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Bermuda woman to get ‘life-transforming’ chance

Francoise Lyon

A woman from Bermuda will for the first time have the chance to participate in a “life-transforming” leadership opportunity, according to the president of the international programme.

Launched in 1994, the International Women’s Forum’s Fellows Programme aims to train, mentor and connect women leaders. Since its creation, 48 countries have sent candidates to the programme, Francoise Lyon, president of the IWF’s Leadership Foundation, said.

A Bermuda arm of the IWF has been in existence for roughly five years. This year marks the first time a woman from the island will have the chance to participate in the Fellows Programme.

“Now I think that we have the awareness, and we have the desire, hopefully this will be the stepping stone for many other ones,” Ms Lyon said of the possibility of future participants from Bermuda.

“We want a candidate from Bermuda to represent Bermuda.”

The programme is comprised of three sections, including participation in the IWF World Leadership Conference in Houston, Texas, and two weeks of “customised training” at Harvard Business School and INSEAD in Paris, France.

The price for the programme is pegged at $27,500.

A field of between 40 and 55 potential candidates each year is whittled down to a maximum of 35 participants by a board comprised of 27 women from 14 countries. “We’re not looking for a 22-year-old who’s starting her career,” Ms Lyon said. “And we’re not looking for somebody who’s 65 who’s now CEO of a company and at the end of her career.

“We’re looking for probably 38 to 54, somebody who has achieved a certain level of success, but has hit a glass ceiling, has hit a wall, or is on the verge of being promoted, or is isolated in the role that they’re playing.”

Potential candidates are evaluated on a “combination of many things”, Ms Lyon said, though there are three key components: merit, potential benefit to the candidate of being part of a global network, and mentorship — one who will “pay it forward” later down the line.

“We are not a business organisation — we are a leadership organisation. We want women who are growing in their leadership role.”

Previous programme participants — of which there are now 550 — come from drastically different backgrounds.

“We have doctors, politicians, professors,” Ms Lyon said. “We have business people, obviously. We have Nasa engineers, we have aeronautic engineers.

“We don’t want 35 corporate women — that’s not the point.”

The programme, she said, acts as a “leg up” for women to get to the next level.

According to Ms Lyon, a former participant, a professor from Cameroon went on to run for the presidency of the country. “She felt that the reason she had the guts to do that, is because among her class there were two other women — professors from other African countries — and she now felt less isolated,” she said.

After reviewing candidates for a number of years, you come to see the “perfect storm” of qualifications in a potential candidate, Ms Lyon said.

There are factors that can quickly exclude a candidate, however. One of the biggest inhibitors, Ms Lyon said, is someone who is not willing to “lay it all on the line”. “We want women who are going to come in here and like literally open the book on the good, the bad, and the ugly of who they are, how they got there, and what’s going on in their lives,” she said.

“You’re either all in, or you’re all out.”

In addition to fostering professional growth, the programme is also about creating a safe space for participants.

“A lot of these women have been isolated in male-dominated industries where they don’t share mistakes, because it’s perceived as weakness,” Ms Lyon said.

“They don’t even know how to talk about a mistake. Well this is the place to allow them to do that, and not be judged, and not lose any credibility in the eyes of anybody.”

To the women in Bermuda considering completing an application, Ms Lyon offered the following advice.

“If there’s a little spark of interest, and there’s a little something in the back of their mind that thinks ‘oh maybe this is right for me,’ that they act,” she said.

The deadline to apply for the IWF’s Fellows Program is June 1. For more information or to complete an application visit iwfbermuda.com.