The landscape of leadership is witnessing a transformative shift, one where women are increasingly taking the helm in various sectors, from corporate boardrooms to political arenas. This evolution is not just about achieving gender parity but about harnessing the unique perspectives and strengths that women bring to leadership roles. As we navigate this shift, there is a critical question we must ask ourselves: How can we empower the next generation of women to build confidence and step into leadership roles with conviction and purpose?

The rising tide of women’s leadership

Globally, women are making remarkable strides in leadership, breaking barriers and setting new precedents. African women leaders, for instance, are taking significant roles in shaping their communities and countries. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment as the first woman and African head of the World Trade Organization is a testament to this progress​​. 

However, despite these advancements, deeply rooted gender biases and societal norms continue to challenge women’s ascent in leadership. Overcoming these biases requires a conscious effort to change perceptions and acknowledge the inherent strengths women possess for effective leadership​​.

Empowering the next generation

To cultivate a new era of women leaders, it is crucial to inspire and support young girls and women. Initiatives like the Next Generation Women Leaders events by McKinsey & Company play a pivotal role in this regard, providing platforms for mentorship, skill development, and networking​​. As I wrote recently, reverse mentoring is a new leadership superpower that has many benefits and impacts – not only for those leaders participating but also their young mentors.

Sometimes, however, we simply need to tell more stories and offer insights into the way that leadership actually work​s​​​. This can be handled formally through mentoring or informally by modelling the behavior we want the next generation to learn from. After all, many of us learn by doing, and observing others up close and in action can be a powerful learning experience.

A great example of this is this YouTube video from Dhea Mariesta Chanjaya, one of the participants in the 2021 McKinsey program. Not only is she sharing her excitement of joining the program, but she happily provides a guide on her YouTube channel to help other young women apply.

Overcoming barriers and embracing strengths

Despite the progress, the journey to leadership equality is fraught with challenges. Women continue to encounter the “broken rung” phenomenon, which hinders their advancement into higher leadership roles. 

Yet, women leaders are known to drive strong outcomes, championing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and providing empathetic and effective team support​​. I believe we can all benefit when we leverage women’s innovative potential in corporate sectors​​. But it is just one important element in the mix:

I firmly believe that while equality is important, it is just one element in a broader mix of initiatives that needs to be addressed in parallel. Equality is not just the right thing for people, it’s the right thing for business, innovation, and profitability.

Strategies for cultivating women leaders

So, it is clear that building the next generation of women leaders requires a multi-faceted approach. What does this mean for leaders and leadership? 

Here are some ideas:

  • Explain the details of leadership – when working with aspiring leaders, step through your decision making process, how you analyze situations and how you select a path from the range of options before you
  • Offer development opportunities that are difficult to grasp outside of the corporate world
  • Provide meaningful mentoring to support women’s career paths​​​​​​.

Most importantly, work to create a culture that values female insights and ideas. This will create the conditions for many to thrive.

Nina Nets It Out: The journey towards empowering women leaders is ongoing and requires collective efforts from all sectors of society. By recognizing and addressing the barriers, while also capitalizing on the unique strengths of women, we can pave the way for a future where leadership is not defined by gender but by capability and vision. The next generation of women leaders are poised to shape a more diverse, equitable, and innovative world, and it is our responsibility to support and amplify their voices.