Women in Leadership: Unlocking Leadership Potential

Here at GRG Executive Search, we are dedicated to supporting female leadership, and increasing the boardroom presence of all historically underrepresented groups. Our annual Women in Leadership event, this year in collaboration with NOVA, is a prime example of our commitment to this agenda, bringing together inspiring female leaders outlining their professional journeys and offering support and guidance to help others.

Attendees of our March event were given the opportunity to hear from our panel who shared their experiences and insights on ‘unlocking leadership potential’. They shared the challenges often associated with establishing yourself as a leader, and how women can overcome these hurdles with confidence.

Claire Dunn, Co-Founder of angel investment platform OBU, believes that whilst systemic challenges exist, it is changing.

“There is research that suggests that women can be exploited if they display certain leadership traits that we typically expect of men.

“My advice to female leaders is to try and channel your authentic self as much as possible. I think women are naturally very generous with their time and want to support other women. This collaboration and sharing of knowledge can help women translate their skills into leadership qualities, helping them to realise their potential.” 

Through her work with OBU, Claire has found that investing your time in smaller businesses to support their growth is a great way to hone your own personal leadership skills. 

“Supporting another business by offering your expertise or services is a great way to develop. For example, if you are a Chief Marketing Officer, you might want to invest some time into supporting a business with their content marketing campaign, or if you are a Chief Financial Officer, you can advise on a company’s forecasting. 

“It is a fantastic way to gain experience without being fully exposed in that working environment, and you can develop without the pressure of performing. It gives you an insight into your potential next step, while also allowing you to support a business you care about.”  

Ian McKechnie, facilitator, and coach at The Coaching Solution agrees that women are often perceived differently to men when it comes to leadership.

“Someone I coach shared a recent experience with me. She had given two of her male direct reports the opportunity to present a strategy she had developed– something that should be celebrated and viewed as a great example of leadership, right? 

“However, feedback revealed that people had assumed she wasn’t confident enough to present her own strategy, which left her wondering whether the response would have been the same if a man had given this opportunity to his subordinates.” 

While the feedback could be deemed as unfair, it is not surprising. Women can face many misconceptions in business, but Ian believes some of this can be overcome through visibility.

“In our session, we discussed how they could have approached the situation differently. I recommended she present the business context of the strategy, then the team follow up with the operational plan. While female leaders should be able to offer opportunities without devaluing their abilities, visibility is important to assert yourself and your skills.”

CFO of Severn Trent Helen Miles echoes the importance of visibility in relation to female leadership. Helen has had to assert herself in board room discussions and encourages leaders “not to back down” when trying to get their point across. 

“On one occasion, I was trying to make a valid point with my male peers. They were ignoring me and dismissing my point of view. They kept talking amongst themselves, refusing to listen to what I had to say. 

“My advice in this situation would be to keep talking. Do not back down. This persistence gives you gravitas, and makes people sit up and listen. It is hard work, and it takes a lot of effort but eventually people will take you seriously and realise you have something important to say.”  

In the past, Fiona Lambert, Board Advisor, and former Managing Director of retail brand Jaeger, has found similar challenges.

“I have always been very passionate about what I do, and sometimes this comes across in the way I communicate. Early on in my career, I was told I was too emotional to make rational decisions.

“I did not want to erase the passion I had for my work but needed to find new ways to communicate and get my points across. Now, I talk slower with gravitas, I pause to create emphasis. I make sure I back everything up with facts. You do not need to change, but you need to find techniques and tools that enable you to get your points across.” 

It is not unusual for women to be criticised for displaying emotion or empathy, as Fiona shared. But how can women lean into a more personable approach when it comes to leadership? 

Global Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Consultant Sheryl Miller believes that revealing more of yourself and becoming more vulnerable can help women find the support they need to develop on their leadership journey. 

“Building strategic relationships is a great way for women to develop their leadership potential. It gives them the reassurance that, in those sometimes-difficult boardroom situations, someone has their back.  

“Women can build these relationships by revealing more of themselves, for example, talking about their outside interests and the things that matter to them. This allows women to be authentic and encourages crucial connection.”

While all of our panellists shared different experiences in relation to leadership potential, they all emphasised the importance of authenticity, visibility, and standing your ground – all of which could be the recipe to unlocking leadership potential.

As presented in this article, our annual Women in Leadership event recognises the power of bringing people with diverse perspectives together. At GRG Executive Search, promoting equal opportunities and inclusion is key. As recruiters, we understand that we have an important role in supporting an agenda where diversity and acceptance are a minimum expectation of businesses and their leaders.

If you would like to hear more from our Women in Leadership panellists, please visit our website where you can read articles on topics such as confidence and personal branding.

If you would like to work with us or find out more about our future Women in Leadership events, please do not hesitate to contact GRG Executive Search Senior Partner, Helen Schwarz, or Head of Interim Practice, Sarah Bradley.

Helen Schwarz: helenschwarz@grgexecutivesearch.com

Sarah Bradley: sarahbradley@grgexecsearch.com

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