On Being the Youngest Woman Leader in the Room

What’s a 24-year-old doing in the ministry? Sarah Seif, the youngest associate minister in the State Ministry of Information, writes about her experience.
On Being the Youngest Woman Leader in the Room

When I start introducing myself to people as an associate minister at the age of 24, its either people feel delighted seeing a young woman in a leadership position, or I  feel their scrutiny and even sometimes attacked for holding such a position at a young age. “What does she know about the real world or the workforce?” People would put me in a box right away.

That’s my current life and here is my story.

Before being promoted and appointed as an associate minister to the State Minister of Information in November 2020, I was hired as a crisis communications manager in April 2020.

I was hired to lead and build a new department in a newly established ministry, where I had to hire employees, take care of them, build a culture and system for work as well as ensure perfect delivery of work; because every work presented was presented on a ministerial level, so there was no room for mistakes whatsoever.

I hired employee after employee, team member after team member from zero till I built a team of 12 people across multiple units over the course of five months. Within such a period, I had to keep the ball rolling, between meeting the press, or ministers, and associate ministers or even C-level executives for partnerships and collaborations. 

During my first month, everything was overwhelming and I was very uncomfortable working directly with a minister on a daily basis as I always felt inferior, or in other words, very young. Until one day in my third week, I got a call from the ministers office telling me all my daily work needs to be summed up in one five-minute presentation and wrapped up in the upcoming 15 minutes.

I panicked, yet tried to calm down to get the work done, and then I was escorted to the meeting room and was informed that I’ll have to present in front of five ministers. I panicked even more, and everyone in the room tried to calm me down till I was able to kind of feel normal again.

Five ministers walked into the room afterwards, and the presentation went really smoothly. A minister was even taking notes of the data I was presenting.

I asked for feedback after the meeting, and I was told it was superb.

I then realized that there was no need for being worried at all. Minister, C-level executive or a fresh graduate; everyone is equally “human” at the end of the day and there is no need to be worried.

Regardless of gender,  age, or experience… Everyone, and myself included, has something to add to the table. I then came to realize that it’s not about people seeing me “young” or a “young woman”; it’s how I saw myself that mattered. Most young people, especially women, tend to lean out on the decision-making table because they think that they’re “unfit” due to their womanhood or their youth; that simply men are “more dominant and that they know better.”

As Sheryl Sandberg said in her book “Lean In” :

“Women need to shift from thinking “I’m not ready to do that” to thinking “I want to do that- and I’ll learn by doing it.”

And that’s a quote I live by.

We as women, especially young at “age,” need to start practicing that mindset. We need to start knowing that no one in the world knows it all and If you think you’re  young and others know better, you will always be a subordinate. And I don’t believe we as youth come second anymore. We are loud, well-educated, well-read, ahead of our time and most importantly well-exposed. So, the minute you start thinking to yourself while walking to a meeting with seniors that you’re young and they won’t take you seriously, they simply won’t. But if you carry yourself with full confidence and “lean in” literally at the decision making table, this is when EVERYONE will take you seriously.

You will get attacked, people will question your abilities, people will judge and more to that they will envy.

All you have to do is prove them wrong… Not for them to see that you’ve made it, but for you to see that you can. Remember I mentioned people saw me too young to hold my previous position as a manager, even before I was appointed as an associate minister.It’s only when I looked very highly of myself that I grew and got to the next game.

In conclusion, if there’s one takeaway out of this whole read, it would be one thing: Whenever you’re on your way to a meeting with senior people, don’t think about being the youngest in the room. Instead, remind yourself of the special trait(s) you have that brought you to that point in your career.

It will change your whole world.

To all the women out there, young and senior, LEAN IN on the decision-making table with loud voices – clear and confident. In this age we’re living in, I believe that we are slowly coming to realize that we are not men or women, only decision-makers.

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