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How to be authentically You... as a female leader

Updated: Jan 10

Ensuring diversity - not just across gender – is essential to improving a company’s performance because it enables people to bring different skillsets to the table, challenge the status quo and showcase representatives from diverse backgrounds which represents society, i.e. the real world!

Yet the 2021 Hampton-Alexander Review found that although more women are getting into the boardrooms of the FTSE100 – and only a small minority of companies have an all-male board – 54% of companies have less than 33% in board positions.

In addition, the number of the women in the very top job (CEO) has remained flat and stubbornly low, and there is a lot of work to do on Executive Committees and key functional roles such as CFO, CIO and COO.

The reasons for this are many and varied but deep-rooted preconceptions – whether conscious or not – of a woman’s role in the workplace contributes to stopping our progress when it comes to reaching gender parity in the boardroom. Couple this with the double-bind that women have faced during the pandemic has sadly resulted in women leaving the workforce in record levels.

So, what can we do, as female leaders, to positively influence this culture?

And how can we lead to affect change?

Natalie Hall - Female Career Coach

Be authentically us.

I know I wasn’t myself when I first started leading teams. I became a version of what I ‘thought’ a manager was – in tone, style and behaviour. It took me a few years to realise that leadership comes in many forms and my way was just as valid as any other. I didn’t need to act the part. I just needed to trust myself, my experience and my ability. In fact, my teams responded more positively, and worked more effectively, once I found my own voice.

If someone had told me this and guided me this way when I first became a manager, it would have helped me so much but, sadly, being are promoted and given the title and the money but rarely the support.

For me, authentic leadership is about demonstrating your capabilities in a way that aligns with your strengths, values and preferences. If you’re not sure where to start, try thinking about these areas below in order to build confidence and develop your leadership style:

Build knowledge

Find ways to learn all you can about your industry, key players and build on the practical skills you need. This will build your confidence and in turn it will allow you to feel capable of stepping outside your comfort zone to try new things or put yourself forward for new opportunities you might not otherwise have considered.

Build self-belief

It's ok to have a positive outlook – but make sure you’re also being realistic. Focus on your strengths and find ways to use difficult situations as opportunities to master skills, demonstrate flexibility and build achievement. This will help you face setbacks with an equal measure of optimism and courage.

Build your voice

You don’t have to shout the loudest to be heard. You just need to be quietly confident, professional and demonstrate a considered outlook. Don’t be hoodwinked into “faking it until you make it”– instead rely on your instinct, knowledge, experience and the skills that got you this far. People want to hear what you have to say so don’t be afraid to share your opinion. You have that role for a reason.

Build trust

Find ways to utilise the best skills the people around you have to meet your collective objectives. If you support your team as you wish to be supported, you will build the mutual respect of your colleagues. Gradually you’ll find that you build a network of people that can offer emotional support and practical advice to each other enabling you to become a reliable team player who people want to work with. Don’t be afraid to show emotion either. Showing emotion is not a sign of weakness. If anything, it can be a sign of strength as it reinforces that the person understands the enormity of the situation, has emotionally invested in it and is affected by it. Look at Jacinda Arden’s openly emotional state recently when meeting the families of the victims of the New Zealand bombings.

Build targets

Set realistic goals and consider using planning tools to help stick to them. Get into the habit of doing one thing each day to move towards them. It’s imperative to make time for yourself and your progression so taking small steps towards where you want to be will give you a sense of achievement and make you feel like you’re moving in the right direction.

And finally, seek out support and ways to mentor, coach and support others who are coming up behind you.

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