IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Helen Mellor-Mitchell

Author Oumama Syassi
April 11, 2021

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? 

Working in marketing, I have seen many successful women who have risen to the top. I think it is a profession that requires a lot of empathy and emotional intelligence, traits that women often demonstrate more naturally. I have been lucky to experience a large proportion of female senior leaders, who taught me a lot – nurturing not just my expertise but my confidence, allowing me to embrace my strengths and promote myself. These powerful women who are authentic, fair, and encouraging are testament to the importance of people skills in being a business leader. I would say the most effective female leaders embrace their compassionate side whilst remaining results-driven – setting clear expectations with their teams, and their peers, and collaborating to achieve them.

What does “choose to challenge” mean to you? 

Choosing to challenge is about taking risks and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone – and in some cases pushing other people out of theirs. Whether that be challenging yourself in your career choices, challenging the status quo in the workplace, or challenging gender norms. I have always believed taking risks was extremely important for career progression. It’s a belief I’ve had throughout my career, moving from my home county of Dorset, where I had a promising, but comfortable, start at Ryvita, to London to take a more demanding role at Paramount Pictures. After 13 years, four film studios, and four leaps in career progression, I took on a whole new challenge in moving to the UAE – to a new culture, a new industry, and a new level of my career. Choosing to challenge means being optimistic and persistent, even through adversity, never being afraid to question the establishment and becoming stronger through life and work’s setbacks. Always think: ‘Would I rather do it and fail than wonder what might have been?’.

How can female leaders ensure they get a seat at the table? 

It should not be harder to get that seat but in most industries, it is. It’s important to be assertive about your strengths and to promote them – whilst still recognising the need for continued learning and growth. Get as extensive an experience as you can, put your hand up for new challenges and responsibilities above your pay grade or outside of your functional role. Speak up and don’t be afraid if there is initially resistance to your ideas. It takes a broad business outlook to get that seat – focus on setting vision, inspiring and collaborating across the business to achieve success. Marketing is fundamental to setting business vision – to orientate the business from a customer’s point of view – but is often overlooked at board level. It’s about moving outside of siloed departmental priorities, collaborating with other functions at a more strategic level and focusing on broader company-wide issues.

What impact could Kamala Harris’ appointment to Vice President have on the next generation of female leaders? 

Kamala Harris has smashed the glass ceiling in many ways – the first woman, first South Asian American and first Black Vice President of the United States. For women, she symbolises so much; not only the inspirational nature of what she has achieved, in her career, but how. The key is her authenticity; she is unapologetically herself. She’s a powerful political figure but so down to earth; she’s warm and funny, she laughs and dances, and that can only encourage women to believe they can be themselves and achieve anything they set their mind to. She shows spectacular sass in breaking the norms – for instance, the shoes that challenge political etiquette and clearly say I’m here to get it done. And what resonates most of all for many women is that phrase, that glorious shut down of VP Pence during the debates – ‘I’m speaking.’ Women around the world can relate to those moments, in meetings, on Zoom calls. Men interrupting women is such a common workplace phenomena and it is sometimes difficult to wrestle back the floor without being deemed aggressive. She made women, and girls, the world over more confident in making their voices heard, whilst realising we don’t need to ‘act like a man’ to do so.

Click below to read the full edition of IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Female Leaders Across The Globe.https://indd.adobe.com/embed/bb2678fd-fafb-4e5f-b57b-bbe97612e7cf?startpage=1&allowFullscreen=true