27 September 2023

Women and leadership: How to become an outstanding leader

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QSuper* offers five tips to help women move into leadership roles.

In 2022, the International Women’s Day (IWD) theme of #BreakTheBias challenges us to take practical steps to create a world free from stereotypes and discrimination, and make inroads towards gender equality in work and life.

Sixty-four per cent of Australian Retirement Trust members with a QSuper account are women, and yet we know Australian women retire with on average 23 per cent less super than men.

That’s why we’re committed to supporting our female members and providing them with resources and information that can help improve their financial wellbeing and positively influence their career development.

Today, more Australian women are working than ever before.

Women make up more than 50 per cent of the workforce but less than 20 per cent of Australian CEOs.

Women account for fewer than one in five CEOs or board chairs, and one in three board members.2

Lack of female leadership can mean women are often more likely to be harassed at work,3 that top-level workforces are less diversified, and that female employees’ mental health suffers due to discrimination and lack of advancement opportunities.

The lack of female leaders can also lead to a lack of role models to inspire other women in the workforce.

Leadership specialist, consultant, author and LeadershipHQ CEO Sonia McDonald said it was imperative to get more women into leadership roles.

‘‘We need more women sitting at the table, leading teams and changing the world,’’ Ms McDonald said.

‘‘This will take true courage from all of us.

“We need to call out messages, behaviours and actions that are biased against women.’’

What is leadership?

Leadership in the workplace means different things to different people, and different things in different situations.

But, in general, effective leaders:

  • Set the tone and culture for the company
  • Focus on the strengths of their team, so they feel empowered to do their best work
  • Provide service to their team and make sure they are growing in all areas – their profession, knowledge and even their health and wellbeing.

Benefits of female leadership

The advantages of gender balance and diversity in leadership and decision making are many and research shows that companies that have more female leaders made more money and increased market value.4

There are many strengths in the ways women lead,’’ Ms McDonald said.

‘‘These include empathy, kindness, collaboration, connection, and communication.”

Five tips for becoming a female leader

Ms McDonald said her years of work and experience in the leadership space had helped her develop a strong passion for female empowerment.

‘‘I want to forge the way through my work, leadership and messages to pave the way for women and girls and give them the hope, inspiration and courage to see their inner greatness and leadership,’’ she said.

She shared these five tips for women to develop as an effective leader:

  1. Learn about yourself and embrace who you are – start with your strengths, values, passions and preferences.
  2. Develop yourself as a leader read books, enrol into workshops and programs, get a mentor, invest in your leadership development, subscribe to online resources like the Harvard Business Review, perhaps watch TED talks.
  3. Surround yourself with people who lift you up and want to see you succeed.
  4. See yourself as a leader – it is an attitude, action and choice, not a title or rank.
  5. Have the courage and belief in yourself to apply, and put yourself up, for leadership roles.

Develop courage and authenticity

Ms McDonald is the author of three leadership books and recently released her latest, First Comes Courage, which explores kind and courageous leadership.

‘‘Courage and leadership go hand in hand,’’ Ms McDonald said.

‘’Self-awareness and self-discovery are essential.

“The more you know yourself and your strengths, talents and fears – the more you understand how to be a courageous and authentic leader.

“When we are kind and compassionate to ourselves, we can truly embrace courage and authenticity because we understand we are human, and we all make mistakes.”

*QSuper is an Australian superannuation fund.

This article first appeared at qsuper.qld.gov.au.

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