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How to champion women in business to enable their success

There is no question that women can achieve – and are achieving – groundbreaking success in business. We have proven that we are capable of achieving things never done before across all industries, and we will continue to do so.

However, as women, we do all of this while juggling challenges unique to our gender. It’s imperative that we understand these challenges and identify the ways in which we can best support other women to enable their success.

Across both my role now, as CEO of Emma Lewisham, as well as in my previous career as a senior executive of a global technology company, I have prioritized supporting and championing the growth, success and equality of my female colleagues and the wider female communities I am proud to be a part of.

Reflecting on my career thus far, one piece of advice I wish I’d received as a young woman in business is that just because you feel like an outlier for doing something differently, doesn’t mean the approach you’re taking is futile.

I had been told countless times in the process of incepting Emma Lewisham that what I was trying to achieve was impossible.

Conventionality isn’t necessarily always correct. As women, we are still rewriting the rules and defining a new norm within corporate and entrepreneurial spaces where we have often been excluded more than included. I wish I had been assured to never be afraid of doing things differently, to do them differently with confidence and to always be my authentic self when I was in the process of bringing Emma Lewisham to life.

Emma Lewisham has been on the market for just over three years and in that period of time, our team has pioneered a new way for beauty. Our mission – to deliver truly intelligent natural skincare that is both efficacious and circular – has been heard by companies across the globe.

I set out to prove women didn’t need to compromise between skincare that was natural, circular and results-driven. I knew it hadn’t been done before in the industry because it was ultimately an almost impossible equation to crack.

I had been told countless times in the process of incepting Emma Lewisham that what I was trying to achieve was impossible. We’re now stocked in MECCA as the largest New Zealand brand launch in the company’s history and recently across Goop in the United States and Harrods in the United Kingdom.

As women, there will be countless times across our careers when we’ll find ourselves in uncomfortable or challenging situations, most of which stem from our femaleness within male-dominated industries or cultures.

However, as empowered, confident women, we have not only the strength to navigate these situations but the courage to lean into them and, in turn, find growth. It is therefore essential that we are nurturing the empowerment of women in business and arming them with the tools to stand strong in their conviction, and be unwavering in their self-belief.

Below are some of the primary ways I have found to best empower the women around me to enable their success.

Image: Emma Lewisham

Empowerment through education

Education is the most powerful tool we have to empower women. There is still a significant gap in gender equality within schools globally, with this only widening as girls move from primary to secondary, and secondary to upper-secondary school.

In 2021, the G7 heads of state set and endorsed two global objectives. First, to get 40 million more girls in school; and second, to have 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10, or the end of primary school, in low and lower socioeconomic countries.

Education institutions play a crucial role in creating a safe space for all children to learn but even more so in enabling equal learning opportunities for all women.

While early education is crucial, I also believe we should be supporting the continued education and upskilling of women in the workplace.

Developing and advancing their skills not only directly empowers women and enhances the confidence they have in their abilities, but by investing in their personal and professional development you are making a clear statement that you value what they bring to the business and that their value is worth investing in.

Boosting self-belief and fostering confidence

I have worked with so many women over the years who are incredibly talented and yet have lacked confidence and belief in themselves. An important part of my role both in my previous job as a senior executive and now as a female CEO, is fostering the confidence of the women around me and showing them just how capable they truly are.

I have found the most effective way of empowering women in their roles is to instill confidence and trust through giving them opportunities to take on more responsibility (and ensuring their pay reflects this); giving them space to work independently without micromanagement; and assuring them of your unwavering belief in their competence to succeed.

Professional coaching, leadership opportunities and modeling these behaviors myself are equally important tools. I make it a priority to understand how I can best support my female colleagues in achieving their goals.

Embracing and encouraging feminine energy

Without wanting to generalize, most women naturally carry a softer energy than their male colleagues. I want to make it very clear that I believe this is one of women’s greatest strengths.

This feminine energy is what makes women compassionate, empathetic and understanding – qualities that are essential in respected, trusted, empowering and memorable leaders. Yet traditionally, workplaces have been dominated by a masculine energy.

Even in workplaces with predominantly female employees, this masculine energy often dominates as it is so deeply ingrained in our culture. I strongly believe this feminine energy, both in female and male employees, should be nurtured and encouraged. It brings a balance and kindness into the workplace and fosters teams that feel more connected, understood, appreciated and valued.

Acknowledgement of a women’s full self

In order to champion women in business and enable their success, it's imperative we recognize them as the full people they are in their lives. Women make up 81 percent of all caregivers, and even in hetrosexual relationships where both partners work full time, still spend 40 percent more time caregiving than their male partner.

Women’s responsibilities and unpaid work outside of their paid work are often overlooked, especially within male-dominated industries and workplaces. Whether this is in the form of extended business trips or company events organized outside of work hours, as women try to do it all, these things add additional pressure and challenges that male colleagues typically don’t have to contend with.

In my previous career, I would often be away with work for over a week at a time. While I didn’t have a family then, I could see how this disproportionately affected my female colleagues and there wasn’t any workplace support or understanding.

I strongly believe that you can have a balanced company that doesn’t burn people out and be successful.

For this reason, in my own business, I am very mindful when making decisions around people. I ensure there is always flexibility around working from home, no micromanagement, complete trust in staff to manage their days, and I am very mindful of decisions that will impact people with families, such as having work events in the evenings.

It’s important to me that I nurture a culture of balance, and as with all effective cultural initiatives, I consciously lead by example. I strongly believe that you can have a balanced company that doesn’t burn people out and be successful. In fact, for business longevity and employee retention, this is essential.

I fundamentally believe, above all else, that success is who you are as a person, not about what you have compared to others, or where you’re placed within a certain company structure. Success is about taking note of where you are right now, what you’ve learned and the eagerness and confidence to believe in something more.

Success isn’t a destination or a feeling; success is so much more than that. It’s about recognizing everything you’ve become and what wonderful opportunities lie ahead of you if you just believe in yourself.

Emma Lewisham is the founder and CEO of her eponymous beauty brand. Emma Lewisham delivers the world's most intelligent skincare formulations by unlocking the power of nature. In 2021, Emma Lewisham became the world's first certified carbon-positive beauty brand. Emma resides in Auckland, New Zealand.

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