How do you mitigate around the typically masculine qualities leaders of old were expected to possess? 

The idea that good leadership only looks one way (strong, direct and competitive etc), is completely outdated. Most importantly it contributes to overlooking great women talent, as it perpetuates a bias towards men and traits that are perceived to be more masculine.

We need to really examine what leadership qualities are needed to do the job and measure candidates against those qualities instead of these preconceptions. 

Particularly finding ways to showcase and most importantly promote those with different styles of leadership, is crucial in ensuring we combat these biases in business. 

When you look to promote people in your team, what qualities do you look for?

Honesty, collaboration and empathy. As you move up in your career I think these are critical skills to have and build. 

As a leader, I think really important to understand and focus on the qualities you possess that are valued by others, and equally the qualities that you value in yourself. 

This means you’re always coming from a position of clarity and strength in your leadership role, which is key in combatting any preconceptions about what good leadership looks like. 

I also try to have conversations with team members about their aspirations and distribute Leadership tasks equally and visibly. Ensuring those interested can demonstrate interest and aptitude, and not be solely assessed on previous (or lack there of) experience. 

Do you believe any of these can be learned, or are they intuitive qualities? 

Yes absolutely. Understanding and supporting both ‘will’ and ‘skill’ is really key here. 

Whilst new skills can be learnt alongside passion for new areas of work as your career develops, some people will be naturally more skilled at certain areas than others. 

However ‘will’ (wanting to learn, applying yourself, finishing the best ways to work with and inspire people) is also inherently very important to being successful in your career. 

What advice do you have for anybody who is being overlooked for a promotion and even missing out (even just) in getting other roles? 

Ensure you are clear about your ambitions with your leaders to avoid ambiguity being an invisible roadblock that halts your progression. 

Ask for clarity about what qualities are necessary for you to demonstrate to achieve that next step. You deserve specificity. 

Think holistically about opportunity both internally and externally. What other non linear opportunities are available to build your expertise?  Or what opportunities present themselves elsewhere, that you can’t access currently?

This approach can be really useful in helping prioritise your next career steps, especially when it feels challenging. 

Is there an old boss or industry leader that you look to for inspiration and gold standard of a leader?

A previous boss told me that asking questions made them feel ‘like I was trying to catch them out’. 

One championed and promoted me whilst I was navigating micro (and macro!) aggressions that would have normally seen me shut out. 

Another stood up and turned their back on me and refused to speak when I resigned.

One apologised for their approach of a situation, which they retrospectively realised was incorrect and negatively impacted me. 

One hugged me when I shared my feelings about the leadership journey I was embarking on.

Whatever the scenario, I’ve essentially I’ve learnt something (good or bad!) from all my previous leaders. 

I’ve always thought about what they said or an action they took, and how it made me or others feel, and/or inspired me or others to act (or not act!) and used that to shape my own leadership approaches. 

Stay tuned for the next lever and join WACL in its effort to move the needle on gender diversity and unlock the vast potential of women in the advertising and communications industry.

WACL (Women in Advertising Communications Leadership) is leading the charge with their initiative, “Levers for Change” a five-part series dedicated to accelerating gender equality and propelling more women into the coveted CEO role.

Our 50% CEO playbook provides practical tools to achieve a future where women hold half of all CEO positions.