IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Kate Geary

IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Kate Geary

Sean Tong IWD2021

Disclaimer: Please note that all commentary and opinions provided in this interview are those of the individual and not the organisation/company they are employed by. 

What skills and attributes do female leaders bring to create diverse leadership at management level? 

We have a strong natural instinct for nurturing, open communication, and the ability to create a safe environment where it is possible to have difficult conversations. To share an example in my own career, a young talented employee opened up to me about how unhappy she felt; there was familial pressure to ‘do the right thing’ as she approached a certain age but she felt strongly that she needed to live her life on her own terms. Professionally, I did not want the company to lose this individual, yet I could see that for her to live her best life, she needed to make major changes. I listened and weighed up unhappy employee vs. happy human being. I reached out to my network overseas and helped her to get a job in a country she really wanted to live in. I feel privileged that I was able to create a safe space for her to become the person she needed to be and spread her wings even if it meant losing her to a competitor. It was better for her at that stage of her life to explore her options further and see what else was out there, learn new skills and perhaps come back in much better shape if the opportunity arose - she knows the door will always be open. I was not afraid to let her go if that was the best all round decision and a good leader understands the life ambitions of others. 

What does “choose to challenge” mean to you? 

It is a very thought provoking and powerful statement. This is our time as women to continue to change and challenge stereotypes, and preconceived perceptions. With this comes the ability to influence future generations in a positive way, whilst at the same time acknowledging and applauding the progress of the past and current generation in terms of how far we have come. Looking back on our Mothers and Grandmothers generations – we have the choice to continue to challenge stereotypes that have been out there for so long, we have the choice to break traditions and to do it collaboratively. It is a powerful and empowering statement. 

How can female leaders ensure they get a seat at the table? When I first joined 10 Design it was just getting off the ground. Working in a start-up was incredibly exciting and my role was all encompassing. I was literally a jack of all trades; receptionist, HR, admin, operations, IT - you name it, whatever was needed no matter how menial the task. I proved my worth, value, drive, loyalty, willingness and desire and I was heavily invested in the firm’s success. This fundamental understanding of the firm from the ground up from day one enabled me to create my future role as the firm grew globally. I had the freedom to choose the direction of my career path and growth, my aspirations were fully supported and nurtured at every step. Ten years on, I am now Global Head of People and Culture, an Associate Partner as well as one of several senior female leaders in the firm. Working for such a progressive company I know I am trusted to get on with the job, stand up for my convictions with decision making, exude my own personal style and do not have to answer to someone on every little detail, rather I have been given scope to run with my choices and this ensured my seat at the table. In short, I created the seat at the table through hard work, drive and determination, thankfully with a company that saw my worth and provided me with opportunities. 

What impact could Kamala Harris’ appointment to Vice President have on the next generation of female leaders? 

First and foremost, if any women of colour have felt like the door was barely ajar for them, Kamala Harris’ appointment has confirmed it has been flung wide open and will remain so. This could be the catalyst to bring forth the next generation of female leaders that may have taken longer otherwise. Women may now become braver to stand up and be counted much quicker and break all manner of moulds. Women all around the world can stand in front, centre and everywhere. One very poignant and relevant example is Amanda Gorman; the first National Youth Poet Laureate who read her poem at Joe Biden’s inauguration. The whole world now knows just what an incredibly talented young woman she is. One who refuses to be held back in a country where being black and female means you are almost automatically so marginalised. She already knows she is going to stand for office in 2036 – she has a plan that is driven by a belief that any and all opportunities are open to her, and with hard work are hers for the taking. Amanda Gorman has a very clear goal for herself and is already working towards it. If you look at her accomplishments to date, they are very impressive for one so young. This is a particularly ground breaking moment for women who may be caught up in cultural stereotypes, and can clearly see the opportunity to change the trajectory of their lives. 

What is one thing women don’t talk about enough? 

When I was asked to contribute to this article, my immediate response was “Why me, no not me, but I can introduce you to so many other amazing women”. I am a senior leader in my firm yet I still suffer from imposter syndrome. And in that moment, we women give away our power. We don’t talk enough about ourselves in a positive light. We don’t talk enough and loudly about our brilliance. About the difference we make in the world, the lives of others, the mark we make in the world and we need to put that on the table for discussion. Women juggle so much, never give ourselves a break or a compliment, are quick to judge ourselves so harshly, we pick at our own child rearing abilities over the smallest thing, can’t admit how highly skilled and capable we are, intelligent, relevant, knowledgeable and so much more. Women rarely brag about themselves. Our default position is to be highly critical of ourselves and to doubt ourselves so much, still.

Click below to read the full edition of IWD2021 #ChooseToChallenge: Female Leaders Across The Globe.