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Women in Policy: Zoila Navarro


With International Women's Day approaching on March 8, and the recent spike in awareness and activism around sexual harassment and assault, now is a time to reflect on how women are faring in various industries. On February 22, the Sanford School of Public Policy hosted an event moderated by Dr. Deandra Rose which looked at the challenges facing women in public policy. MIDP alumna Zoila Navarro (MIDP '13) was asked to be a panelist and to share her experience through her international lens. Where asked her to stop by the DCID office before the event to share an update. 


We first interviewed you almost two years ago when you were just starting your position at the World Bank. What have you been up to since then? Tell us about your work now.

I started as a consultant at the Bank working on disaster risk management (DRM) through the lens of public finance management (PFM). As a consultant, during my first year I had the opportunity to work with ministers of finance in Central American countries.

My approach was to build my work and my teams alongside their work and their teams. Instead of just sitting in headquarters in DC, I went out to them. I got to know their challenges, and we developed ideas together. I worked hard to ensure that our work reflected and respected their ownership, and I developed their trust.

After a year, the Bank recognized the value I was bringing and offered me a permanent staff position. As a DRM/PFM specialist, I now manage technical assistance in four Central American countries.

I have a team at headquarters and some local consultants in each country. I think what I am most proud of and excited by in my career is the chance to take the opportunities I was given, and turn them into opportunities for others. I consider myself a colleague, not just a boss, and try to mentor my staff. I encouraged them to get graduate degrees in the United States the way I did- because it was so valuable.


You’re here at Sanford today for a talk on challenges facing women in public policy. Is this a big problem in the development policy field?

We all know that women face barriers and harassment in every industry, and that it’s a universal problem- it doesn’t matter the country. Women have to work harder for our ideas to be respected, and when we succeed, we still have to work hard to prove that we earned our positions through merit and not because of our looks. I would say in finance in particular, it’s really challenging because of the norms about who is in the industry. People expect to see men in these finance roles.

I always try to remember not to let those kind of comments affect my self-worth. If I focus on remembering that I earned my position and that I know what I am doing, I can take those kinds of comments about my looks less seriously. I have learned to just take it as a compliment and move on, secure in my own sense of self. The truth is you can’t really control what someone else says or does, but you can control how you react. That gives you the power back.


How can a place like Sanford help improve outcomes for women? What should professors and administrators be doing?

I think leadership programs for women, where they can think about how to value themselves and their work, and how to set boundaries and say no, would be valuable. In addition, real mentorship of women by other women can help develop the confidence needed to be successful. 


RELATED: March 6, 2018 event in Washington, D.C. hosted by Devex and CGD: "Practicing What We Preach: How can Development Organizations Do Better on Women's Equality in the Workplace?"