Women talking around a table

When I first had the courage to call myself a ‘women in leadership coach’ the response I got was often incredulity. And that was around 12 years ago now! I was told it was too niche and would be ‘career-limiting’ for me. However, I stuck to my guns. Firstly, because that was an accurate description of what I had been doing for years already. Secondly, because gender equality is something I have been passionate about since reading my first life-changing feminist philosophy books in my teens and seeing all the discrimination and marginalisation my single mum went through in the 1970s and 80s.

It is my mission to be part of helping women change the story.

And my goodness that story has transformed! If you search ‘women in leadership coach’ now on LinkedIn, there is a huge tribe of us out there supporting women as they smash glass ceilings and create the lives they want. Funnily enough, the comments I now get when I say I am a ‘women in leadership’ coach are:

‘…but we surely don’t need those anymore’
‘…haven’t we solved that problem’
‘…but women are everywhere now’

I kid you not, these are direct quotes from recent conversations. I guarantee the people making those comments do not hear the stories I hear.

We have made progress, incredible progress. But we still have such a long way to go.

Through my work as a leadership coach, I hear other female leaders tell me about their stories of marginalisation day in and day out. Yes, we have made progress, but we are far from gender equality and far from where we need to be.

The stories I hear of:

  • Women being told they must behave like their male colleagues to be considered a strong leader
  • They are the last to be invited to meetings
  • Given more administrative work to do than their male counterparts
  • Promoted without having the responsibilities of their previous role removed
  • Spoken over in meetings
  • Having the credit for their work and ideas taken by their male bosses

It sounds like the happenings of 30 years ago, doesn’t it? Sadly, these are the stories I hear all the time in 2022. The data is clear – women are far less likely to get promoted to a management position than men. A recent McKinsey report found that only 38% of women were promoted to management positions in 2020 compared to 62% of men, with this dropping to only 22% for C-Suite positions.

And it’s not just in the workplace that women find themselves challenged.

Many women I coach are still carrying much of the ‘hidden’ emotional and domestic work in their personal lives. From sorting out the weekly food shop, supporting friends and extended family to worrying about buying new school uniforms, buying birthday cards and presents for family members and ensuring the wellbeing of those around them.

The tasks may seem small and trivial but all the preparing, organising, and anticipating of everything soon adds up. This mental load has an important impact on women. It leaves them without respite and close to exhaustion. No one says it out loud, but very often it is still seen as ‘women’s work.’ The data is clear – women are more likely to suffer from stress and overwhelm** and less likely to express their concerns because they fear being judged.

This imbalance is cited as part of the reason for the glass ceiling and pay gap. I would love to know what your experience is. Are you a man who is fantastic and taking on 50% of that hidden work for your female partner? Do you work for an organisation that has an equal parental leave allowance for all genders?

I love to hear good news stories!

Many industries are dominated by men making it incredibly hard for women to break through, let alone rise to the top.

Fashion is one of those industries where men still hold most of the higher-level positions. I explored this with my wonderful client Siri Soosalu who was at the time, Head of Design for Womenswear at Superdry.

“People don’t realise it, but fashion is actually a very male-dominated industry, especially at the higher levels. I’d say that in most fashion-related companies, management is still about 90% male.

I’d always found it quite hard to find my place in that environment. Women who were strong and vocal were often labelled ‘difficult’, while those who were quieter and more gentle were written off as ‘ineffective’ – it felt like you just couldn’t win! I tended to second-guess myself a lot, always comparing my work to that of my colleagues and coming down quite harshly on myself.

We worked together over the course of about a year, and one of the main things we tackled was growing my confidence in my own abilities. Sarah was just fantastic at getting right to the root of the issue and helping me to think differently about myself at quite a deep level.

Not long after my time with Sarah I got a promotion. I have no doubt that a huge part of that recent success is down to the changes in my mindset and skills, brought about by the work I did with Sarah.

Her support has also ended up having an amazing impact on my personal life. The ideas and advice she offered, and the way she changed my attitude to so many things, has helped me find a lot more balance while still being ambitious. Plus I feel so much happier now, and better able to be kinder to myself.’’

What Siri was experiencing is very common. The loss of confidence we feel when marginalised and labelled stops female leaders from shining, flourishing and speaking out.

I believe women in leadership coaching programmes are transformational for so many high-potential female leaders.

They can:

  • Build confidence and tackle imposter syndrome – to feel self-assured and re-energised
  • Help women leaders stop, reflect and find that all-important growth mindset
  • Coach talented women leaders to develop their leadership brand – and understand the unique value they bring to the role
  • Develop the leadership skills to help and support others – building a network of allies and advocates
  • Build the influencing and impact toolbox – present and communicate with passion and confidence
  • Teach them how to positively influence situations and get the best out of other people using coaching skills
  • Become super-networkers – building incredible networks of stakeholders, mentors and sponsors
  • Nurture supportive female networks within their organisation
  • Create greater inclusivity in the overall organisation culture as a result
  • Hone their leadership mission statement as a career path ‘north star’
  • Help female leaders achieve career development and smash their goals
  • Help women leaders reach their full potential and become part of inclusive senior gender-equal teams
  • Helps organisations retain their top female talent
  • A female leadership coaching programme can have an amazing impact on a woman’s personal life too.

Nothing exists in isolation and improving oneself as a leader can also translate into other areas of life too.

It can have an impact on a woman’s whole life, not just their career. It can lead to greater balance, enjoyment, and a sense of fulfilment as Kasia Lukaszewska, Senior External Digital Engagement Manager at Unilever told me:

‘’Taking part in this programme has opened up a world that I knew existed, but never tapped into before. Now I can’t live without it. Once you start seeing yourself properly, I don’t think I can go back to how it was before. Most of all though it gives you something that is just yours – not work, not family, but something purely for your own development and your own happiness.’’

If you are a female leader looking for more confidence and happiness, while you smash your career aspirations, let’s have a chat. Book a call with me here.

*McKinsey report – https://wiw-report.s3.amazonaws.com/Women_in_the_Workplace_2020.pdf
**https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210928-why-women-are-more-burned-out-than-men