The past two years have been incredibly difficult and this adversity has changed the way we do business.
Extreme weather, conflict and global instability have required business leaders to possess new ways of thinking, flexibility and greater empathy, regardless of gender.
Despite this, traditional stereotypes surrounding gender can pigeonhole women into certain leadership styles, whereby an expectation of either possessing or suppressing characteristics like vulnerability or emotional sensitivity is required.
This binary attitude towards leadership examines business and gender through two opposing lenses; that you can either be a compassionate empathetic leader or a forthright businessperson. In reality, regardless of where a person sits on the gender spectrum, leaders today must be multifaceted and ever-changing.
Sadly, leadership in Australia is still far from equal. Women, non-binary people and those from minority groups and diverse backgrounds are still significantly outnumbered when it comes to leadership positions. For this to change, attitudes towards gender and the workplace must be reimagined to achieve true equality.
This international women’s day, we want to celebrate inspiring female business leaders who are embracing diversity, adversity and change.
Female business leaders reflect on embracing a ‘humanist’ approach to leadership this IWD
Patima Tantiprasut, Managing Director, PetRescue
“Being a positive female business leader means being authentic with yourself first. For me, that means embracing my softness by not seeing it as a weakness. Leading softly is to be gentle with others and yourself. It takes courage and it takes a lot of strength to be that vulnerable.
“This has been so important for me to overcome personally. Letting go of my own unrealistic expectations, overcoming the need for perfectionism and naming my fears has not only provided me with much more strength and confidence as a leader but it’s also given the team around me the confidence and permission to embrace their own selves and be real humans too”.
Jane Morrell, Founder & CEO, Carer Solutions
“Resilience in this day and age is key to being a truly great leader, regardless of gender. You’ve got to be mentally strong, which means you need to have your own mental health in check whether that’s eating well, meditation or whatever is your thing. If leaders aren’t strong the team won’t be. But also, it’s so important to have empathy. Everyone has been shaken up by world events recently, but the toll is very different and unique depending on the person.
“That’s why compassion and positivity are key for leaders in 2022. Everyone has had it tough but you have to be positive, you have to be the master of your own destiny, to make the future as great as you can. I don’t take that responsibility lightly as a leader because that impacts the organisation, our partners (customers) and our staff,”.
Nicola Nye, Chief of Staff, FastMail
“When it comes to leadership and business, talking about gender in terms of men and women is too limiting. We should instead be making space for greater diversity in all areas including being more inclusive of people of different ages, cultural backgrounds and those who use assistive technology. The more diversity you have, the better you’re able to serve your customers and truly reflect what’s going on in the world.
Our executive team is gender-balanced, both in Australia and the U.S, and once you have people leading the business who can champion diversity and normalise it, it’s easier to get the ball rolling throughout the rest of the business. However, the hiring process is key to ensuring diversity, and leaders need to be very flexible with the way that looks.
Being a good manager has always been about helping people do their best, so their work is appreciated and their values are respected, but great leadership is also about recognising that people are whole human beings with a lot going on in their lives, which can impact work”.
Bernadette Kropman, Co-founder, PRIME BPM.
“I really don’t see someone as a female or male leader. Why should we classify qualities as something that is gender-specific? It’s time we move beyond these stereotypes. For me, it never matters whether it’s a male or female who is driving a project.
“I believe in analysing capabilities together with an individual’s interest while assigning a project or responsibility. In my opinion, leading by example is what it takes to be a good leader. You should be able to demonstrate excellence in work, showcase what success looks like and set it as a benchmark for your team.
“The COVID-19 crisis is a once-in-a-century event. It has forced every business function to innovate, evolve and adapt. Leadership is no different. Over the past two years, business leaders have come across many complex dilemmas, which are unprecedented in nature.
“One thing I have stayed committed to since the onset of the pandemic is prioritising people over the business. The well-being of our employees and providing a safe working environment is our focus, even if that requires us to push project deadlines or joining dates”.
Caitlin Zotti, Operations Manager, Pin Payments.
“I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my career to work with leaders who actively sought to remove gender bias, so I’ve always felt that defining myself by gender in the workplace is unnecessary to my contributions and leadership. Being a good leader requires self-reflection and honesty about your own capabilities and areas for improvement.
All leaders should be aware and inclusive of people’s needs, backgrounds, orientation, abilities and differing lives – as this is what contributes to great ideas and innovative approaches. A team will truly thrive when they feel heard and understood, and the foundation for this should be an appreciation for who your individual team members are.
I’m very aware that gender bias continues to impact the workplace, and we strive every day to create a diverse and inclusive culture in our business”.
Kellie Brown, Founder & CCO, Fig & Bloom.
“A key part of leadership for me is trusting my intuition to guide the team. In these uncertain times, understanding the team and listening to their changing needs, whether it’s through an informal chat like sitting down to a coffee or a more formalised chat at work, has been essential. Carving out time for people in the past two years has been integral, despite time being a scarce resource.
“It’s also important to understand people’s home dynamics because things you may not consider, like working from home logistics, kids or housemates, can really impact a person’s output. Leadership for me has been about creating a safe space for people to share, so I can help the team holistically.
“However, when it comes to tackling gender bias in our industry, we’ve had to set firm standards and expectations to manage any inequality which could crop up. Ultimately, we should definitely be striving for gender neutrality in the workplace, but many workplace dynamic issues aren’t caused because of gender, they come about due to mindset. Supporting diversity across the board for gender, different family dynamics and orientation should be the ultimate goal,”.
Gretchen Scott, Founder, The Human Collective
“I’m passionate about getting more diverse people in the room when it comes to supporting equality in tech and that’s exactly what we do at The Human Collective. We support organisations and leaders to increase their diversity and inclusivity.
But the reality is, leaders need to be aware that there’s an issue in the first place, and there’s a bit of shame and embarrassment in that. But being a great leader means acknowledging shortcomings, it’s ok to admit you’re not doing something, so you can work on it. I’ve spent years working on initiatives to support women and general inclusivity to create a community for diverse people in tech, where they can feel supported, have fun and mix with others in their ecosystem. To be a great leader you need to cultivate an environment for minority groups to feel included and that means hiring based on the person, not criteria or a checkbox”.
Sarah Thornton, Managing Director and Co-Founder, The Finders Keepers
“As female leaders, we should nurture our feminine qualities of empathy, compassion and kindness. You can still be a strong leader and have a highly productive and efficient team, but lead with kindness. As much as I wouldn’t wish this time on anyone, it definitely has impacted the way I lead a team in a positive life-changing way.
“My team looks to me for leadership and sometimes it takes time to process it all, to allow yourself to work through the emotions and grieve if there is loss. It is a balanced mix of leading with compassion and boundaries, and knowing what you can and can’t do”.