Women in Work: What it Takes to Be a Strong Female Leader

Kelli McCosker   |   September 24, 2019
Woman in meeting stock 2 (Credit Christina Morillo)

Despite significant progress towards gender parity, businesses still have a long way to go. In a world where most business leaders are male, stepping into higher positions remains a daunting experience for skilled women. GM of Finance for the Emerging Brands division of Flight Centre Travel Group, Kelli McCosker, provides advice for how women can overcome this hurdle and become strong industry leaders.

If you’re female and would like to become a leader, there’s good news. More and more companies are now committed to gender diversity. But progress has been slow and reports like The Women in the Workplace 2018 indicate that women need more support in navigating the leadership waters. 

Difficulties faced by female leaders

An issue that always gets mentioned is the imposter syndrome. This is a phenomenon that I think everyone experiences at some point, irrespective of gender. It’s important to keep in mind that men are also learning how to do their roles as they go, even if they don’t show it. Women also fear being viewed as ‘bossy’. But if you haven’t sought or received any feedback on this, then it’s an unwarranted fear. In this case, changing your behaviour will mean that you’re not being authentic and this can take a toll in the long run. 

Do men have more opportunities than women? 

I don’t believe there’s really anything holding women back. Time at work may be impacted if we choose to have children and become the primary caregiver. This is within our influence and the choice that we make to best suit our careers and our family situations.  If I was to identify a limitation, it would be the ‘Birds of a Feather’ theory. There may be a tendency for male leaders to flock to their own kind to fill new positions, either by tapping into their network of male talent or by exhibiting unconscious bias in interviews. 

Differences in the way males and females lead

From what I have observed, men and women have different strengths in leadership roles. Male leaders are strong in forming key relationships and networks and are great at sharing their vision or story. Female leaders tend to be more nurturing, open and vulnerable to show who they are. Women also have a strong ability to balance stakeholders in decision-making or negotiations. Both gender traits are necessary in the workplace.

How can women grow and develop into strong leaders?

Today’s workplace leader is someone who goes far beyond managing their discipline or area. They play a role across the business in both setting strategy, modelling the culture and expected behaviours, and leading and developing people. Fulfilling this role requires lifelong learning. This is what allows us to stay abreast of changes and trends to remain relevant and bring new insights and inspiration to our businesses. If your workplace offers opportunities to develop your skills and expand your network, then you should capitalise on them. Flight Centre has always given me and other female colleagues opportunities to expand our skill sets and pursue any role that we wish to strive for. I can pinpoint defining moments where I created change or took an opportunity that allowed me to grow at a fast rate to get to where I am today as a General Manager of Finance. I have changed from a Chartered environment to a commercial one, moved interstate to learn the retail business model, and moved horizontally across the business to dive into contracting and wholesale departments. Each shift has pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to learn from different leaders, both financial and operational.

If you have the ambition to become a leader at Flight Centre, check out our jobs today!