Celebrating Women Leaders in the Workplace on International Women’s Day

With International Women’s day happening today we recently sat down Beth Loudon, Director, Janet Millerd, Finance and Operations Director and Rachael Colley, Director at Akeso to ask them some questions about their thoughts on leadership.  We also explore challenges they have faced in their careers, and advice that they would give to other women. We asked all three women what motivated them to take on leadership roles and each one said that they had been encouraged from early on in their lives to be open to leadership roles and often had mentors in these types of positions.

“From an early age I displayed leadership qualities which my family and teachers at school encouraged. I was assertive, knew my own mind and was quietly confident. As I grew up, I realised I was often a motivator and wanted to help others, I wasn’t keen on being directly in the limelight.” Rachael Colley.

Women frequently face greater challenges when pursuing leadership roles and this is often because of the role of motherhood, when asked what their greatest challenges were everyone concurred: “Having my daughter 15 years ago. In her early years, I carried a huge amount of guilt (as well as hefty childcare bills!) that I had chosen to return to work full time so soon. I had an excellent mentor at the time who helped me to understand that the tension I felt about being a good mother and good at my job was something that I would never be able to shake off completely and that I needed to make it work for me, and I did.

I came to understand that I could be good at both but that it would mean having to say ‘no’ sometimes and recognising my owns signs of stress and how to manage them.  As my career progressed I was required to travel on business more which did bring challenges as a mother, I overcome this mainly through military-style planning and organising and clear communication both at work and with my family. Whilst staying away overnight on business I would often be asked ‘where is your daughter? Is your husband babysitting?’ – my husband was never asked this question whilst away on company business!

I have felt it is important to keep challenging the stereotypes that people may have about women in leadership roles, we will only change this if we ensure that it is discussed and doesn’t remain a taboo subject.” Beth Loudon, Director.

As companies realise the importance of gender equality and ensure the promotion of both men and women, we asked what would be the advice given to aspiring young women, Janet Millerd, Finance and Operations Director, answered with this advice,

“It’s ok to doubt yourself or your abilities but don’t stay with those thoughts, work hard, learn new things, be disciplined, set your ambitions and goals, and work to realise them. You’ll never regret putting the effort in when you see what results it can bring.

There are still many organisations where the top table is male dominated. I believe companies can support women by creating more exec level roles recognising that confidence is every person issue regardless of gender.

I fully support creation of safe spaces and groups for like-minded people to learn and grow, however, we can also think about how we bring men and gender-neutral colleagues into the conversation to get the alternative perspective. I have seen men struggle with confidence, worry about their kids and their role within teams and organisations, and they are not always inclined to share. I think it’s time for us to work together to figure out how we can all bring our strengths, knowledge and experience together to create inclusive work environments that women and others can thrive in together.”

Another challenge faced by many women is the feeling of being inadequately qualified for their job, Janet addresses how to deal with feelings of insecurity:

“Some of my challenges have been more about how I have thought about myself rather than others. In prior roles where the leadership team was dominated by highly ambitious intelligent men, I undervalued my ideas and contributions and would be hesitant to put myself forward. I felt I had be 100% sure of what I was saying otherwise I would keep quiet. What I learnt over time was that when I had the courage to speak it was valued and that others didn’t always have the ‘right’ answer, they were just better at pretending they did. Because I undervalued myself I didn’t push for ‘promotions’/compensation and I think in some cases sold myself short.”

We hope that these answers have been inspiring on a personal level and that they have encouraged other women to speak up and celebrate their role models. We are all surrounded by amazing women from all walks of life, everyone with the potential to be valued.

Celebrating women leaders