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Celebrating and retaining brilliant women

Amplifying the voices of the amazing women we work with

This International Women’s Day we want to celebrate the global communities of women we have been privileged to lead, join and be part of over the last year.

In particular, we wish to call-out the amazing women we have got to know through our Leadership for Gender Equity programmes.  Your passion and courage fuels our purpose at WDI.

We’ve heard stories of how women tenaciously navigated obstacles and opportunities to enable their authentic ‘superpowers’ to manifest through qualities such as commitment, compassion, creativity, and collaboration.  From these stories, we’ve learnt much about what’s driving and motivating women leaders and what’s needed to create a gender equal workplace.

We have collated three key themes from our Leadership for Gender Equity community that includes women leaders from tech to research, regulatory to healthcare, diplomacy to finance, across 15 countries. This International Women’s Day, we want to amplify the voices of the amazing women we’ve worked with.

1. Women want senior leaders who live their purpose with heart

For years, the unspoken message has been that women need to ‘shape-shift’ to fit into the one stereotypical style that makes an effective leader – we challenge this.  Through our programme we encouraged these highly talented individuals to discover their unique style and learn to lead authentically from their purpose.

We enabled them to access their own authentic leadership style by utilising their;

  • Head, (creativity and strategy)

  • Heart, (compassion and values)

  • Gut, (strength and active power).

Leadership journals advocate for psychological safety, empathy and EQ, but the experience of many is that this is yet to translate universally into every day leadership practices.  Instead, what women often experience is senior leaders who display an over-reliance on their head over the heart intelligence of connection, warmth relational leadership.

Contrast this with leaders who evidence a balanced style of head, gut and strong heart intelligence.  These are the type of leaders that women name checked repeatedly as role models who create inspiration, ambition and above all a strong sense of loyalty.  At a time when talent retention is critical, leading from the heart matters.

But what does it really mean to be a heart-led leader when many are experiencing fear for their safety, (physical/ social/ financial/ psychological) and grief and overwhelm permeates our global community?

This will be a primary question for all leadership over coming years and we believe leaders need to rebalance their style and connect heart to heart through values that unite us.  That it’s time to be authentic, fluent and brave in recognising and sharing their human experience.


2. Women want inclusive leaders ‘who get me’

The latest Korn Ferry research suggests only ‘5% of managers globally are inclusive’.  This risks the continued loss of diverse talent whose needs and perspective are unheard and under-served.

We call this the ‘missing conversations that matter’, and includes examples such as;

  • Avoiding sensitive topics such as managing return to work and bias in the workplace.

  • Receiving subjective, non-specific feedback as a reason for not achieving a promotion/ opportunity based on gender bias such as being called bossy/ a diva/ too emotional – not emotional enough and aggressive.

  • Making assumptions about what someone wants and is capable of professionally after a confidential sharing of caring responsibilities and work/ life challenges.

However; stories of the inclusive leaders travel fast.  These managers inspire hope and offer support for the progression of women leaders.  From our communities of women, we hear examples such as:

  • Actively increasing the visibility of female talent with senior leaders.

  • Being gender intelligent: recognising and believing women when they have experienced unconscious bias/ every day sexism and being an ally to overcome it.

  • Demonstrating trust through open conversations on purpose and priorities and letting individuals chose the focus of their ambition and career goals.


3. A community of peers who encourage, challenge and support each other

Women often describe that the challenges they face due to their gender can feel like a burden that they are on their own in solving them.  However, (and as the women on our programmes themselves testify) when part of a supportive community of peers, they gain new perspectives from sharing experiences and derive enormous strength enabling them to become a beacon for positive change.

In our programmes, we explore the messages women received when growing up and ask ‘what it is to be a woman?’.  Whilst there are empowering examples of women role models, it’s also startling how similar negative stereotyping is across cultures, regions and backgrounds.  A few examples that consistently show up and impact the workplace, include:

  • “Care for others needs first”.

  • “It’s not lady-like to be angry”.

  • “Listen to others, your, (female) voice matters less”.

Yet as the women in our programmes demonstrate, when a diverse group of women see the similarity of these limiting messages, they recognise them as a mirage; a biased views are seen through and overcome.

These realisations not only #BreakTheBias, but go further and generate a collective intelligence, generosity of spirit and depth of connection that ignites and catalyses the ambition and talent of women leaders in the community.  Then amazing things happen, leading to not only increased progression and retention of female talent, but also business innovation.

Some of their descriptions about the power of the programmes supportive network:

  • “Sharing this journey with women was incredibly powerful as I did not realise the effect networking can have on my development.”

  • “Created a strategically valuable group of female talent who are expanding their positive influence and impact across the organisation.”

  • “Established a cohort of diverse female role models.”

  • “This network has become the story I tell, when asked about career development.”


In conclusion

We celebrate the communities of women we have been privileged to lead, join and be part of over the last year and the organisations we work with who believe in the importance of creating a gender equal workplace.

Author: Clare Russell

For more information about our Leadership for Gender Equity programmes, delivered to cohorts from 10 – 100, contact or to discuss how WDI can support your organisation to address the challenges you face and advance a gender equal recovery.  


You can download our Insights report on Creating a gender equal recovery [pdf] where we summarise the latest research on addressing the gender gap and provide our response to the three key challenges we see organisations facing right now.  We share data, challenges and our gender intelligent response to enable progression towards a gender balanced pipeline – a core part of our purpose at WDI.
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