Last month, I had the pleasure of attending The CEO Magazine’ s Inaugural International Women's Day luncheon at Sydney’s Park Hyatt. I was honoured to be included in such a prestigious group of 60 female business leaders, all bound together by our shared experiences and stories as women in leadership roles.
Following the event, I was heartened to know that more and more female leaders are embracing a diverse and inclusive view of success and strength—one which doesn’t attempt to mask itself as necessarily masculine or feminine, but that is individual. Unique to each of us. This struck a chord with me, personally and professionally.
As the director of Sussex, I’m at the helm of a company operating in a traditionally male-dominated industry—I know first hand the challenges that women face as business leaders. As a young woman who took over this business from my father, I was nervous about the legacy I was taking into my custody. The challenge was made greater because of the entrenched gender imbalance within the manufacturing industry as a whole.
"Masculinity and femininity have long been relegated to their specific suitable roles. But true leadership requires flexibility and a dynamic ability to shift gears."
A lack of experience at the time meant I was often unsure of my decisions. To compensate, I tried early on to conform to the stereotypical characteristics that we associate with a ‘good’ leader = unyielding, dominant, forceful and, well, masculine. But I couldn’t keep up. I was trying to be someone I wasn’t, and it didn’t work for me or my business.
It took me a few years to learn that the best thing I could be was myself. And that meant showing my true self—vulnerabilities and all. When we show vulnerability, we have the chance to remove our ego from our role as leader, bonding us with our team and gaining their trust on a deeper, more personal level. Now I know that showing a perceived weakness is truly a sign of strength, because it requires bravery. It creates trust. And surely therein lies a good leader.
When I learned to embrace what made me different, things started to change. I came to acknowledge that my biggest advantage in leading a high-end tap manufacturing business is the fact that I am a young woman. Our largest demographic is women aged 30-35. If I am my customer, I can lead with a sharper instinct, bigger vision and adopt more fearless decision making.
Now, I know that my business’s success comes as a result of having diverse leadership at virtually every level. It’s been a great joy as a leader to see our female staff lead the way on our factory floor, taking on supervisor positions in greater numbers than ever before. I bring all the experience of learning to embrace my contradictions, nuances and shades of grey. When we pay close attention to harnessing the potential and passion in the individual, gender becomes irrelevant. The empowerment of each unique person allows stereotypes to fade into the background. And ultimately, loyalty and longevity is cultivated.
"Now I know that showing a perceived weakness is truly a sign of strength, because it requires bravery. It creates trust. And surely therein lies a good leader."
Masculinity and femininity have long been relegated to their specific suitable roles. But true leadership requires flexibility and a dynamic ability to shift gears. When we embrace the feminine and masculine qualities in each of us, we not only expand our ability to lead with greater strength than ever, we forge a path for others to do the same.
In the wake of this year’s International Women’s Day, let’s push for a world where leadership has no gender. Instead, let’s aim for one where only the best and true version of the individual is empowered to lead with authenticity and courage.