Published on Sustainable Cities

The End of Men: And the Rise of “Men”-tors

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Penguins in AntarcticaAs a (somewhat) young, professional woman, Dan Hoornweg’s latest blog resonated with me.  On particularly difficult days, unsure of how to find my place in the world, I have to remind myself just how lucky I am to have what I call “Men”-tors to help me navigate this maze of possibilities.  For better or for worse, I have had 2 male research advisors, and 6 male bosses — most of whom pushed me to stretch further than I ever thought I could, and who happily enable me to set my sights on the next challenge.

My personal numbers also include: 

  • one accomplished husband, who cheered me on as I spent the better part of our year-long engagement halfway around the world to work for the Philippine Government; 
  • a father (and mother!) who groomed me all of my life to take over his work — and then watched me fly away to Washington DC to pursue my own dream of working in international development; and 
  • a string of (male) mentors (guilty as charged, I was one of the 17 women on Dan’s running tally of junior staff). 

And just in case we forget that this is a blog about sustainable cities, I met Dan at a workshop on Urban Metabolism in the “Athens of America” (Boston)…and 2 years later accidentally ran into him at a grocery store 4 blocks from the World Bank in Washington.  The rest, as they say, is history — and this meeting is a classic example of the urban economist Ed Glaeser’s belief that “cities are the absence of physical space between people”.  Cities are where education, knowledge, and innovation converge (not to mention an engineer from Manila and the engineer from Toronto who would later become her boss).  Cities make these random, unlikely connections possible…on a bustling street, in the halls of a university, or even in the neighborhood grocery store. The challenge for those of us who work in urban development is to expand such access to opportunities to more and more men and women around the world.  Development will only be truly sustainable when both boys and girls grow up and become Mayors (and mentors), leading and managing the places where over 70% of humanity will soon live.

When I leave on mission next month to work on urban resilience in Metro Manila, it will be thanks to my current boss (himself heavily outnumbered by the women on his team) who believes that I bring a balance of left-brained engineer and right-brained insight to the local context.  I will be interested to observe the ratio of female to male business travelers on my flight and I hope that, unlike Dan’s last trip, I won’t be the only woman in the cabin.  Whichever way it goes, I will remember that the men, too, miss their families. 

I still struggle with the fact that we can’t have it all — and this is a truth that I may not live to see reversed, for men or for women.  But I believe that we are better for knowing our husbands, fathers and “Men”-tors who can be some of our best cheerleaders and champions. Some support us as we define who we are, some advise us in our work toward sustainable cities, and some help us most by simply reminding us what we are capable of.  The best mentors do a little bit of all three. 

If I ever have the honor of (Wo)mentoring young men and women, I hope I will be able to believe in, support, and give them the tools that have been passed along to me by all the “Men”-tors that I have met…in Manila, Boston, Washington, and wherever life happens to take me.  And, as wonderful as they all are, I am excited to meet the next one.  This time, I hope she’ll be a woman.

Photo credit: Martha de Jong-Lantink on


Artessa Saldivar-Sali

Senior Infrastructure Specialist, World Bank

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