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‘The strongest women are those who understand that softness is a component of their strength’

LAU trustee Cherilyn Murer talks about the challenges and opportunities for women climbing the social and professional ladder.

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Under the auspices of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, LAU trustee Cherilyn Murer gave a talk about the challenges facing women in leadership to a roomful of scholars and professionals at Beirut campus last week.

As Provost George K. Najjar noted in his introduction, Murer is amply qualified and experienced in the topic, having founded and presided over premier legal-based healthcare management consulting firm Murer Consultants since its foundation in 1985.

“I entered law school as a mother of two young children. Some of my so-called friends at the time said I would be neglecting my children,” she said, recounting one of the many hurdles that faced ambitious women in the previous century. “Twenty-five of the 125 students in my class were women, and 20 of them were divorced or divorcing.” Society and men were not ready to support women in business back then and those who succeeded often did so at great personal cost.

Murer considered herself fortunate in that her husband was supportive and saw her as an equal. “Equality does not mean replication of the male but understanding that we are equal in strength and capability,” she remarked, referring to a period when women used to dress and behave like men. “The strongest women are those who understand that softness is a component of their strength,” she said, adding that she enjoys helping other women reach their goals and being a role model to her highly accomplished daughter.

Though the challenges she and her daughter faced climbing the ladder were defined by different socio-economic contexts, Murer said, they were still hard to surmount. Many of the obstacles she had to overcome no longer presented themselves to women. “Basic critical issues have been acknowledged but … we have hit a plateau where some issues are more difficult to discuss,” said Murer, referring specifically to pay disparity and promotion opportunities for women at senior management levels.

The audience was composed of highly accomplished professional women, and in response to one in particular who thanked Murer for the much-needed boost she offered through her talk, the speaker expressed her admiration for the women she had come across during her visit. “There is extraordinary strength and grace in the women I have met here, almost to a fault.” Addressing the ability and willingness of such women to take on a multitude of roles, and while acknowledging the importance of the presence of men in the room and in the discussion at large, Murer added: “Women are ambitious and will take it all on, but it is their partners who will relieve that burden.”

Reverting to her native U.S., Murer acknowledged the likelihood of Hillary Clinton winning the presidency. Clinton, she believes, would most probably bring women’s equality to the fore, and would represent a historical visibility of women in leadership, like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Pratibha Patil of India before her. “The world has seen many strong examples of women in leadership, but they have been like meteors, sporadic, and now we want a constellation of them.”


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