The role leadership plays in driving change… International Women’s Day 2024

Feb 28th, 2024


The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day 2024 is “Inspire Inclusion”, which emphasises the critical role that leadership, particularly at the board level, plays in setting the tone for an inclusive culture that champions female development.

Research by the London Business School confirms companies with more women on their boards have higher returns on equity, higher valuations, lower likelihood of shareholder dissent, and stronger boardroom relationships and collaboration.

This was demonstrated recently by a female COO I worked with that was headhunted by an organisation with an ambitious growth plan.  She not only focused on increasing profits but helped to establish a culture and a set of values that made it a more collaborative and inclusive place to work.  This made the business more attractive to investors and talent.

Successful change programs are those that engage all members of an organisation, making it clear that each person holds a vital role in driving forward the agenda of gender parity and inclusivity.

Here I look at five elements leadership teams can explore to encourage inclusion:


1. The Critical Role of Male Allies

Given that the majority of leadership roles are held by men, male allies can play a pivotal role by advocating for female leadership. Their actions and voices are crucial in challenging unconscious bias, dismantling stereotypes, and promoting a culture of equality.

In a recent conversation with a peer in a women business group, she reported that they have challenges finding male speakers to take part in panel debates on this subject. She explained that whilst most men she approaches are supportive of the topics, they feel awkward about putting themselves out there for scrutiny. On the flip side though, it was good to see an all-male panel from the property industry speak about empowering women, and their perspective in driving change so that more women are in key management positions.

Being a male ally involves intentional actions and a commitment to fostering gender equity both in and out of the workplace. Here’s how:

  • Advocate for Female Leadership: Actively challenge unconscious biases and stereotypes. This includes advocating for women during recruitment, promotion discussions, and within leadership roles.
  • Listen and Learn: Actively seek out and listen to the experiences of women. Recognising that women may have different experiences within the same company is crucial. Give them space and respect to share their views and stories to gain insights and understanding.
  • Speak Up: Share what you learn about the benefits of gender equality with other men. Call out sexist behaviours and advocate for a culture that values equality, leveraging your influence to champion change.
  • Be Self-Aware: Reflect on your own position and advantages as a male professional. Use your understanding to support others in gaining similar opportunities and advantages.
  • Champion policies and practices that support work-life balance for all, including flexible working and caregiver leave. Personally demonstrate equitable sharing of responsibilities in your life

By incorporating these practices, men can play a pivotal role in advancing gender equity, creating a more inclusive and equitable environment for all.


2. Avoid making assumptions

Creating an inclusive culture means ensuring that career development opportunities are available to everyone without making assumptions about what others might want or need based upon their gender, race, religion, sexuality etc.

A female executive recently found herself in the middle of a major company restructuring just before announcing her pregnancy. A number of new teams were being built across the globe and she found that, despite her successes to date, some leaders were reluctant to confirm a role because she would not be able to join them for another year. Assumptions were also being made as to how she could handle an international role as a new mother, even though that was her preference.

It is increasingly common for leaders to be asked to come forward with a plan for where they would like to be in the business over the next three to five years. My experience is that at times some women, who I know have bold ambitions to be CEO or COO, can sometimes moderate expressing these because there are aspects of that role they have not experienced yet. To counteract assumptions being made, express those bold ambitions irrelevant if you have not done all aspects of that role yet…that is what ambition is all about.


3. More opportunities for mentoring

The presence of role models, especially for women, plays a pivotal role in shaping aspirations. A 2022 study by LinkedIn in the UK highlighted this, revealing that 43% of women believe their career success could be significantly enhanced by having a role model in their workplace.

Through my involvement in The Mentoring Circle, a mentoring programme for females in real estate, I can see the impact of mentoring and the difference it can make.  I have seen first-hand where ambitious young women are putting themselves forward for additional responsibilities, but in some cases their line manager doesn’t see it as part of their own role to provide these opportunities. These women feel they are being kept small. All it takes is one person to believe in you. I will always advise that if that person isn’t your own manager, be proactive and find someone else who will support you.


4. The Benefit of Gender Diversity Scorecards

What gets measured gets done.  One approach to measuring progress towards gender equity is the implementation of gender diversity scorecards within businesses.

These scorecards enable organisations to track their inclusivity efforts, from recruitment and onboarding to performance, talent management and promotions. By establishing clear metrics and regularly reviewing progress, businesses can not only assess their success but also demonstrate their commitment to gender equity to investors and stakeholders.

Companies like Diageo and Lloyds Banking Group in the UK have been recognised for their efforts towards gender equality, showcasing the potential benefits of such scorecards in driving organisational change.


5. Bridging Gaps with Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships serve as a vital bridge, inviting a more diverse talent pool into industries where women have historically been underrepresented. By offering hands-on learning and mentorship opportunities, these programs not only equip women with the skills and confidence needed to thrive in sectors like engineering, technology, and construction but also challenge the status quo, gradually altering perceptions and norms. For instance, initiatives that specifically target women and girls for STEM apprenticeships are proving to be a game-changer, breaking down barriers and fostering a culture of diversity and inclusivity from the ground up.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2024, let us recognise the progress made and the journey ahead. By embracing inclusivity, fostering male allyship, and leveraging tools that can measure our progress, we can accelerate the pace of change towards a more equitable world. Together, we can create an inclusive future where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.


Potential Plus International runs bespoke team and individual coaching programmes for ambitious and progressive companies that want to be the best in their field. For more information on the work we are doing with women in leadership, please contact Oona Collins at