Comebacks, self-discovery and standing out: 5 lessons for women in leadership

Professor Palie SmartAhead of this year’s International Women’s Day, we spoke to Professor Palie Smart, from the University of Bristol Business School, about her experiences and reflections as a woman in leadership.

Palie is currently Head of School (for Management) at the University of Bristol Business School and is also University Race Equality Champion. As Race Equality Champion, Palie strives to improve the representation and experiences of staff and students from minority ethnic groups and works to elevate issues raised by the minority ethnic Staff and Student Networks to a very senior level as and when needed – amplifying their voice.

Reflecting on her career journey so far, Palie told us the top 5 lessons she has learned as a woman in leadership:

  1. Comeback vs. setback

There will always be setbacks, you’ll makes mistakes. But pick yourself up with grace and composure (and vent later!). So focus on the comeback, NOT the setback.

  1. Wisemen

Men have an important role to play in supporting women at work. There are many wisemen who have daughters, wives, sisters and girlfriends holding challenging roles, and they will be able to relate to your situation too. These men may also have held leadership roles themselves, and some of their experiences will be similar to your own. There is no monopoly on mentoring women by women – so use men wisely!

  1. Channel your energy

Engage with people, forge relationships, but don’t assume reciprocity. I am a people pleaser and expend an enormous amount of emotional labour when it doesn’t work. Channel your energy towards the majority that want to make positive impact and enjoy the generative power of your energy.

  1. Self-discovery

Learning from others is one of the best parts of my role. It allows me to discover more about myself – both strengths and weakness – in the hope to become the best version of myself I can.

  1. Blending in and standing out

As a British woman of Asian heritage, I am different to the majority of people I work with. For more than 50 years I’ve tried to blend in and to be like everyone else. There is an expectation for me to be a good role model for other women that may wish to take on senior leadership positions. Unlearning the lifelong lessons of ‘blending in’ and embracing the new challenge of ‘standing out’ is thought-provoking.

Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring female leaders?

Hmmm … You don’t need my advice, you’ve got this!