The Honourable Paula A. Cox, CBE JP is the Immediate Past Premier and former Minister of Finance of Bermuda. She was first elected to Parliament in 1996 as one of the youngest members of the House of Assembly. In her subsequent fourteen years as a law-maker for the governing Progressive Labour Party (PLP), she garnered wide-ranging experience through a number of Cabinet portfolios. In November 1998, Cox was appointed the first PLP Minister of Labour, Home Affairs and Public Safety. On November 1, 2001, she was appointed the Minister of Education and Development. Following the July 2003 general election, she was also appointed to Attorney-General. Her management of these portfolios gained her added recognition when she was judged ‘the most effective politician’ in the Best of Bermuda Gold Awards for 2001 and 2003 by The Bermudian, a prestigious and long-standing magazine in Bermuda. Cox was chosen as Regional Female Leader of the Year in April 2011. She also received the Woman of Great Esteem Award of Excellence on behalf of Interfaith Kingdom Ministries, Inc. in March, 2012. She has gained respect throughout the country and across party lines for her brilliance as an articulate lawyer, administrator and politician.
IWF: What are your aspirations for the women and girls of Bermuda? What does it take to prepare leaders at the international level?
A modern democracy is fair and equal and women have to continue to make their voices heard. It cannot be efficient if you are not using all the talent at the table.
We have to learn as women the spirit of togetherness. We are blessed and wonderfully made and we come in all shapes, sizes and colours of the rainbow. We represent diverse views and ideologies. We can disagree and adopt a contrary position without being disagreeable. When tested we can rise to the occasion. We are not all sweetness and light but we are resilient and hopeful.
Recently, I was fortunate to have an opportunity to speak to two cohorts of young ladies from our public school system in Bermuda. One group was from our primary school level. Their age grouping was around 9-11 years of age. The second group was about 13-15 years of age. It was a positive learning experience for me to interact with them. They were forthright with decided views. They openly shared their aspirations and were busily engaged in devising vision boards of what they planned to achieve in life. It prompted me to remember a quote of Oprah when she said that the future was so bright that it burned her eyes. These young ladies were bold, beautiful and had decided that the world was going to be their oyster – they had ambitions and were chatty with so much promise and assurance about their future. I was very proud of their attitude and determination.
IWF: What are some of the challenges and/or advantages of being a woman in the political arena? What are some of the unique differences between leading in public service and in international business?
It is well recognised that the female factor is critical for helping to build and strengthen nations. So we have to make real efforts to screen in women both at the political level and in the corporate sphere.
We must recognise also that progress does not come without a struggle. So we have to gird our loins. Bottom-line though as women, we must not be satisfied with the crumbs and we can and must do more to ensure our voices are heard. That is why I am so very pleased that the IWF has a formalised role in the UN as a credible body for consultation on women’s leadership issues. This is such an awesome opportunity.
The most important thing we can agree on is the overarching sense that women’s voices are still not sufficiently heard, that women need to be more active participants in the political process and that women can shape the quality of their lives and those of their businesses and communities through their involvement.
The solution? Believe that you can make a difference. Women have group power. It’s important that women believe that we can make a difference. Get women in the loop. Men have their ‘ole boys’ network. Women need the wisdom from other women. It is important that we as women network with each other.
This applies whether in the political or corporate sphere. The IWF as an organisation can add significant value in providing an avenue for networking and the collaboration of women on so many different levels.
We need to talk to each other, learn from each other, network and mentor each other. Touch base and keep touching base with each other.
IWF: How and when did you become a member of IWF? What about IWF membership appealed to you?
I was invited to attend the Montreal Conference by former IWF President, Minister Allyson Maynard Gibson, held in October 2010. That IWF Conference focused on the topic of water and it was so impressive- the subject matter and the networking opportunities. I also had the chance to chat with the then IWF President and I considered that this would be an opportunity for Bermuda’s pre-eminent women. I went back home and resolved to move on this. Happily, enough of Bermuda’s females agreed with me and the rest is history.
Since then, I have been fortunate enough to attend every successive IWF Conference and my enthusiasm continues. I love the opportunities it provides to gain substantive brain food and to meet and engage with women globally who in their various sectors have been change agents. It is very impressive. I have been doubly fortunate to have the privilege of serving on the IWF Board and to now chair the Presidents’ Council. It is an honour and provides some real teachable moments as well as fun. We have an opportunity as women to truly engage and to network and share both challenges and experiences. It is important that we truly leverage and embrace the opportunities and the dine-around continues to be a real delight and an opportunity not to be missed. I have made a number of new friends through membership in the IWF Forums and that is a real plus.
IWF: Could you tell us a little bit about your local forum and your peers within that forum? What do you think makes IWF Bermuda unique?
Our Bermuda Forum is a new one that has not yet seen its sixth birthday. We were inducted at the DC Conference in 2011 and had our constitutional meeting in January 2012, just prior to hosting the IWF Board at their January Board Meeting. We were thrilled and privileged to be able to host a Board meeting so early post our constitutional formation. Hopefully, there will be an opportunity at some stage to host a Conference. We are a diverse group. My aim, when I founded the IWF Bermuda Chapter as the then Premier was to make a concerted effort to ensure that it did not become a partisan grouping and that it was diverse both racially, politically and reflected the various backgrounds of our prospective women members. It was important for me that it was reflective of Bermuda’s tapestry with a focus on seeking to nurture and groom a future generation of female leadership. I deliberately sought to be politically inclusive. That should continue. Also our Constitution formally enshrined governance as key foundational principles and also positively affirmed the importance of attending the international conferences at regular periodic intervals.
IWF: What are you personally passionate about?
I believe in a commitment to justice, fair play, equity and good governance-an adherence to ethical governance. It remains a challenge to get rid of the ‘isms’- racism, sexism and to work towards real equality of treatment,as we are certainly not there yet and we continue to have much work to do. As decision-makers, we have to push the dial of awareness and to see greater empowerment and inclusion of those who have previously been excluded.
IWF: What are some of the keys to your success?
I am a firm believer in inspiration and perspiration. The latter, equates to that four letter word known as W-O-R-K.
IWF: How do you push through your worst times?
I accept that life will not always be a bowl of cherries and believe that the testing times provide teachable learning moments. After all, steel gets so much stronger when exposed to heat. So I recognise that there will always be challenges and times when you will face real obstacles. However I believe you should face the issues head-on- don’t duck them. I also believe that it is critical how you manage the trying times and to remember that as the song says, you fall down but you also get up. So for me, persistence, determination and turning down the volume of any ‘noise’ around me is important. I believe in staying the course and not getting sidelined or derailed by any detractors and I strive to stay focussed and to keep my eye on the end-game. My faith is crucial. Further, I have very strong familial support with my husband and brothers. Also, I have wonderful friends. We are there for each other, through thick and thin and that makes all the difference in the world.
IWF: Who are your personal heroes?
My late parents were my heroes. My father, the late C. Eugene Cox, CBE, former Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance in the Government of Bermuda and my mother, the late F. Alinda Cox, an educator in our public school system. They instilled strong core values in my brothers and I and were phenomenal role models. My father consistently stressed to all of us that there was nothing that we could not do. Also, he impressed upon us that if we wanted something to happen, we had to make it happen.
IWF: What advice would you offer to the next generation of women leaders?
Be true to yourself. Believe in yourself. Rely on your faith and core values and when you feel most vulnerable and/or at risk- listen to that still small voice that is your moral compass- it will not lead you astray.
IWF: Many people might think of Black History Month as an American celebration. What do you think the value of Black History Month should be in a global context?
In the United States Black History Month may have been derived from a need to acknowledge minorities and the importance of inclusion. That focus will differ in a culture and country where black people are the majority and not the minority. The very fact that in some places it is limited to just a month may highlight the flaws in our body politic and democracies. The real test of a country’s health may be when it is generally acknowledged and appreciated that respect for others and minorities should not be a singular monthly event but that respect and appreciation for diverse and disparate cultures should be a commitment that is evidenced year-round. So a change in mind-set is needed.