Shaping the future for women in leadership

Uschi Schreiber,

Chair, Global Accounts Committee & Global Vice Chair, Markets at EY

More about the author

As Global Vice Chair, Markets, Uschi is a member of EY’s global executive board and responsible for the firm’s integrated go-to-market approach. She is a board member of the Women in Parliaments Global Forum and sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Government.


What defines an authentic leader and how do you become one? Here are the three big takeaways from the 2016 Women in Leadership Summit

Geometrically-patterned glass ceiling

When I think back and reflect on EY’s most recent Women in Leadership Summit, which was part of the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2016 Forum, there are three big things that stand out:

  • How to better engage men in the gender parity debate
  • Questions women should think about to become authentic leaders
  • The impact of technology

How to better engage men in the gender parity debate

There is no doubt we need more men to actively engage on the issue of gender diversity and parity. Women are achieving a lot in the workplace and continue to lead the discussion on gender parity, especially as the number of women in leadership roles increases. But as long as men are occupying most of the senior roles it remains important that they take part in this conversation. It really needs men and women together to achieve real change in business and the workplace.

So it struck me that while both men and women were invited to take part in the Summit, the majority of attendees were women, with only a few men sprinkled across the audience. This brought us back to the all too familiar question: given the massive evidence of better business outcomes when women are involved, where are all the men when it comes to discussing how to strengthen the role of women in business?

Admittedly, there are upsides to attending meetings with a female audience. This type of environment can highlight the shared experience of being one of only a few women in leadership roles and produce a different quality to that conversation. But equally, with men at the discussion table, all of us gain a fuller perspective. There is a place for both but we definitely need more men to actively engage in the debate.

Questions for authentic leaders

Jacqueline de Rojas, President of techUK at Women in Leadership Summit

At this year’s summit, we asked the question: what defines an authentic leader and how does one become one?

Margaret Heffernan, entrepreneur, CEO and author of Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes and countless other books and articles had a lot to say about this. Her first piece of advice at the Summit was: “Work out what your game is.” When reflecting on how she first came into business, she realized that she wasn’t playing to the strength of her own skillset and instead attempted to match the style of her male counterparts. She quickly discovered that this wasn’t a winning formula. This early lesson is one she has since advocated to women leaders everywhere: “I don’t want to play the game. I think we’re here to change it.”

Margaret’s presentation stimulated a lot of discussion and questions about how to change the game for women leaders.  Asking questions is a good place to start.

Jacqueline de Rojas, President of techUK – the UK’s tech industry body, emphasized this point: “You don’t have to be Alphazilla and leave dead bodies all around you to get stuff done elegantly. Sometimes asking a devastating question can be even more effective.”

So, what were the “devastating” questions that were brought up at our event? Here are few that I found most thought-provoking.  Do you…

  • Know what you want to do? What you enjoy doing? And what you’re aiming to achieve?
  • Pay attention to your strengths and achievements?
  • Understand your weaknesses and how to compensate for them?
  • Know how you challenge constructively and get “stuff done”?
  • Have a mentor and/or sponsor and make sure you get value from that relationship?
  • Ask for enough money from your employer and your financier?
  • Read and learn all the time to stay ahead of the game
  • Build networks that give you support but also create opportunities?
  • Surround yourself with people who are different and who welcome disagreement?
  • Support others so they can achieve their own dreams?

De Rojas' and Heffernan’s points emphasized the impact that leaders can have when they actively engage their teams by asking the right questions. Due to the accelerated pace of change, plans of today might be obsolete tomorrow, and thus learning how to ask these types of questions can create the right thinking. Especially when responding to disruption and change – not only do we need smart leaders, but also smart and diverse teams who don’t jump to conclusions, but who think differently and use technology to come up with new ideas.

The impact of technology

The Summit also showcased a number of digital and entrepreneurial female thought leaders who set forth a debate about how today’s environment can be a powerful enabler for all leaders, and especially women leaders. But to accomplish this – women need to fully engage with technology.

It has been said countless times, we need more women in technology. Emer Coleman, CEO, Dsrptn, brought this front and center by stating: “Engineers are coding our future, and women need to be part of that. If you own the code, you own the world."  

Jacqueline Simmons of Bloomberg News who moderated part of the Summit, noted that there is a dearth of women in technology roles. Countless studies show how problematic it is to have few women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics at a time when STEM fields are about to rule the world. First, this excludes women from the wave of new jobs created by technological advances.

Second, automation and digitization are likely to take disproportionately more roles from women than men. This is because women are overrepresented in the routine, process-driven areas of the economy most likely to be disrupted by artificial intelligence and robotics.

Daniele Fiandaca of Creative Social and Token Man, pointed out that, “There are 1.4 million jobs in tech, but only 3% of women are on track to fill them. That’s a shocking statistic.”

In response to this, it is more important than ever that we focus on teaching children coding in school well before university. If we can encourage girls, especially, into coding at a younger age – then there is a greater opportunity for them to become attracted to this field as a life-long pursuit. We also have to teach women about technology.

Illustrating this point, Coleman lent us her skills by leading a technology master class for the Summit attendees. We were reminded by this class that while lifelong learning is a given for many, technology now adds an extra dimension for all people in society. Enabling a culture in which women feel not only welcome but fully engaged is vital to getting women into the game.

We live in exciting times. Technology is changing the world. It creates both opportunities and threats. Let’s ensure women leaders are at the forefront of using technology to build a better working world. Let’s also ask ourselves the right questions to develop our own leadership styles and continue to engage men and women in the discussion to advance gender parity.


Please join us in the ongoing conversation on Twitter at #BetterQuestions and #WomenFastForward.


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