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What it means to be a female leader in 2020

International Women’s Day means more in 2020, than it ever has, in my 20-year career thus far. Today, it feels as if we have much to celebrate as a community bound by our gender and orientation despite the ever-present obstacles that still remain to be conquered. 

While March is often inundated with positive messages in support of our collective female empowerment, I’d like to capitalise on this opportunity to discuss an underlying theme that’s often underplayed – personal empowerment.

The reality is that if every self-identified female on our planet felt empowered in her own right, then our journey to collective empowerment as a sisterhood is an altogether smoother path. 

PERSONAL EMPOWERMENT

The broad definition of personal or self empowerment translates to an individual giving themselves permission to succeed by setting goals and achieving them. While simplistic, it applies perfectly to most situations concerning empowerment.

The key in my opinion to personal empowerment is rooted in the belief that change starts with us, all and every individual female, as equal contributors to our collective cause. That one inspired action from us can and will make a difference.

I’d like to think of every female as a star in the sky and the sum of all our stars make up the array of stars in our galaxy. That every star has the responsibility to shine its light as brightly as possible, doing something, anything it can to live up to its privileged female status. 
OUR ROLE AS WOMEN

As champions and advocates for each other within a connected global community, we each have a designated role which entails two key unifying characteristics.

The first is the responsibility to observe, inform and educate. Too often, whether due to our cultural upbringing, societal norms or negative experiences, women are perceived as more accepting and accommodating – translated as too agreeable. 

This archaic and falsely assigned status quo has to change. To properly affect change, our role as women is simultaneously simple and complex. Simple because observing, informing and educating is something we intrinsically do yet complex because it will force some of us to go far beyond our zones of comfort or familiarity.

Let’s break down this role:

  • OBSERVE – we have to more critically look and analyse conversations and behaviours around us and step forward when we would’ve previously stepped back or remained neutral when a situation feels derogatory, insensitive, offensive, hurtful or unfair.
  • INFORM – we must then, from the perspective of experience sharing, kindly share our truth and observations. The first step is awareness so if someone is oblivious that their words or actions are disrespectful, then we have a responsibility to let them know.
  • EDUCATE – It’s insufficient to simply announce that a certain behaviour or conversation was defamatory towards women, it has to be backed by why. This is crucial in helping others become our champions and advocates. Sharing our truth authentically and sincerely is enough. We don’t need facts and statistics.

The second responsibility we owe to one another as a sisterhood is to stop fighting each other. Instead of comparing, badmouthing, backbiting a fellow female due to negative emotions such as insecurity or jealousy, we should stand up for and with each other. 

From my personal experience and observations, there have been countless instances where women are the cause of us falling out of step. This is not to negate the other spectrum of countless women who lift us up in support, let me be clear.

During my time as a Management Consultant for example, I mentored and befriended a woman whom I regarded as a close friend, only to find out after I left, many instances in which she blatantly abused my trust and friendship. She divulged confidential personal information about my circumstances, partook in discussions defaming me and many more hurtful accounts.

She used the opportunity to stand against me to foster relationships in support of a promotion, only to struggle so intensely afterwards. Despite her horrible actions, I’m thankful to the many women who rallied around me, warning me of her false friendliness. 

Here are some ideas on how we avoid behaviours that perpetuate unnecessary competition and fighting:

  • HONESTY – approach every female friendship and relationship leading with honesty, sincerity and authenticity. If you’re unhappy, upset, annoyed by someone’s behaviour, you owe it to them to gently and kindly, share that so that they’ll benefit from knowing and learning. Any other derogatory action behind their backs is cowardly and frankly, contributing to the problem.
  • KNOW YOUR TRIBE – we weren’t all made to get along so don’t feel bad if you like someone less or find it hard to find common ground to build a relationship. It’s normal and acceptable – we’re all human. As adults, we know the personality types we gravitate towards and the reasons for it so use this knowledge to lead your friendship choices. Build your tribe – those you surround yourself with, intentionally and carefully.
  • CREATE SPACE – so often, women find themselves in competitive situations where they feel threatened by a fellow woman’s success. This sentiment is merely a projection of our deeply rooted insecurities. The reality is that there is enough space for everyone regardless of what profession or industry we operate in. When overwhelmed with feelings of irrational competitiveness or jealousy, remind yourself that you’re in control. So create space for yourself and use the many examples of successful women as our motivational backdrops.

FEMININE LEADERSHIP

The final proponent of personal or self empowerment is embodied in the concept of feminine leadership. Again, while not a new concept in itself, feminine leadership has received renewed vigour and meaning in 2020, with the uprising of female empowerment movements in the age of #metoo.

Feminine leadership belongs to both men and women and is shown when we own our feminine qualities when leading. This includes – non exhaustively, having emotional intelligence, deep listening, fostering emphatic connections and being authentic, sensitive, collaborative, trustworthy and cheerfully positive. 

Stepping into our feminine qualities and leveraging it as leaders is a deep showing of personal empowerment. Where women, in particular, were once criticised for being emotional, naive, shy, weak and overly agreeable, these emotions have now been infused with a positive perspective.

I’m not advocating for us, as women, to start being overly emotional and crying in meetings in a work context, I am advocating for us to stop being ashamed of embracing a natural part of our female personalities. 

Leadership is not only masculine. A good leader embodies both the masculine and feminine. A good leader – male or female, should be competent, confident, ambitious, assertive and decisive, previously identified as masculine traits. Simultaneously, a good leader should also have a high emotional intelligence, be a good listener, sensitive to their colleagues and subordinates’ needs, identified as feminine traits.

IT STARTS WITH ME + YOU

As International Women’s Month comes to a close in 2020, let’s consider our individual contributions to the cause. What will we do to amplify our personal power? How will we behave so we inspire positive actions? When will we allow ourselves to really behave authentically at work?

Before we continue to progress women’s empowerment, I hope that this year, we’ll take a moment to boost our personal empowerment and embrace each other’s brilliance, uniqueness and successes.

I invite you to join THE CAREERISTAS – a community of ambitious women who believe in their personal powers. Membership to our private, digital community is free and opens April 8th. Sign up here!

To female freedom and equality

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