In honour of International Women’s Day on 8 March, BOSS Leaders of the Future (LOTF) held a webinar featuring female leaders from within our industry. The panellists, who all hailed from various disciplines and companies, shared highlights from their career journeys and imparted essential leadership skills to viewers.
The panellists were: Julie Hawley, Executive Director Finance, YPO; Andrea Kenna, Senior Director Merchandising Europe, Viking; Asmana Iftakhar, People and Culture Director, Lyreco; Nikola Simpson, Head of E-commerce, EVO Group and Sam Rylands, Head of Marketing, Durable UK.
The focus revolved around leading through change, and throughout the hour-long session, the discussion was open and frank. Kicking off the webinar, BOSS CEO Amy Hutchinson offered some statistics on what still needs to be done to achieve equality in the workplace. For example, it is expected the gender pay gap won’t close until 2044. She also reiterated the importance of allies for the social, economic, cultural and political advancement of women.
Below are some of the key takeaways from the LOTF webinar:
1. Leadership qualities
Becoming a successful leader requires more than technical competence in a chosen discipline. Embracing change and adaptability came through loud and clear as two of the panellists’ top traits for great leadership. Describing her career advancement, Kenna said most of her opportunities derived from not only being adaptable to transformation in the business but also from understanding that people adjust at different paces.
Simpson, meanwhile, suggested change is a gateway for learning and future leaders mustn’t be afraid to share their knowledge. “Be open with your time and experience but mostly be observant and listen. Often, the real gems in a team are the ones who don’t shout about their hunger to progress. Reach out to them and help build their confidence.”
While supporting and motivating others represents a fundamental aspect of good leadership, focusing on your unique strengths, talent and abilities is something Iftakhar firmly believes in. She said: “Never seek validation from anybody and be true to yourself and your own value set.”
2. Soft skills
Creating a collaborative and positive company environment is vital to success, and it’s no secret women leaders can bring something different to the table and be hugely beneficial to an organisation. Although not an exclusively female trait, Rylands referred to emotional intelligence (EQ) as a significant skill, with the inherent sense of awareness often uncovering details which may otherwise go unnoticed.
Hawley agreed with this point of view. Elaborating further on the subject, she added that soft skills shouldn’t be ignored, especially as they become more important the further up the management chain a person rises. “You tend to shift from transactional work to more people management.”
A successful and creative team requires unique skills, backgrounds, experiences, ideas and cultures as Rylands pointed out: “With diversity comes an innovative culture and greater gender diversity on a senior executive team has been linked to a corresponding financial performance uplift.”
Adding to the topic, Iftakhar stated that representation is vital. “It’s critical for people to see themselves represented on the leadership team, whether on the board, senior management team or even a project. Coming from a different background with an alternative perspective, you approach problems differently. If everyone is open to discussion, you normally figure out the right solution. Diverse opinions around the table can create change.”