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Written by Tanya Abbey CEO of Black Wolf

During what has been one of the most uncertain and disruptive years of our lives, I witnessed, first-hand, a trend that points to a bright future ahead - more women rising to leadership positions. 

Having worked in the recruitment space for over a decade, my experience has largely involved working with companies where there have been more men at the helm than women.

Before COVID, only 5 percent of businesses I worked with were led by females - a figure that, interestingly rose to 20 percent, including myself, who also took on the CEO role for our group of companies in 2020.

In addition to this, I didn’t just see women rising in the business arena, but in politics too. In 2020 we witnessed a truly historic moment for women in leadership, with Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris becoming the first female to rise through the ranks of The White House, into the highest position a female has held in US politics.

A bit closer to home, Jacinta Arden was also re-elected for another term in her role leading New Zealand as Prime Minister – a true commendation to the resilience and display of strength during the earlier challenges in 2020.

With more women, including myself, being appointed to leadership roles, I’ve learned a lot about the qualities that make for an effective leader and I hope that by sharing them here I can not just inspire but motivate other women to rise to positions of leadership too.

1. Be confident in the unique skills and abilities you offer

In my role as  CEO, I take inspiration from all types of leaders but especially strong, female leaders who show that gender is no barrier (and, in many cases, can be a great asset) in leadership positions.

One person that I admire for her dedication and tenacity is Sherly Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook. Sandberg’s messages around not just facing adversity and building resilience, but also leaning in, taking initiative, and backing yourself, are ones that inspire me in my leadership role.

Having access to stories from Sandberg and so many others, I believe more women would benefit from gaining insight into their experiences and learning to apply the same type of confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Through having such a great support network (both male and female), and by gaining confidence in my own abilities, I realised my compassionate and nurturing nature, which once may have been viewed as a weakness in business environments, was something that allowed me to create a space where my staff felt supported at work - something that was essential given the challenges we faced in 2020.

2. Maintaining strong interpersonal communication skills

Continual improvement around interpersonal skills, including the ability to inspire and motivate others, are key to what I believe generates strong employee engagement and satisfaction.

A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that employees working under female leaders generated higher levels of engagement due to the leaders’ abilities to build strong relationships, inspire others and communicate powerfully.

By developing these skills in my own business, I’ve been able to create an effective and collaborative work environment that allows me to consistently get the most out of my team.

3. The importance of a strong support network

From my time in business I’ve learned in order for a leader to support others, they must first feel supported themselves. I surround myself with great friends, mentors and business leaders and I encourage other female leaders to have a network of people they can turn to as well.

While there is a perception that women can't maintain a thriving career and family, I’ma strong advocate that both can be achieved. Having a supportive husband, close family and friends, as well as my wider support network, allows me to juggle the many challenges that come with being a CEO and a mother to two boys.

While my roles certainly come with their own set of unique challenges, they’re challenges I know I can face with these amazing people around me.

Looking forward, while there is still, in some industries and countries, divide in the proportion of female to male leaders, we’re witnessing positive shifts in this space with a growing number of Fortune 500 companies appointing female CEO’s. The highest number of companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange also have females in the top position now.

As we navigate through 2021, I hope more women will have the confidence to put their hands up for leadership positions, confident in the skills they offer and inspired by the growing number of businesses thriving with women at the helm.

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