Why female leadership matters
Sade Brown has always been surrounded by strong female mentors, but not everyone has been so lucky. She has set up a project to inspire a new generation of social leaders – people who have actually experienced the problems that they aim to solve.
I remember talking to a young woman a few years back, who told me that she’d never had a female mentor and that she wished that she had met me earlier in her career as it would have given her more confidence to speak out.
It was then that I realised how privileged I am to have been surrounded by strong female leadership – from line managers, to directors and CEOs – I have always had solid female guidance and I believe this has made me a stronger and better leader. I’d never thought about the impact this had on me until that moment, but, of course, it gave me a firm belief that women leading is the norm and that I could do it too.
When I started working in the creative industries I knew that I was at a disadvantage. I was working class, living in a youth hostel, I hadn’t really been to school, I didn’t know anyone in the industry and I was a woman of colour. I pretty much ticked every diversity box and I was constantly reminded of this. I couldn’t see anyone who looked or sounded like me and it made me feel uncomfortable – like I didn’t belong there.
I believe that more female representation at the top is needed, but my passion for diversity and inclusivity goes beyond gender
The theatre I worked in was led by an incredible woman who took me under her wing because she saw something in me that I couldn’t. On paper we were complete opposites, but she was the only person that really understood me, and her belief made me stand up taller. We connected over being minorities – she was a young, intelligent woman leading in a sea full of men and, to some, she was considered a threat. She led by example and my foundation for leadership began by watching her lead generously, plan ambitiously and negotiate flawlessly. She encouraged me to see my disadvantages as assets and to use them to create change for people in similar situations to me.
Since then, I have continued to be surrounded by powerful, fierce and confident women making change happen by speaking their visions into existence. Seeing these women lead so flawlessly has made me confident that the sky is the limit and that I can achieve anything that I put my mind to; a luxury I realise that is not afforded to every woman in the workplace. It took me a long time to see the disparity between women and men, because I had never been in an environment that didn’t have a powerful woman in charge.
Now, I realise how fortunate I was, and how critical it was on my path to leadership to see leaders that I could relate to. I’m now thinking about what it would take to ensure that everyone could see a version of themselves in a position of power and influence.
It was this thinking that led me to setting up Sour Lemons, which addresses the lack of diversity and social mobility in leadership roles across the creative industries. I believe that more female representation at the top is needed, but my passion for diversity and inclusivity goes beyond gender. It’s as much about your background and your life experiences as it is about your outward diversity.
I want to see more leaders from different walks of life, sat around decision making tables and using their diversity of life experiences to make change happen.
I want to see more leaders from different walks of life, sat around decision making tables and using their diversity of life experiences to make change happen
Imagine if homeless charities were run by people who had experienced homelessness, or if more people who had experienced addiction were leading recovery solutions? Would we have more authentic and intuitive insights to the solutions needed to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing our communities? I’m currently working on a project with UnLtd and The Social Innovation Partnership to understand the challenges and opportunities that prevent people with first-hand experience of social injustice reaching leadership positions. People like me who are using their life experiences to drive positive change.
This Leaders with Lived Experience project, funded by The National Lottery, will work alongside two groups of experts – through their own experiences – in Bristol and Birmingham, to identify and break down these barriers. We’re actively looking for people to get involved with the project, that a range of people can create solutions together – especially the people who have lived through them.
I believe that initiatives like this are imperative to making real change happen, but the emphasis can’t be only on the individual moulding to fit in. There are systemic barriers that prevent minorities from reaching the top – whether you are woman, a person of colour, a person with lived experience or all three; it is a collectively responsibility to smash that glass ceiling and produce more leaders from diverse backgrounds.
Learn more about the Leaders with Lived Experience project and get involved here.