Finding Authenticity: Insights from Rising Female Leaders

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At our recent Women in Transformation event in London, a diverse panel of rising female leaders candidly shared their experiences and perspectives on navigating careers, mentorship, diversity, and modern leadership in today’s business landscape.

The lively discussion, moderated Jacqueline Shakespeare, Consulting Partner at Sullivan & Stanley, featured four dynamic women representing major UK employers such as Experian, British Airways and the Ministry of Justice. Ranging from early to mid-career stages, the panellists brought a richness of viewpoints but circled back to authenticity as a key theme.

Balancing work and personal passions

When discussing factors important to their own professional journeys, work-life balance and playing to strengths resonated across the group. “I made a lot of choices in my early career around being able to fit work around my family,” explained Nesochi (Nes) Awujo, a Change Strategist at the Ministry of Justice and mother of three. “Then being able to use all my skills – that’s a big one for me.”

This sentiment was echoed by Steffi Moore, a Scrum Master at British Airways who appreciates having the time outside of work to explore her passions: “I am an adventurous person, I love being outdoors and travelling. I volunteer with the Scouting Association as a leader and I am an ambassador and chair of the youth panel for Cardiomyopathy UK.”

Relatable role models and modern leadership

On role models, the panellists emphasised the importance of finding relatability in senior women. “I think one of the key things for me is authenticity. It’s just being relatable,” said Nes who recalled the motivating experience of seeing a woman who “looked like me” in a leadership role during a job interview.

When asked how mentors have shaped their growth, both Nes and Jessica Stanley, HR Business Partner at Experian, pointed to relationships that blended coaching with active sponsorship. Jessica credited her mentor, VP of Technology Transformation at Experian, Ashley Sommerville, with advocating for opportunities on her behalf: “I definitely feel that when I’m not in the room and Ashley has the opportunity to be in bigger rooms than me… she’s there talking about opportunities for me.”

On fostering inclusion, the panel encouraged bringing diverse groups into the discussion. “Really bringing [employee network groups] into the conversation and working with them as we’re going through decision making, I think has been a really great way for us to change and move forward,” said Jessica.

And regarding modern leadership, the panel called for empowering and developing others. “The best leaders focus on empowering the people that they’ve got around them rather than taking centre stage,” said Jessica. Nes pointed to “radical candour” from managers who deliver constructive feedback while having her back.

Mathilda Borjesson, Client Solutions Manager at S&S, echoed this in sharing her own leadership values: “Professional interests lie in the intersection of human behaviours, innovation, and sustainability – hence I have just started a 6 month upskill programme in ‘Sustainability Change Leadership’.”

Leading with authenticity

When asked what advice they would give to the senior leaders in the audience, the panel doubled down on authenticity and openness. “I think vulnerability is a massive one as well, especially if you expect someone, especially someone younger, to open up… then I would expect that back,” urged Steffi.

Nes added that leading as one’s authentic self is critical: “People perform their best when they are happy and people are happiest when they’re being themselves.”

Authenticity stood out as the north star guiding these rising female leaders. By bringing their whole selves to work, acting as sponsors and role models, and fostering inclusive environments, they are clearing a path for the next generation to thrive.