my will to grow as a female architect, urbanist and environmentalist in an unfamiliar land. With hard work and openness, I found an opportunity in an engineering and architecture firm focused on infrastructure and green sustainability projects where I met with the most talented and thoughtful people. In just a couple of years, I was able to speak the language, understand the culture, and entered into different domains all of which opened up opportunities in an entirely new context.
In your view, would you say being a woman has been an obstacle or an advantage in the evolution of your career?
I can certainly relate to both. Architecture and engineering are both male-dominated fields and I found sometimes professional respect needs to be earned by dint of hard work for women. Credentials, experience and know-how are often not enough to be valued as a good professional as it is for most men. The value one can bring will not always be acknowledged, so it is key to demonstrate your ability: have a voice and use it wisely. If we are good at what we do and work hard it will be only a matter of time before it is known. This approach has worked for me in the past and now as a Bank staff.
What does March 8th mean for you? In your view, should every day be International Women’s Day?
This year has been a particularly poignant one for women, particularly as recent events in the West have revealed that we are much further away from equality and mutual respect than we originally thought. Discrimination still exists and new forms of it are being constantly reinvented. I see March 8 as a call to care about women and girls on a multitude of levels. Through my work at the Bank, I led the design of a project targeting specifically women’s involvement in the energy value chain in West Africa – a sector mostly dominated by men. We need to seize these opportunities and make International Women Days a chance to reflect on women’s rights, and be determined in standing as one to make gender inequality a thing of the past.
What advice or words of wisdom would you give young women who would like to learn from your career and follow in your footsteps?
Never underestimate your capabilities. Oftentimes we only discover our strengths when we delve into a new venture as we are forced to transform challenges into opportunities. Do not get discouraged at the first obstacle. Obstacles specific to women may seem daunting, and we must be prepared to fail in order to succeed. It is in those imperfect moments where we garner our strength and discipline. Most importantly, we are custodians of our planet, its values and cultures handed down to us. So keep your moral compass functioning when finding your direction in this world.