Can inspiration for female leaders be found in a pandemic?

5 minute read

When Covid-19 became an issue on a global scale it created, almost immediately, an atmosphere of uncertainty. With regards to future plans and jobs, a large percentage of our population found themselves second guessing their careers, especially those who had previously been taken more or less for granted.

Large numbers of employees were furloughed and made redundant, and this has been especially felt by women. As a recent McKinsey survey* found, women’s jobs have been impacted by the pandemic significantly more than men’s. As a result of all of this uncertainty, I believe that women especially have been urged to take risks outside of their comfort zones in order to keep working. Post Covid-19, therefore, I can see how the scarcity of roles and the desire to find work may provide the push factor needed for us to take risks outside of our comfort zones and apply for the jobs that we may previously have shied away from.

In my own experience, Covid-19 certainly brought about a career change and move into a completely different leadership role sooner than expected. Having worked with the same company for 15 years, I had always intended to branch out and start something of my own, but had struggled to leave my own safe harbour and do so (especially when the existing journey was very rewarding). 

With the pandemic causing me to question my own job security, I knew this was finally the time to take the leap and trust in my own creative thinking to not only survive this tough situation, but to come out of it thriving. 

A motto I live by is to ‘always go with the option that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to make you grow’ (by Caroline Myss). I certainly feel as though the past 12 months have provided a number of tough (and often scary) choices that have, ultimately, allowed me to grow. Deciding to take an Executive MBA programme at Saïd Business School is an example of one of these choices, as was the decision to open up my own business.

The need for creative risk taking in uncertain times is something that I have found has also opened up new networks of support globally. Since the very beginning of this pandemic, I have noticed people coming together around the world in a way that had not previously been felt, in situations of both protest and solidarity. 

Being forced apart physically has put a greater emphasis on communicating in other ways, and forming support networks wherever possible. In my experience as a Forté fellow and Oxford Executive MBA student, I have found attending a series of online conversations around the topics of women in leadership and diversity and inclusion truly encouraging. I have found that these online events have also instilled a sense of unity among fellow students and attendees. The continued efforts of schools and institutions to educate and unify, despite the difficulties faced, is both inspiring and energising. 

My experience with these has fostered a sense that we are all united in the same mission of giving women greater access to business education, professional development, and a support network that will actively encourage growth and development.

I also believe that all of the time that we, as a population, have spent indoors, staying home and trying to prevent Covid-19 from spreading, has also encouraged a level of introspection that may not otherwise have happened. 

Certainly, when you look at the headlines that have dominated the past 12 months (aside from those pandemic-related), portions of society are recognising the need to promote diversity and inclusion on a greater scale by challenging the views and institutions that prevent this.

It’s also possible to see how the pandemic has helped to aid the rise of change makers and leaders who are not afraid to challenge societal norms or issues that hold back progress. Kamala Harris, in particular, springs to mind, as a female leader who represented change to a population largely frustrated by their circumstances and existing leadership. It is my hope that female leaders such as Harris not only serve as role models to other women in their careers, but the attention female leaders have drawn to recognising the need for a diverse, gender balance will continue long after the pandemic. Yes, the topic is not new, however we (men and women) need to keep working together in addressing it.

As we look to the future, and leadership in general, it is my hope that, in post-pandemic working environments, we are also conscious of the fact that policies and laws are not the main facilitators of change; people are. Gender isn’t the only variable that should be considered: there’s also race, religion, sexuality, disability, and even physical appearance. 

It is incredibly important to understand that we have a long way to go in creating a truly diverse and inclusive leadership structure. But, ultimately, this will only happen when we dare to challenge both ourselves and those around us in the journey ahead. By promoting further education with regards to gender diversity as well as intersectionality in business, we can ultimately change the way we behave and make decisions in a positive way, and open the doors for future leaders.

In light of the above, it’s possible to see how Covid-19 has played a great role in affecting change, particularly in relation to women. My personal experiences and journey have taught me that, by opening up both professional and personal support networks and encouraging individual acts of change, it’s possible to achieve the kind of career that may otherwise be planned but not necessarily put into effect. 

I’m optimistic that long after this pandemic ends, we will be able to see the positive role that female leaders have played over the past 12 months, and know that they serve as inspiration to other women who may otherwise not have had the confidence to take charge of their own careers.