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IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Layla Tow

IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Layla Tow

Wendy Gray IWD2021

Disclaimer: Please note that all commentary and opinions provided in this interview are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by. 

What skills and attributes do female leaders bring to create diverse leadership at management level?

There is a diversity of leadership brought to the table by women that is largely informed by the paths they have taken to get there. I believe the core skills (inherent and learned), on which there is a plethora of study and literature, are not determined by gender, but rather by the opportunities afforded, encouragement received, confidence imbued and the support given to grasp those opportunities and to demonstrate them.  The complex challenges that women face in their careers mean that on that path, they are developing resilience, empathy, navigational skills and breadth of understanding that differentiates the ideas and strategies that they are then well equipped to contribute.  Whilst by no means a guaranteed, (or exclusively), female attribute, empathy is one of those that is going to be increasingly effective in driving positive business decisions.  This will become more important in the workplace of today and tomorrow - in an environment that demands coalescing businesses around strategic change, growing revenue opportunities in a world that is embracing ESG more than ever, through to attracting and retaining talent that cuts across generations with a broad spectrum of priorities.  

Why is it important that we “choose to challenge” and call out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping?

Targets and quotas are powerful parts of the toolkit, but it is important for organisations to think about how they challenge their infrastructure and culture to eradicate the bias and stereotyping embedded in ‘the how they do things’ in order to empower female leadership confidence and ambition early in women’s careers.  This has to be something that is driven from the top of an organisation.  In my experience, many women who would make fantastic leaders and have tenaciously overcome gender specific obstacles in the pursuit of their career, are put off at what is often the final hurdle.  That endgame goal is not so attractive if the boardroom is a microcosm of all the challenges experienced along the way.  In my view, this is not necessarily about a female candidate’s resilience, but often informed by a healthy dose of pragmatism - ironically a desirable leadership attribute.  There is certainly more awareness and some improvement in overt gender discrimination in many industries.  Lack of equitable opportunity and the prevalence of conscious and unconscious stereotyping still drives a shameful level of bias - gender and otherwise.  In the same way that smart businesses ask themselves at every juncture, will this work for our customers, we have to start asking the same with respect to all of our people.  It needs to be about enabling both genders, by being mindful of providing equitable opportunities.  

What does “choose to challenge” mean to you?

If I don’t challenge bias when I see it or question (including myself), the use of stereotypes (in and outside the workplace), then I should be considered complicit in the discrimination.  Choosing to challenge is not just about introducing initiatives and chairing focus groups.  Whilst these are important, it is also about changing behaviours through role modelling the right ones. We need to constructively question processes that may result in discrimination, call out instances of bias and at the very least self-police our own use of stereotypes.  

There has been a huge increase in organisations investing in D&I initiatives as a result of the focus on gender issues in the last 10 years and we have seen a proliferation of very positive stories about women in leadership on our news screens and social media.  All of which is great.  If every CEO and equivalent (male and female), who whooped at the success of Kamala Harris and proclaimed Amanda Gorman as awesome (all over the news, corporate websites, personal and professional social media), then came back to press to celebrate and share what they chose to challenge in their own organisation in light of that inspiration. Well…that would be even better.  

Click below to read the full edition of IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Female Leaders Across The Globe.