Before starting my own business over two years ago, I found myself exposed to workplaces that were either female dominated or where females held top leadership positions. As a fairly sheltered graduate in her early twenties keen to impress those at the top, I failed to question ‘the way things were’ and to be honest, I’m not quite sure that I even picked up on how toxic certain situations were back then.
Armed with far more experience under my belt and the advantage of hindsight, I can honestly say that despite being surrounded by female leaders, I never felt inspired or really supported by most of the women around me. In certain situations, I even remember thinking to myself, ‘when I’m in a leadership position, I never want to be or treat people like this.’
So as a fairly young but not too young ambitious woman, what do I want from fellow female leaders?
Someone who can see in me what I can’t see in myself
Since I was a kid, I remember feeling as though ‘owning what I was good at’, was a little egotistical. To this day, I struggle with giving myself permission to openly admit to what deep down inside, I believe are my talents. I don’t need someone to reiterate my fears or concerns, I need someone who can open my eyes up to what I can’t yet see. And not for their own advantages because it means I can do x and x for them, but because they believe in me and know that I am capable of more.
A person who will challenge me, without disrespecting me
I’ve had a former boss throw a piece of paper at my head. I had another former boss tell me I reminded her of a US sitcom character (trust me, it wasn’t said in a nice way) and tell me how I should wear my bag because I look like a uni student wearing it across my shoulder. That same boss had a huge issue with micro-management. While I don’t need someone to tell me I’m fabulous every second or agree that all my work is brilliant, I do need a leader who allows me to breathe and who has the ability to challenge me professionally without disrespecting me or commenting on things that are not part of my job brief (for example, the need to wear heels to certain meetings or hear their thoughts/commentary about my personal life).
A leader who understands that I am a person first
When I think back to my early twenties, I feel really sad because I put so much into work that I forgot I have a life to live as well. We are all people first and employees second. The best leader I’ve ever had had high expectations for all of his staff (yes, you will notice I did say ‘he’), but he always understood we are people first. So if we had personal matters to attend to, he always allowed us the time and space to do so without fearing for our jobs. When I don’t feel like ‘just another number,’ I am far likely to give more as an employee.
Someone who leads by example
Somewhere along the line, people have started to believe their own hype. As in, owning a business or having a certain title or being senior to someone else, makes you a better person or means you’re entitled to do things others aren’t. It’s nonsense. Whenever I’ve felt most hopeless and depressed in the workplace, it’s because I’ve felt like the world is on my shoulders (how ridiculous, I know! I’m not a doctor saving lives here) and everyone is expecting me to pull through. Because that’s what Sarah does. The best leaders I’ve had led by example – they roll up their sleeves and help with whatever they can. They adopt a whatever it takes mentality.
A vision that together, we can create something better
“This is how it is, deal with it.” Are any words more deflating to hear as an employee? Like so many ambitious younger women, I’m not really interested in going through the motions or being a body, staring aimlessly at a machine from 9am to 5pm each day. I want to work for someone who has and shares in my vision and who truly believes that we can create change and that we’re working towards something beneficial. Otherwise, what’s the point?
It’s an exciting time to be an ambitious woman in business. More women than ever before are accepting the challenge to tackle top positions. More young girls are rightfully being told they can achieve anything they want to. So bring it on!