The opportunity to include more women in leadership

When my son was born I remember those first few nights in hospital. I had had a long labour and a birth experience that was far from ideal. He had arrived via emergency c-section with dangerously low blood sugar (thank you gestational diabetes), I hadn’t slept in three days, and people were constantly walking into my room to tell me how to feed, and a whole bunch of other things really. It was a bit of a haze. I do remember holding this little person I’d created and promising him that he could be any kind of person he wanted as long as he was happy and kind. I had (or have – it’s a work in progress) spent much of my life feeling like I had to live up to other people’s expectations, something that I’m only now, in my 40s, beginning to unpack. I wanted (want) something different for my son. But that’s one of the great things about becoming a parent in this day and age right? We can look at the experiences we have had and, in many ways, have access to a greater breadth of awareness and tools to do things differently to the generations of our parent’s and beyond. What I came to realise over the hours, days, weeks, months and years that followed is that fulfilling that promise to him would mean first of all fulfilling that promise to myself.

One of my most favourite questions I like to ask my coaching clients is, how would you like your children to describe you? Because often our legacy isn’t just about doing a job to put food on the table, a solid roof over their heads, and opportunities in life (although that is important too), but it’s about doing something meaningful that our children will be proud of, and that leaves a world they will not just survive in, but thrive in. I think a lot about that. The kind of world we are leaving for our children. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by things like the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, exponential evolution in technology, global instability and war (just to name a few!) but we each have a responsibility to the next generation to do something differently. No matter how small. And even if that starts with ourselves. Holistically speaking, we need greater innovation and adaptability in our organisations. But this will only come from a mindset shift within our leaders. A shift that encompasses diversity of thought and an exploration of different ways of working. That starts with you. We don’t need more women in leadership acting the same way as men, or as the kind of leader they think they ‘should’ be. We need you as a leader, defining what that means for you and then stepping in to that.

I’m hopeful about where that is heading. More and more, we’re seeing the emergence of products and services designed for women by women, as well as companies appealing to ethical values and purpose driven purchasing decisions (for example, Sharesies, Ethique, HelloCup, Dignity). What we know is that women are the main household purchasers, with HBR (2009) saying that “women represent a growth market bigger than China and India combined—more than twice as big” and Forbes (2020) saying, “if you want to know where the market is going, follow the women”. It makes sense that having more women in leadership means that companies are better able to meet the needs of their customers. Customers who are looking for something designed with their needs in mind, and with a greater purpose than making a profit. But there is also a lot of power in that ability to choose where our money flows. That can be a form of leadership too, standing up for what we believe in and deciding which brands, businesses, and people we will support.

I believe the world needs more women who can lead with their own unique style. When we recognise and celebrate the diversity of skills, perspectives and strengths that women can bring to leadership, there will be a new way of doing business. Women will have as much access to leadership opportunities as men and we’ll have as many women running our organisations as we do men. More women in leadership means that we have more inclusive work environments (not just for women). If our family and work lives are allowed to intersect and integrate, we’ll open up more opportunities for both women and men to actively participate in work and care-giving, our children will benefit by having both parents present and connected in their lives and we’ll see better outcomes for families. We’ll also open up greater possibilities for people to show up as their ‘whole selves’ in their work. In environments where life experiences and skills are celebrated, and our human experiences are accommodated and supported, we will see greater humanity, empathy, compassion and kindness within leadership. We’ll see women receive equal pay. Our businesses, communities and the environment will benefit from a diversity of voices and skills and more holistic problem-solving.

That’s a lot of incredible things! But to achieve these things, we need you to be the leader the world needs.

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