This year, AllBright is marking International Women’s Day with their Step Forward campaign. We’re asking companies and society to step forward for change in all aspects of life; from money matters to diversity and inclusion. One area where we’d like to see more steps forward is in the world of leadership: we need women leaders now more than ever, and we need companies to be encouraging female leadership across the board.
In this piece, we’ll be looking at the state of women’s leadership in 2023 and how can we strive for progress. What does the future of leadership look like? With the help of some incredible women leaders and experts across the UK, we’ll be finding out together. And don’t forget to book AllBright's upcoming IWD Summit on the 10th March 2023, where you’ll hear from inspirational leaders in-person and join an amazing community of empowered, ambitious women who want to step forward together for change.
What does the future of leadership look like?
Award-winning British designer Sara Miller is founder of Sara Miller London, a luxurious lifestyle brand celebrating a love of playful prints, vibrant pattern and exquisite use of colour. She believes good leadership will always provide a clear vision and be able to articulate it to their business, but as generation Alpha starts to join the workforce in 2030 she believes future leadership will need to engage staff in a really different way. Generation Alpha are likely to have a different understanding of hierarchical leadership to past generations, having been given a voice via social media from a young age, so different approaches will be needed to persuade them to follow an organisations vision.
She says: "I think softer leadership skills will be essential for this – and being personable with clear ethics and values is increasingly important. There is already an increasing need for more authentic, honest relationships promoting openness within leadership, building trust to elicit enthusiastic support from teams."
Katya Kim is a Leadership Consultant and Founder of WhizzMind. She believes that the future of leadership lies in diversity and inclusion: “Leaders will have more to consider, with less of a focus on technical, operational skills and more on people skills. Leaders will become DEI and mental health advocates - with more knowledge around supporting people to deal with uncertainty and adapt to new technologies developing very quickly. Leadership will be more inquisitive and open to innovation and creativity. They will be looking more carefully at what talents their teams have and at how they can attract more people from diverse backgrounds.”
Nova Cobban is a Psychologist and Founder of Positive Potential®. She argues that the modern approach to leadership is about harnessing the power of feminine energy, saying "My prediction is that the future of leadership will need to lean into the mother energy, the feminine aspect of power. This energy is about creating a space for safety and growth so that innovation and creativity can thrive. The feminine/mother energy has unconditional high positive regard at its heart, it is also highly strategic and doesn’t waver from the overall task of taking something from conception to completion."
Claire Crompton, commercial director at digital marketing agency The Audit Lab, talks about the importance of human connection. As technology and AI continue to make their mark on all sectors and industries, leadership styles will become more human focused. A great leader of the future will have high emotional intelligence and be able to do things that technology just isn’t capable of. Although a good leader will be able to adapt and use new technologies to their advantage, they’ll need to pay more attention to the wellbeing of employees and provide support that’s empathetic and personal.
What makes ‘good’ leadership?
Jennifer Mo, a nutritional expert, ex-athlete and founder of Pura Collagen, believes that good leadership is about knowing your own strengths and surrounding yourself with talented people. She says: “As a founder, I am only one cog in the wheel of progress. Identifying talent is a great way to look after your business and learn along the journey.” She impresses the importance of face-to-face time; encourages networking and connecting with like-minded individuals at all levels of a business. You’ll teach your team to gain so much knowledge and insight - and listen to someone when they offer help.
On leadership, Nova Cobban says, good leadership challenges but steers away from arrogance through remaining free of criticism or ‘I told you so’s’. Often, it’s quicker to tell than to teach, but leadership is not about passing on your way of doing things so everyone can be a replica of you and the way you work. When you challenge ideas, thoughts, ways of working, as a way to be supportive, without being stuck on a specific outcome or result, you become inspirational.
Good leadership also coaches rather than rescues so that resentment doesn’t build, which can poison relationships and connection. When you see yourself as helping others to do things for themselves, rather than having the mindset of doing it for them, it’s much more empowering. Rescuing behaviour such as picking up the slack on a regular basis or telling people what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear, might seem on the surface to be kind but in reality you are subconsciously taking the stance that they aren’t capable and so you will have to do it for them.
Leadership Effectiveness Expert Kate Thomas, who has spent over 20 years consulting to organisations regarding talent-centric strategies, leadership effectiveness and organisational development, believes there’s another key to good leadership: duality. She says the future of leadership requires you to look ahead, innovate and drive growth whilst being in the work with your people. This duality is hard because it requires the leader of the future to be able to change gears instantaneously and not get stuck or stall in one place for too long. It combines strategic rigour with the soft skills to make it happen.
To succeed now and into the future ‘good’ leadership is about being able to lead through complex and ambiguous challenges with courage, compassion, and composure. It’s in this space leaders can reflect and refocus, taking an up-and-out perspective to navigate a strategy and lead people forward. Ultimately, it’s about the ability to see the future whilst remaining flexible in terms of how you get there. In her opinion and from the leaders she’s observed, women tend to have a heightened level of self-awareness which becomes a superpower for the high-touch, individualistic, future focused people strategies where everyone can thrive.
How can leaders empower women within their organisations to rise to leadership positions?
Katya Kim says: “I think it’s about encouraging women to participate in discussions. Mentor women colleagues and help them to connect with other women. Educate male colleagues about statistics and research. For example, how the language widely used by many organisations is biased against women. Bring data, examples, and ask them to assess their own communication style and bias.”
Donia Youssef is a successful entrepreneur, film producer and philanthropist. On the topic of empowered leaders, she says women are essential in the success of any business. Therefore, it's important that leaders create an environment where women feel comfortable to grow and thrive. To do this, leaders must create a culture of mentorship and professional development opportunities while maintaining a zero-tolerance policy towards any discrimination or stereotypes. Women should also be given the opportunity to take on challenging projects to demonstrate their capability and gradually move up the ranks. Leaders should also foster open communication channels throughout the organisation so that ideas from female employees can be effectively heard and implemented. By targeting all these points, more women can rise through the ranks within organisations, with each one helping to further empower other women who come behind them.
How can we build a future of work that everyone can thrive in?
Sara Miller says: in an always-on, always-connected working world, providing flexible options is key to helping make employees even more productive whilst preventing burnout. As the Covid pandemic so pointedly highlighted, workers really do need flexibility to be successful. Allowing people to shift their schedules – whether this is working remotely, flexible start and finish times or accommodating different hours during school holidays – flexibility has been seen to help to increase employee’s satisfaction, productivity and engagement. It allows talented women to participate in the workforce where they may have previously found it too difficult, and allows men to support working women and contribute more evenly to household and childcare responsibilities. But it is not just parents who see the benefits, simply allowing people to balance personal and professional obligations throughout the day with a schedule that works best for them can result in lower turnover of staff and greater profitability for companies. It’s a win-win for everyone; that involves little cost.
Penny Mallory is an author and leading authority on mental toughness and the founder of Become. She believes resilience is an important factor in the future of work; the key to building a future of work that everyone can thrive in is to teach resilience and strategies in which this resilience can be supported and developed. Mental toughness is a tool which enables everyone to thrive, no matter what challenges they are faced with and no matter what their position in the business or the type of business they are in.
Donia Youssef says "we are on the brink of a revolution in how we look at work. We can take strides to improve how people view their purpose, their job and their role in the workplace. From supporting remote work to reducing non-essential stressors to providing career resources - the future of work should be one that stresses the importance of rest and relaxation as much as productivity and ambition. By taking a holistic approach to our careers, approaching work with intentionality, and working towards greater equity across industries, we can create an environment in which everyone can thrive. Building a future of work that works for all will require dedication from employees and employers alike; however, when we realise that everyone has value to offer and everyone's contributions matter, great things will be possible."
What makes the difference for a successful, sustainable journey to the top?
Dr Andrea Johnson is the VP Global Business Systems at Workhuman and Chairperson of Women in Technology & Science (WITS). On this topic, she says: for me, the issue is the lack of normalisation of women in STEM roles, and this is something that should be remedied at a school level. If young students see women as engineers or programme developers from an early age, then they have a point of reference for what opportunities are out there for them. The first step is to fix the leaky pipeline between higher education and early career stages. If new female graduates step into their first job in tech without support structures, the system will, unfortunately, often let them down, and it can be difficult to overcome the inherent barriers that are in place in the tech sector.
Clare Compton says: With so few women in leadership positions, it can be easy for women to feel as if they’re in competition with their female colleagues. Instead of pitting women against each other, leaders should open up more roles for women in higher positions. Rather than having one woman on a board of six male directors, leaders should aim for a more balanced split amongst different demographics. Encouraging a culture of allyship between female employees can also help to prevent a sense of competition, and inspire empowerment and progression. It’s important to emphasise that there’s room for all female employees to grow and progress, and that one woman’s success doesn’t have to outshine another’s. Creating a mentorship program for female employees is one way to create a constructive workplace that allows women to grow alongside their other female colleagues, rather than at their expense. This opens the opportunity for a female employee to take on this mentorship role, as well as encouraging more women to work on their career progression.
Finally, Michaela Jeffery-Morrison CEO and founder of Ascend Global Media, says: "As for making room for women to join the ranks of organisations, I think it’s important to remember that success is not a zero-sum game. In fact, one really robust finding is that women are likely to hire other women. The World Economic Forum highlighted a direct correlation between women at the C-level and positive gender representation at all other levels, and one study by the Kauffman Fellows Research Center found that a startup with at least one female founder will hire 2.5 times more women than it would otherwise.
If you want to find out more about how to break down financial barriers, join us on 10 March for our International Women's Day Step Forward summit.