Last week I attended the ‘Leadership without gender’ event hosted by Henley Business School and the ICMA Centre. The event was all about the changing role of women in business, and as a final-year undergrad who has just completed a year’s placement in the traditionally male-dominated tech industry, I was excited to hear about leadership from some powerful women. We were lucky to have some great panellists in, coming from a range of organisations and industries in both the private and public sector.
The evening began with registration, before heading into one of the ICMA Centre lecture theatres for the panel discussion chaired by former Henley Business School Deputy Dean, Ginny Gibson, finished up with a networking session.
The panel was made up of our chair, alongside four guests:
- Bridget Long – Vice President & General Manager of London & South-East at Enterprise
- Louise Nisbet – Partner at Knights PLC & former Chairman of Women in Property for Thames Valley
- Fayola Jack – Deputy Director of Complex Transactions Team & Head of HM Government Dispute Resolution Practice at the Cabinet Office
- Fiona Kowalyk – Director at Barclays Investment Bank
These women had some really valuable insights into life as a female leader in business and shared some important messages too, not only about struggles but also on good practices, and the changes that are taking place.
Fayola commented that we are currently in a period of sexual and cultural liberation; change is snowballing and improving, and as things become more open, leaders and their (increasingly diverse) teams will be able to feed and learn off of each other more and more. Obama’s “I am a Feminist” was mentioned; building on the notion that as a society there has to be a higher expectation around balance; not only in recruitment but generally by questioning and calling out outdated attitudes and stereotypes. Asking questions behind the assumptions – why?
One of the questions asked was whether as female leaders they ever feel the need to emulate masculinity, in order to feel more confidence in their roles. Generally, the panel agreed that it can be natural to unconsciously modify behaviour in order to fit in, however one of the points that really resonated in the room was that ultimately, being authentic is the best thing you can do, regardless of gender or any other variable.
The panel went on to mention that women can sometimes be our ‘own worst enemy’ – by offering too much. Other people – bosses, colleagues etc. – notice when you are good, and it won’t always be a fight for opportunities, they can seek you out too.
There was a conversation about resilience and how it takes time to develop; you can’t simply snap a finger and be resilient, however, you can take steps to get there. These included:
- “Fake it till you make it”
- Be okay to admit and learn from mistakes, recognising the imperfections and learning to let go
- Take advantage of personal and professional networks to help with self-reflection
- Think laterally and accepting that you don’t know what turns your career may take
- Use sport or hobbies as an outlet, and how effective it can be in helping to deal with knockbacks.
Overall, it was a great evening with some really interesting points made, useful insights and tips. It is so nice to have the university organise events such as this; getting people engaged and thinking about these topics practically.
By Charlotte Stuart