Young women start on leadership path with JPS Foundation

Sunday, January 26, 2014

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FOUR tertiary-level female students awarded scholarships through the JPS Foundation Youth Leadership Academy last December have begun an intense development training programme aimed at helping them realise personal and professional successes.

Shana-Kay Cunningham (UWI), Alshadane Wright (NCU), Kemesha Vassell (UTech) and Angelique Gardener (JTS) were identified in 2013 as future leaders based on their exemplary academic performance, extra-curricular engagement and high level of community involvement. They all received scholarships valued at $150,000 each in December 2013 and, from now until December 2014, will participate in a series of developmental sessions that will include mentorship, professional speaking and career exposure.

Youth leadership development is one of two core focus areas of the JPS Foundation which was founded in August 2013. The students are the first cohort of the foundation's Leadership Academy Young Women Leaders Programme which got off to an inspiring start when they met with JPS president and CEO Kelly Tomblin on January 10 in the first of several development sessions to be staged over the next 11 months.

During the informal January 10 session themed 'Why women must lead', Tomblin led the students through an exploration of leadership and gender relations. One point she highlighted was that the gender gap that exists in corporate Jamaica is promulgated by women not being afforded or taking the opportunity to bridge that divide.

"We face the challenge of older companies being led by men who grew up under a different paradigm. We also see where women often lack established business networks. Most often too, women face an internal hurdle in developing the needed confidence and determination to step into leadership roles. I challenge you to change all of this," she said.

The JPS president went on to encourage the young women to close the gender gap by simply showing up and taking their places as strong, capable female leaders in Jamaica.

"Even when women reach high executive levels, they do not aspire to board seats. Women continue to be underrepresented in leadership roles. But I challenge you to show up! Be present! Showing up is winning half the battle."

Tomblin further shared that, "Companies with the highest number of women in senior management deliver 35 per cent greater return on equity and returns for the shareholders.

"As women leaders we change the internal dialogue related to key business elements such as employee engagement, customer satisfaction, compliance, communication, and we embed the concept of value more in our language and strategies and infuse them in transformational leadership," she said.

"Remember, it is when you feel the fear that you lean in."

Wright, the youngest of the quartet of participants at age 17, was moved by the presentation to reach towards her greatness.

"It was very informative. I was very motivated and strengthened to face life's challenges. I now see opportunities differently. I am quite looking forward to the rest of the programme and this development journey."

Speaking to the programme, Manager of the JPS Foundation Nathelie Taylor shared that, "The JPS Foundation Young Women Leaders Programme is about helping our young women find their voices and have a forum for learning and for discussing issues as they rise from being young women to influential decision makers. It's about helping them to step into their full power."

"Our decision to focus on young women at this time is informed by what is happening in our society. Our objective aligns with that of the National Policy for Gender Equality which is to help promote the interests of women in decision-making roles across all sectors by enabling their access to leadership training and development opportunities," Taylor added.

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