• Our Words Matter

Sarah Paterson on being a 'dangerous woman' in 2020

March 8th is International Women's Day #IWD2020, a day we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality. This year, after listening to Pat Mitchell's podcast "dangerous times call for dangerous woman" [click here to listen], Our Words Matter talked to a number of women who might call themselves 'dangerous' - women who embrace risk for the sake of advancing good, even if it's dangerous.


Each of us have our own way of describing what being a dangerous woman means. What does it mean to you?

I think of courage. Maya Angelou talked about how courage was the most important virtue because without it you can’t practice any of the other virtues consistently. To me, Pat Mitchell’s concept of ‘dangerous’ is essentially about not letting fear and self-doubt stop you from being who you need to be, to make the difference you want to make.



In what way would you describe yourself as a dangerous woman?

I want to keep learning, connecting people and ideas and taking opportunities to use my skills and experiences to help others where I can. I think each of us can be a leader every day, in a way that is meaningful to us personally. I’m trying to act with that intent in mind, and part of that will always be working on having courage and not letting fear and doubt get in the way.



Pat Mitchell talks about dutifully following her own grandmother’s words: “Falling on your face is at least falling forwards.” What are the words you have always lived by and why?

There have been many words that have helped me in different situations (I happily admit that many of them are great song lyrics). One of the most impactful for me is this quote (often attributed, rightly or wrongly, to Winston Churchill): “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”.



In her book, Pat talks about how as a global community of women, we are at an intersection where the risks are bigger but so are the opportunities to lead toward a more just world. What opportunities, and risks, do you see yourself taking that will lead to positive change for future generations?

I agree that there are enormous opportunities for leadership toward a better world. I want to have a positive impact in the areas I work in, such as trade, sustainability and the global food system, where we must grow our knowledge and develop a far greater ability to think our way through complexity if we are going to do the right thing for current and future generations.



The word ‘power’ takes on different dimensions depending on the lens you look through. Bella Abzug predicted that in the 21st century, women will change the nature of power rather than the power changing the nature of women. Ideally, how would you see women using and sharing their power and what impact do you see this having?

The qualities of power that I think are particularly important today are those that bring people together, respect and foster diversity and inclusion, and create constructive ways of allowing us to move beyond conflict. I also believe in the power of small, individual actions to achieve change.



We currently live in a very divisive and divided world. To mend our global community, we need innovative and creative solutions to challenging issues. What issue, or issues, concern you the most and what will it take to solve it.

We may not be as divided as social media and politics might have us believe. I think of moments when it felt like the world really united in hope and love, for example when a soccer team was successfully rescued from a flooded cave system in Thailand in 2018. We got an inkling of what being united in love and compassion could be like, here in New Zealand, after the terrible tragedy of the Christchurch mosque shootings in 2019.


I would welcome more ideas about how we can fully realise the power of the internet and new technologies to build understanding and bring people together. Cutting through the noise and misinformation to connect at a human level, including through love and empathy, is key to finding solutions to our biggest challenges.


About Sarah Paterson:

Sarah is an independent consultant based in Wellington, New Zealand. Sarah formed Blue Circle Consulting in 2015 to work with leaders in business, government and the community to help develop and achieve their strategic objectives. In particular Sarah has focussed on designing and facilitating effective collaboration, either across the sector or between industry and government, to address complex shared challenges. Sarah also provides advice on matters of agricultural and trade policy, with a focus on the primary industries, and is a coach to leaders in business and the community.


Sarah’s early career was with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the legal, human rights and trade areas, including a diplomatic posting to the New Zealand Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York and working on New Zealand’s trade dispute cases in the WTO.

While engaged in disputes and trade negotiations Sarah developed an interest in promoting agricultural trade, New Zealand’s largest export sector. Sarah was the Trade Policy Manager for Meat & Wool New Zealand, and then the European Trade Policy Manager for Fonterra based in Amsterdam for four years. On return to New Zealand Sarah led Fonterra’s Trade Strategy team globally, then became Director of the Group’s Policy and Advocacy team spanning both trade and environmental policy with domestic and global stakeholders. This included acting for an extended period as Fonterra’s Group Director for Cooperative Affairs which managed the farmer and stakeholder facing parts of the business.


Sarah is a Member of the New Zealand Meat Board and New Zealand Army Leadership Board. From 2015-18 Sarah was a member of the Government’s Public Advisory Committee on Disarmament and Arms Control. She is a Trustee of both the Who Did You Help Today Charitable Trust and Kiwi Kids Music Trust. She has an LLB/BA (Hons) from the University of Otago.

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