Personal and Passionate- Interview with 4 inspirational leaders I know..

On International Women’s Day this year, I wanted to step back and take a look at the key themes attached to the issue of women at work and practical ways of dealing with the challenges we face. Diversity & inclusion (D&I) is a key element of leadership, and women aspiring to the top roles must combine enacting D&I principles in their own career management, and also to fostering them for the benefit of the larger organization.

Recently, I spoke to four women leaders who I admire for their courage and resilience– Margie Warrell, Forbes Columnist and Author; Sharon Doherty, Chief Human Resources Officer, Finastra; Reshmi Khurana, Managing Director and Head, Southeast Asia, Kroll Business Intelligence & Investigations; and Su-yen WongFounder and CEO of Bronze Phoenix – and arrived at five key insights which apply to all women looking to build their careers.

Believe in yourself

In a competitive work environment when women still need to outperform to address systems designed by and for men, self-doubt can be the quickest way to fall short. When rewards and affirmation don’t come from others, it’s easy to believe the fault lies with us. But staying faithful to yourself and believing in your ability can overcome this.

The times when I didn’t back myself, when I let my fears and self-doubts win out and I failed to have the brave conversation or to trust my gut, are the times that I regret most. I’ve learnt that it’s absolutely vital to keep faith in yourself and not let your current circumstances define you. Never let what other people think matter more than you do! (Margie Warrell).

Paraphrasing Richard Branson, seize the day! If someone offers you an amazing opportunity, and you’re not 100% sure you can do it, say yes anyway, and figure it out as you go (Su-Yen Wong).

Leaders must be agents of change

Being a leader means being part of the solution. It’s going to be a short-term and ultimately less-successful journey if you leverage your leadership position for your own betterment. D&I isn’t just about individuals getting ahead – it’s the best way of ensuring that your organization works to the best of its potential. Diverse teams are shown to produce better outcomes and solutions for a diverse client base. And that benefits the company’s bottom line.

I have always built diverse teams and helped those different people do their best work regardless of gender, age, culture, sexual orientation, different sectors. Once the team forms you have a powerhouse of innovation and ideas to cut through to brilliance faster (Sharon Doherty).

I have always tried to balance the trifecta of Head, Heart, and Hands. ‘Head’ is about having a strategic vision. It requires intellectual curiosity and honesty, and the ability to connect the dots. ‘Heart’ is about people and partnerships. It requires listening, caring, and walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. ‘Hands’ is about being willing to pitch in, no matter how trivial a task may seem, and be a part of the team (Su-Yen Wong).

Be flexible in responding to changing circumstances: Growth mindset

Just as we are agents of change ourselves, we are also going to have changes – often unexpected – inflicted on us. These are opportunities, not hurdles: a positive mindset can transform the unexpected into opportunities, not only for you, but for your team and the whole organization. Acceptance can be more powerful than resistance!

I have worked in four geographies in different leadership roles and have had to adapt my leadership style in each. I like to chase big ideas, encourage my team to be different, and keep team members on task. Change is constant and, as a leader, I can only succeed if I continuously strive to learn from my team, peers and clients (Reshmi Khurana).

At one point in my career, I felt considerably disadvantaged by being young, female and Asian, in a client environment that valued attributes that were the exact opposite! I learned to quickly build credibility by having a solid grasp of the issues. I also spent time developing relationships with people – one-on-one – and we had a strong working relationship once this foundation was in place (Su-Yen Wong).

Putting family first doesn’t mean putting work second

The demands of a family fall more heavily on women’s careers than on men’s. It’s something that’s changing, if not fast enough, and it’ll always be women who take time off to have a child and face the challenges of coming back – not only to a workspace they’ve been out of for some time, but with children at home who will always have priority. It can be done – success in achieving this balance could be the most fulfilling of all.

Transitioning from being a high achieving individual who could work 24/7, seven days a week to becoming a career women and a mother: the first six months back at work were really hard and I appreciated having a good employer, support from friends and my husband. Even with all of that it’s a massive shock . . . but worth it! (Sharon Doherty).

Be mindful of the bigger goals

The most exciting thing about this journey is that the change we’re looking to effect will be lasting. It may be difficult now, but the example we set and the policies and attitudes we put in place will benefit our teams, companies – and future generations. Having that perspective can make the harder situations seem much easier and worthwhile – one day, young women may not have to think about these issues, thanks to us!

One challenge all leaders face is developing a culture and values that bind a team together. In some teams, it involves creating an environment where everyone has a say and we continuously motivate a high-performing group. In others, it means creating a culture that doesn’t accept underperformance and pushes colleagues to do better. And then this culture has to be nurtured so that teams feel protected and empowered (Reshmi Khurana).

We’re here for a short time. We all have unique gifts to share. Creating a truly meaningful life will always require courage and that’s often not comfortable. But if we only ever do what is comfortable we never discover what’s possible (Margie Warrell).

Lead with passion and keep moving forwards, something I learnt to live by.