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(Dianne Bevelander, 56, Professor and Executive Director of Erasmus Centre for Women and Organisations (ECWO))

“For as long as I can remember I wanted to have a career, and for as long as I can remember I wanted to have a family. As with many other working mothers, my decision to work and study while my children were growing up was frowned upon by many. What’s more, during this period I got cancer and was told, ‘Stop working, stop studying, stay at home and just enjoy life.’ I think what these people were missing was that I was enjoying life and loved everything I was doing. I continued working full time while studying. The result? Today, my two wonderful children are both completing PhDs of their own!

Over the years, I have developed a passion for the cause of professional women. Whether it’s explicit or implicit, gender bias is an insult to all who experience it, and our societies are losing a lot of much-needed talent because of it. Women need to become far more conscious of their own strengths and the enormous value they can add to the business world. It’s so important to work with other strong women and support one another, particularly in corporate environments that are often dominated by old boys’ networks. Likewise, men need to work with groups of strong women, so that their preconceived ideas of gender stereotypes of ‘emotional and family-oriented women’ can be challenged.

At the same time, though, I want to inspire and encourage women to think critically and make their own choices. Whether to stay at home or to have a career or both: it’s all good, as long as it’s your own choice. These notions inspired me to develop the Kilimanjaro Women in Leadership MBA elective. We first climbed Mt Kilimanjaro in 2010. It took us a lot of training, but the results were overwhelming. It’s not about reaching the summit; it’s about working as a team and exceeding your own limits, even by just the slightest of margins.

Unfortunately, my cancer has returned. But even after numerous rounds of treatment, it hasn’t stopped me from trying to attain more goals. My life’s journey has been one of learning, and I am grateful to my family, friends and mentors, who believed in me more than I believed in myself. I know I drive them insane at times by trying to attain yet another goal or planning yet another event. ‘Slow down’, they’ll tell me. ‘Slow down.’ ‘But how can I?’ I’ll respond. ‘Life is passing me by, and fast!’”

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