As a woman in politics, a doctor and a mother, every day for me represent an exciting challenge; not only because I work part-time 25 hours per week, but also because I simultaneously provide care for my son and attain further medical education in the best interest of my patients.
A common trait shared by many recognized women leaders is the determination to overcome the challenges of rising through the ranks of a conservative field such as politics or science - as well as the vision needed to achieve their goals and speak up their truth. This is the story of Dr. Mireille Ngosso, an inspiring woman who has decided to make a difference in the world by taking action both in the medical and political field.
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Dr. Ngosso moved to Austria with her parents when she was 4 years old. Since then she has earned medical degrees from the Kingston University in London and the University of Vienna. After receiving her doctorate, Dr. Ngosso decided also to take an active role in politics and since then she has performed, among other positions, as Deputy Chairwoman of the SPÖ Innere Stadt in Austria.
Bih: Thank you for participating in this interview Mireille. We have been looking forward to having this interview. We would like to learn more about your profession, could you please explain what tasks you fulfill in your position as District Representative of the Innere Stadt?
Mireille: Since the 20th of June, I have performed as District Representative and that, of course, entails a lot of politics and policies concerning the district. It is important for me to keep in constant contact with the residents to acquire more ideas on their concerns. The political aspect of my job entails making sure that the 1st district remains a residential district so that more people can afford living here.
B: You also carry a doctor title. Would you say that your work as a medical specialist is able to support your work as a district representative and vice versa?
M: I believe being a doctor has a positive effect on my political work. In my earlier years, I developed management-skills and how to work in stressful situations. These qualities turned out to be very helpful. Especially with a full-time job, family and a political commitment, one needs structure. Being a doctor I can witness where our health system needs improvement on a daily basis. I also bring my knowledge of this area into politics, for example at various discussion events or for health policies in the district.
B: As we can see, your origin did not prevent you from reaching your current position(s). Did you encounter conflicts to reach your position?
M: Of course, in my life, I have faced racism at one point or another. This certainly includes my school days. I was often confronted with prejudice and stereotypes, but also with hate comments on Facebook once my new political position as district representative was announced. But to reach where I currently am I have also experienced solidarity by acquaintances, fellow combatants, and strangers. I grew up with that and learned that there are always people who will love and support you.
B: How did you react to these controversies?
M: As far as hate on the internet is concerned, it was important for me to show my legal rights. But not only on the internet: racist acts must always be disciplined by the law. Recently there was a case in Vienna where a Muslim woman had been insulted by a woman on the street and had been spat on her. In such cases, moral courage is needed and social cohesion.
We shouldn’t let the right-wing extremists in this country undermine us and we must seek allies.
B: Would you say that the topic of “foreigners in leadership positions” in Austria still requires much development?
M: Political leadership positions in Austria are predominantly occupied by men without a migrational background. Even on a small scale - for example, with the police migrants are strongly underrepresented. One-quarter of the Austrian population has an immigrant background. For a long time, however, the National Council hasn’t even had a quarter of its deputies represented by those with an immigrant background. If we are serious about democracy then the population has to be represented accordingly - be it at a local level or at a federal level. There is still a lot to do in Austria.
B: Do you personally see yourself as a change for this stigma in Austria?
M: In the last decades a lot has happened in Austria. 40 years ago it would probably have been unimaginable to have a black woman in a political position. But we must not forget that Austria is experiencing a shift to the right. The right-wing populist government is trying to turn the society into a "we" and a "you", sharply targeting migrants. As a politician with a migrational background, all I can say is: we stand firm and we will not stop to work for a lively democracy!
B: As women's chairwoman of the SPÖ Innere Stadt, are there certain equal rights measures or changes that you would like to implement in the professional life of women in Austria?
M: As a woman in politics, a doctor and mother, every day is a new challenge. Not only because I work (partially) 25 hours at a time and simultaneously require care for my son - I also drive out to attain further education in the interests of my patients. These often take place on the weekends or after regular working hours. The political work I do is also very time-consuming and accompanied by evening events and appointments. Now, I am in a very privileged position. My husband and my family support me a lot. Many female doctors, however, aren’t as lucky. We should do more to ensure that women have the same career opportunities as men and decide freely about their family planning, without negative consequences for careers or child care.
B: In your opinion which moral must a person never dismiss, no matter what their dreams or career path may be?
M: Every person should stand by their basic values. Mine are clear - Equality, freedom, justice, and solidarity are essential. I will always represent these values and myself. In the case of adversity, I will implement them with public statements, with participation at demos or during personal conversations.
B: And last but not least, if you were to choose only 3 meaningful pieces of clothing from your wardrobe that define you as a career woman, what would they be?
M: Trouser suit, doctor's coat, and shift dress!