News article

6 inspiring female leaders our team is looking up to this International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is an annual campaign celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness about discrimination, and encouraging everyone to take action to drive gender parity. The organisers invite individuals, groups, and businesses from around the world to take part in any way they can.

This year, the theme of the campaign is “Inspire Inclusion”, and an important part of this is to support and encourage more women to take up leadership roles.

Improving gender equality on leadership teams can boost inclusion at all levels. Despite this, more progress is needed to achieve true gender equality in the UK.

For example, the Guardian reports that only 10 of the companies listed in the FTSE 100 are led by female chief executives.

Here at The Yardstick Agency, we love to shine a light on those who are leading the way and inspiring others to overcome barriers. So, we asked our team: who are the female leaders that inspire you, and why?

All of the women on the list have faced barriers such as discrimination, health challenges, the motherhood penalty, and more. We celebrate their achievements and hope that the combined efforts of campaigns like International Women’s Day can prevent future leaders from encountering the barriers they did.

1. Dame Kelly Holmes, athlete

“I admire and respect elite athletes for their determination, resilience and focus. But Dame Kelly in particular overcame many obstacles to achieve her double gold, including severe clinical depression and other mental health issues.

“Since ending her running career, she’s gone on to inspire others to achieve, no matter what difficulties they face. She talks of the importance of hard work and picking yourself up when you’re down and forging ahead.”


2. Susie Wolff, managing director of Formula 1 Academy

“Susie Wolff became the first woman in 22 years to participate in F1 back in 2014. Since retiring from the sport, she’s launched a campaign called ‘Dare To Be Different’, supporting female participation in motorsport by inspiring the next generation.

The unofficial support she provides the Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 team alongside their CEO, her husband, Toto Wolff, is refreshing and inspiring. And, in 2023, she was made Managing Director of F1 Academy, a new, all-female category of racing.”


3. Karren Brady, entrepreneur and business leader

“At the age of 23, Karren was appointed Managing Director of Birmingham City Football Club when the club was in administration. Four years later, she floated the club on the London Stock Exchange and became the youngest Managing Director of a UK plc.

“Karren has been voted Business Woman of the Year, Ultimate Entrepreneur, and rated among the 50 most inspirational people in the world. As well as being a successful entrepreneur herself, she is a passionate supporter of other women in business in the UK.

“I’ve found her inspirational for a long time, but I particularly enjoyed her interview with Steven Bartlett when she discussed how she juggles managing a family and being a business owner.”


4. Lily Parr, footballer

“I’ve always been astounded by the story of the footballer Lily Parr. She played between 1919 and 1951 and scored over 900 goals for her team. She played against men’s and women’s teams alike and was known for having the hardest kick in football at the time.

“She was also openly gay, which considering the time, was very unusual and dangerous.

“She has one of those stories that doesn’t even seem real, but she was alive until the 70s and her life is well documented.”


5. Raye, singer-songwriter

“It was hard not to be inspired by the fantastic Raye picking up six Brit awards last weekend. In 2021, five years after she signed a four-album deal with Polydor Records, her record label was still refusing to release her debut album – despite the singer having already penned huge hits for the likes of Beyonce and Little Mix.

“In a “desperate cry to be free”, having even moved genres at Polydor’s request, the singer posted a video message to social media, tearfully explaining her frustration. Dozens of potential hits were “sat in folders collecting dust”, she said, while others were being given away to bigger stars “because I am still awaiting confirmation that I am good enough”.

“As a consequence, Polydor agreed to release Raye from her contract, allowing her to keep her songs. One of these was ‘Escapism’, a song Polydor had never liked, and which other labels also passed on.

“Undeterred, the singer released ‘Escapism’ independently. After immediately going viral on TikTok, several million streams later it reached number one on the UK charts and ended up being the third-biggest song in the UK in 2023. Her debut album My 21st Century Blues was then shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, before winning Album of the Year at the Brits.

“In an industry that remains male-dominated, Raye’s tenacity and self-belief is an inspiration. As she says: “It’s not been the simplest story – but it just shows that you should back yourself, no matter what people tell you”.”


6. Jacinda Ardern, former prime minister of New Zealand

“Jacinda Ardern was the youngest female head of government in the world when she was elected as prime minister of New Zealand in 2017.

“One of the things I find so inspiring about her is the way she sought to solve problems in the country by finding common ground between the relevant parties. This strategy saw her create positive change on fraught subjects like gun control and addressing the climate crisis during her term as prime minister.

“She also sparked a global conversation about the challenges of being a working mother when she became the first female leader of a country to give birth while in office in over 30 years. This is a subject so often viewed as one of the key barriers for women achieving leadership roles, and Jacinda spoke openly about how she and her partner shared their parental responsibilities.

“Plus, on the subject of inclusivity, Jacinda created one of the most diverse cabinets in the world: 40% women, 25% Maori, 15% LGBTQ.”


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