Pacific Personalities Interview: Mary Elizabeth Romosaea
Pacific Legal Network is thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Mary Elizabeth Ramosaea from Solomon Islands as part of our International Women's Day 2022 celebrations. Mary exemplifies this year’s theme of #BreakTheBias with her entrepreneurship and leadership activities in both local and regional projects. Throughout her career her social conscience and desire to make the Pacific a better place for women, shines through.
Mary is the founder and business director of Kaleko Steifree Solomons, a social enterprise that specialises in the production and distribution of innovative, environmentally sustainable, reusable sanitary pads, as well as menstrual education in Solomon Islands and the Pacific. Since COVID struck, Kaleko Steifree decided to address the shortage of masks and added reusable face masks to their line of products, employing additional local women along the way.
Mary is also currently the team lead for KBC-Elevate Solomon Islands of which Kaleko Steifree Solomons is an affiliate. KBC-Elevate Development is a regional consultancy firm that has branches in Fiji, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands and has its regional office in Wellington New Zealand.
Mary also served on the Advisory Board of Pacific RISE Trade Finance Vehicle in 2020 and 2021.
Mary is passionate about the environment and family focused initiatives. Most important to her are the economic, social, political, environmental, and human developmental outcomes in Solomon Islands and the Pacific region. She is people centric and strongly believes in the power of community and the value of serving others.
Mary has extensive management experience in leading and supporting a variety of national development projects and programs in the Solomon Islands the Pacific with, a strong focus on building human resource and social systems. This includes dealing with various international and regional organizations, universities and professional bodies to support development initiatives in Solomon Islands and the Pacific.
Why do you think it’s important to have women represented in management in the Pacific?
Women pay attention to detail. And if we hold that thought and apply it to women in the Pacific, we will notice that women in the Pacific do have a high level of tolerance and resilience to a typically high pressure environment which is a quality ingredient and absolutely necessary for top level management. Often, due to a certain degree of expectation, our personalities, or rather the calculative measured steps we take, can be seen as a sign of passivity, overthinking or weakness. In fact, women in the Pacific do have a lot to offer to various top management positions. What we consider as boldness might look different to that of someone with a different cultural context whether on the continents, in cities, metro regions, or islands.
Therefore, create a space or legitimize an opportunity for women so that they can provide better input and understanding of the Pacific context with regards to the cultural affiliations and the traditional knowledge that is key to understanding the way people exist; which perhaps might have some direct link to the organizations mandate and service delivery output.
Did you face any hurdles getting a board appointment?
I did not. But I would like to say this first. The context for the appointment was created through the process of designing a trade finance vehicle (TFV). I applied for the position and was selected and contracted to be a part of the board. I suspect this was also based on the experience and expertise we have already cultivated during the design phase of the TFV and so the board appointment was strategically designed. I think this is also something that we should propose to other organizations to emulate but still balance it with a merit-based approach.
What do you foresee the hurdles for working women in the future?
The Global Pandemic presents a different kind of narrative and shift of the power dynamic and so it creates a different expectation for many women. This holds true on a case-by-case basis in the Pacific region whether by country level, provincial level, district or community level. But of course, we are still learning and navigating our way around the hurdles we faced. But learning alone is not sufficient when we have to decide on achieving the organization’s outcome. Active participation with a certain level of confidence and boldness is a must to truly reflect our resilience. The cascade of our ideas and frame of thinking must lead towards achieving the desired outcome of what we stand for and believe in as well as for the common good which we represent as women.
I can only assume that, as Pacific women our challenges might look different for various reasons, one of which is the lack of access to information and infrastructure compared to that of a woman growing up with western ideologies, perhaps in a continent, a state or a city; these challenges are important for us to admit.
I always say that women in the Pacific have a high level of resilience and it is a great conviction of mine. Leadership attitude has to change to at least recognize how that resilience is a key element for further development. Technology has given us, at least some kind of access to knowledge and information and perhaps documented solutions, which can help us in our professional growth and development though very limited, but that is not the “be all and end all”. No one really knows the future and what to expect but at least we can craft a futuristic mindset of Hope for our women and adjust our attitude towards preparation for the unexpected future. This mental-grasp should create flexibility and adaptability inside of us, and for the future.
What do you think needs to be done to ensure there are more women on in management in the future?
Personally, I desire to preserve a life that works well for everyone: where men may fail to think structurally or strategically, women can step in boldly and contribute their ideas and experiences (not to say that they are better than the men but to say that they are equal partners in bringing solution to this side of the bargain). Hence, a balance of proportion. I might be seen as biased for saying that but for instance, a typical Pacific family invests in a woman going to school with the mindset that a woman is trained to serve the family needs and to take care of the household, whilst men are cultured into thinking about what position they will or can attain in an organization after graduation – with that in mind, apply that principle in organisation management and you’ll get a classic case of women representing their concerns for the common good.
There has never been a time when such opportunity that presents itself to the current leaders in our countries are becoming so obvious. There has never been a time in the history of my country, where opportunities present itself in such a way, to showcase the strength of a woman through documentation and publicity and this should be elevated right up to the highest office of the land as much as it is streaming down to the lowest level yet considered to be powerful. We can also bank on the notion that women can contribute towards the powerful systematic change and national decisions for the future of our region and change the scenario because unfortunately according to the Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Leadership women’s political participation rests at 8.2 percent in the pacific, which is staggeringly low. But, this is also an opportunity to bring in change for such narratives. For Instance, in Solomon Islands, if we carefully utilize and value the statistical representation of the ratio 1:5 (man to five women) to future-cast our economic work-force and its capabilities, and then factor that into our policy implications whether on education, health, infrastructure, etc. In fact, this should not be taken for granted, for figures and statistics don’t lie. But, such knowledge can only piggy-back on leadership in Solomon Islands as a case in point.
The challenge of leadership in any organization or in Solomon Islands for that matter is to provide an environment safer for women; where women can be powerfully represented and where their voice can be heard for whatever agenda they fight for – it can be argued, that we have wasted so much effort in trying to produce an outcome based on a wrong assumption for women, which seeks to prove legislative reforms will change attitude and behaviours. Legislative reforms only legitimize the expectation of the agenda and not the practical outcome. But to actually produce a practical outcome we will need to work on the attitude of the people to whom the legislation is addressed. To me this is an issue of mindset and behaviour.
What advice would you give to women wanting management positions?
Know your context well. Apply yourself to learning. Being part of a management team is like an air-conditioner in a packed room. You set the temperature to calibrate the vision of your organization to meet the desired expectation but also to achieve the common good. Your collective thoughts and ideas are like the sounding board for which the subordinates rely on within the organization or the project assignment.
Be confident and know your significance as a woman and as to why you are chosen for the role or the reason why you are an asset to that organization and being part of the management team. In other words, know your identity, know your calling and passion and that will flow along to amplify your contributions. Recognize that your contributions are valuable and do matter to the organization and will help to shape the overarching design as well as systems and structures that will allow those who implement to run with the vision in such a way and do it just as how you have envisioned it to be so, in the blue print of your organization.
Build trust and relationships with your team members. I understand it is a little bit difficult for those who have most of their meetings online. I had the experience of all team meetings happening online. But I also have the opportunity to communicate outside of our formal online meeting with my team members, to run past my ideas. It is important to say “I don’t know” with a positive attitude in wanting to know, in that way, the team can look for answers together. And it cultivates humility inside of you. Do your homework or research about the topic of discussion or the agenda in advance prior to meetings. In that way, you come prepared and can contribute constructively to a discussion. See the role of men as equally significant, not as a competitor or superior but rather an equal sounding board, a partner who can be more successful with your help or input. In that way, you will understand that your contributions are worth the outcome. Always learn to flex for the future, not holding on to things too tightly for change is inevitable and change requires a lot of flexibility, learning and reset.