By Yetunde Hofmann

Many women become role models without realising it, and their influence on driving change within their workplace and beyond cannot be underestimated. You are noticed by people you know and those you don’t, and your visibility and representation can attract talent and fuel ambition in the next generation.

This is especially important for those working in under-represented industries and as we move up the career ladder, where progress towards diversity is still slow.

Being a giant in the eyes of others provides you with the opportunity to have a big impact on those around you. But how can you use this position of influence to empower others and drive positive change? Here are five ways you can get started.

Pay it forward

Every step forward sees us grow and change, but we must recognise the knowledge and sacrifices of those who have come before us. So, whether it’s mentoring other women or sharing your expertise as an event speaker, we must pay it forward and open the door for the next cohort to follow in your footsteps and allow them to perhaps chart an easier path than you did.

Remember and honour those who supported you on your career journey and seek out ways to serve in that position for those coming up behind you. Tap into your personal and professional network and identify contacts who could support the career progression of employees within your organisations through mentoring and coaching. If you lead a team, provide access to women’s networks, development opportunities and special interest circles both inside and outside of your company. Ensure that your funding and business growth programmes cater to the needs of those involved by consulting them on what support they need to achieve their career goals. Finally, celebrate the achievements of your colleagues and work with others to find best practices that align with your company’s purpose and goals.

Understand the power of your decisions

Regardless of how small a decision may seem and how easy it appears to say yes or no to something, every choice we make will have consequences, benefits, and limitations. They will also have unintended reactions that can reverberate throughout your organisation and beyond. Understanding the power of this ripple effect will enable you to shine a light on issues that could decide the trajectory or speed of change.

Sponsorship is a great example of this. The more senior you are, the louder your voice and the stronger the shadow you cast becomes. When you act as a sponsor for someone by raising their profile in a meeting or putting them forward for a development opportunity, people will listen to your recommendation and act on it. Making this decision to actively champion someone’s career is a powerful way to give them the push needed to succeed.

Take risks on behalf of others

Progress comes from challenging the status quo, not by settling into it. We must, therefore, take risks and use our positions and influence not just to talk the talk, but to walk the walk.

Proactively amplify the experiences and voices of those who are not in the room and identify ways of including them in discussions, be that through leadership forums or individual meetings with senior staff. Champion the relevant Employee Resource Groups – ERGs – in your organisation, especially those that focus on creating change which contributes towards a more equitable organisation. Likewise, lending your voice to raise awareness of decisions that limit equality and genuine inclusion in the workplace can help to influence your peers into taking action.

Hold your organisation accountable for their progress

Becoming a purposeful leader is about accountability and standing for more than just your own interests. It’s about doing the right thing, even when it seems difficult. One way this is evident is in setting and measuring DE&I progress. I often say you measure what you treasure. Leaders and organisations must assess what is needed to move the needle and establish actionable targets with deadlines and deliverables to stay on the right path, ensuring these are regularly reviewed and amended if needed.

Conduct root-and-branch analysis of your people processes and identify strategies to close the gaps between your current and desired outcomes. In recruitment periods, ensure that diverse shortlists are created and if you are using external firms then they should also be embodying your commitments. By holding your organisation’s and your stakeholders’ feet to the fire, you can ensure that positive change doesn’t become a fleeting moment or a condition tied to specific awareness days.

Empower yourself

Being a woman in the workplace can be an isolating experience, especially in industries like STEM or if you’re working as an entrepreneur. You will often be the only person to look like you in meetings or at work events, and the higher up the ladder you climb the more noticeable this becomes. Self-doubt can easily creep in, especially for Black women who evidence suggests can be hit hardest by these feelings.

Loving and embracing every part of yourself – warts and all – is key to empowerment. Remember – we are all unique, with our talents and reason for being that have got us to where we are today. Staying true to your purpose ensures that you act with the best of intentions and can return to your path of driving positive change if you ever feel like you’ve lost your way.

About the author

Yetunde Hofmann is a Portfolio Non-Executive Director, Board level leadership coach and mentor, global change and DE&I adviser, TEDx speaker, and the Founder of the Solaris Executive Leadership Development Academy – a pioneering programme designed to support the career advancement of Black women leaders. In her advisory and board positions, Yetunde helps executives transform their company cultures and talent pipelines into a truly diverse, inclusive organisation. She is also an expert in the power of love-based leadership and the author of Beyond Engagement.

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