Edelman is a proud supporter of the International Women’s Forum (IWF), a global organisation for female executive leaders. This member-based organisation was founded in New York back in 1982 and was designed to provide female leaders (knowing that there weren’t many of them at the time) the chance to connect with peers who were experiencing similar workplace challenges, one that their friends and family might not exactly be able to relate to.
There are local chapters in countries around the world and an annual conference where people come together to learn and share their experiences as females in leadership positions. I’ve personally had the opportunity to attend two IWF conferences which have been nothing short of empowering and supportive, where women truly get the chance to connect and learn from one another.
IWF also supports the annual Global Fellowship Program, designed to help build and empower the next generation of female leaders. This year, I was selected by Edelman to apply to the program, which accepts 35 new candidates each year. It was a rigorous application process, with various essays, references and interviews. The Fellowship includes three study tours and a mentorship program. I attended the first training in Toronto back in November and got the chance to meet my cohort of Fellows – 36 inspirational female leaders from around the world who are making waves as leaders of NGOs and Foundations, scientists, fighter pilots, global executives and more.
I’m halfway through my IWF journey, having recently completed the second part of my Fellowship – an executive education course at INSEAD business school in France. Apart from all the academic learning and insights I gleaned, I gathered some key takeaways to share:
Cherish Moments of Solitude: One of the greatest gifts of the week was time – time to pull myself away from the daily grind, time to be highly introspective and consider my needs, goals and aspirations but also time to consider my areas of development. We rarely give ourselves these moments to reflect, capture our thoughts and ideas and dig deep into ourselves to think about what really drives our behaviours and actions. So, I encourage you to carve out time for introspection and reflection. Cherish your solitude and take time to listen to yourself.
Build your Cheer Squad: This brings me to my next point, which is about the importance of investing our relationships, both personal and professional. One of the most amazing parts of this Fellowship has been the network of women in the program; women who completely support me and have my back, who celebrate my successes and give me advice when I need it. Our WhatsApp group is a daily positive affirmation – there are at least 40 messages a day – people sending positive vibes, sharing stories, giving advice and just giving a pat on the back. This is so powerful. So, have a think about this… who is in your cheer squad? If you don’t have one, how can you create one? And, do you give back? Who are you high fiving each day?
Be Good to Yourself: Don’t forget to be good to yourself. Self-care and renewal are radical acts of leadership. This was a common theme amongst the Fellows. We are all so busy with work, family and life commitments that we often forget to put ourselves first. Part of real leadership is getting help, prioritising your mental and physical wellness and investing time in relationships which fulfil you.
Be Authentic: Brené Brown once said, “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect.” Make the most authentic choices -and have the courage to be your true authentic self, each day. Our cohort had many discussions about how we show up at work and how, especially in male-dominated workplaces, it can be hard to be open, vulnerable and personal.
Stay Connected to Your Goals: Always stay connected to your deepest aspirations and goals. Make the time to check in with yourself to make sure you are on track. Have a support system of friends, mentors and cheer squads to keep you on track. Having a clear vision for your life and career is an important part of your selfcare giving you purpose. When you understand your core values and drivers, it ensures you live your most authentic life.
Despite being amongst some of the most remarkable and successful women, it was made known that, for many of them, they were one of only a handful of (or often the only) women in their leadership team and have very difficult struggles in their roles within their organisations. I realised that I’ve been particularly lucky to benefit from the amazing gender diversity here at Edelman. In fact, 48% of global leadership at Edelman is made up of women, a commendable feat in a large agency network. At Edelman Australia, we have a female CEO and our leadership team is majority female. Edelman Australia employees have role models showing you can be a working parent in an agency environment, and an active Parent Group.
Around the world, we are still far from where we want to be when it comes to female leadership, gender equality and inclusion, but progress has been made. Every step counts towards reaching gender parity, and besides carving out time for ourselves, building a support network and being connected to your aspirations, we need to keep the dialogue alive, continuing to “lift up” and empower the next generation of young women to help them succeed.
Kate Ferguson is the Chief Client and Operations Officer, Edelman Australia and IWF Global Fellow
About International Women’s Forum (IWF)
The International Women’s Forum is a singularly unique organisation comprised of more than 6,000 of the world’s most dynamic, accomplished and visionary women who are dedicated to advancing better leadership around the world. These women of significant and diverse achievement span 33 nations, six continents, many careers and many cultures, and yet are wholly aligned in a commitment to change the face of global leadership. The IWF, a 365-day-a-year membership organisation, shapes global conferences and programs around the mission to build better leadership through training, mentoring and connectivity. Programs include the Executive Development Roundtable, the Leadership Foundation Fellows program, and the EY Women Athletes Business Network.