Inspiring Women Leaders Workshop

This women’s month we brought together a group of women leaders to surface more stories of women who are successfully leading modern organisations. To explore how women are showing up as 21st century leaders. To change the way women see their role as leaders and the value they bring. To explore what holds women back. This is what we heard…

Companies are often guilty of only paying lip service to diversity, yet in reality only 10% of SA CEOs are women (12% globally). Most women are as likely as men to aspire to senior leadership positions, according to the 2017 Gender Disparity Report produced by Bain & Co, so more clearly needs to be done to ensure equal access to the higher echelons of leadership.

There are a host of potential reasons that justify why women can’t or don’t reach the highest levels:

• Societal norms
• Organizational bias in many workplaces that promotes men over women
• Limited female role models; in fact often women can’t think of any
• Unconscious bias amongst men and women that leadership is inherently masculine

While all this is true, these are factors out of our immediate influence. In our group, no matter what size or sector, or level of leadership, the challenge women face that is within their influence is the same: fear.

• Fear of not being good enough
• Fear of failure
• Fear of taking a risk, and accepting greater responsibility, while juggling multiple roles of family and career
• Fear of not living up to society’s expectations

All of this leads to doubt, insecurity, and a lack of confidence. Women start seeing themselves as imposters who don’t have the capacity to be leaders.

People also see traditional leadership qualities as ‘male’. We all know the ruthless, aggressive boss. Brought to life by fictional characters like Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, or in real life by Steve Jobs who was known for his brutal criticism that would reduce his people to tears.

However, these are not the qualities that are serving 21st Century Leaders. 21st Century leadership is about unleashing human potential, about bringing out the best in people. To do that leaders need first and foremost to be human.

In collaboration with Within People, Accelerate Cape Town has been working on building a body of knowledge that defines what successful leadership of modern organisations looks like. In a nutshell there are seven qualities that help leaders unleash human potential: Empathy, Curiosity, Patience, Courage, Conviction, Vulnerability, Creativity.

In this session we focused on Curiosity, Courage and Empathy and were honoured to have Nomzamo Ngqulana-Kasana, Head of Human Resources at Glacier by Sanlam, and Chantal Butler, People Director at Woolworths South Africa, talk about how these qualities serve them as leaders.

• Curiosity is valuing uniqueness and personal stories. Seeking out and listening to what lies behind. Enquiring into with non-judgement.
• Empathy is recognising and accepting the fears and aspirations in others. Understanding the intentions and experiences behind people’s actions.
• Courage is about being able to dream big and pursue that dream. Acknowledging our fears and working with them.

Nomzamo described what empathy means to her ‘I want to treat others the way I want to be treated. I want to hear you and understand you and, in the process, we share the gifts we each bring.’

For Chantal curiosity and empathy are linked. Empathy comes from a curious place. As a leader Chantal creates spaces of trust where people can share honestly and openly, be curious about each other’s stories. Giving people space to tell their story builds their confidence and helps them solve their own problems.

This helps businesses, in that there is less drama in the system. People take greater accountability and responsibility for their part. People feel more valued, and thereby more confident, and can step into their courage. There is greater learning amongst people.

Whether millennial or seasoned professionals, from corporate to entrepreneurial businesses – the group agreed – that the source of growth for women is knowing that it starts with me. That empathy, curiosity and courage starts with knowing ourselves, being our own best friend. Facing our own doubts and fears, recognising what is authentically true for us, and having a healthy sense of self-worth are the most powerful ways women leaders have built their confidence to fulfill their potential as leaders.

The key learning from the session was for every leader to define their own success – understand who they are, and what their journey is.

As leadership coaches, here are some practical tips from Within People for women leaders to fulfill their potential. Within follows a simple formula: Clarity + Belief + Confidence = Growth

• Create CLARITY on your purpose and vision as a leader. Define why you do what you do and use this as your north star.
• Build BELIEF by acknowledging your success. Share your story and invite others to do the same.
• Grow CONFIDENCE by overcoming fear. Explore the barriers that hold you back that you can influence. And develop the leadership skills to overcome them.

The session ended with a lively discussion and we would once again like to thank our sponsor, Webber Wentzel, for their continued support.

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