Authenticity in Leadership: A Woman’s Journey

Jennifer Haddad

Jennifer Haddad

Head of Global Operations

I was asked by our marketing team to do an interview about women in leadership, about my journey as a female leader, and the challenges I have faced along the way. I’m afraid I have rebelled against the questions already, and instead have sat down with a blank sheet to try and openly describe my thoughts about women at work and perhaps my own feelings on the topic of women in leadership from my own experiences. 

The top lessons I’ve learned about being a leader, authenticity wins: 

  • Authenticity rises above gender 
  • Authenticity earns respect 
  • Authenticity inspires others 

Authenticity Rises Above Gender

I have always been inspired by other women I work with. Not because men aren’t inspiring too, but because women always seem to be juggling more – both in and out of work. After more than 25 years in the workplace, I’m a firm believer that equality at work for women shouldn’t be about diversity quotas. To me, it’s about the right person in the right role based on their talents. Gender, as I see it, shouldn’t be part of the discussion when recruiting or promoting someone. We should all have the same opportunities and chances to shine, regardless of old stereotypes. It’s 2024. 

Authenticity Earns Respect

Early in my career I worked at one of the big 4 consultancy firms with the Global Head of HR – a woman. Shirley was in a powerful role, but she was wonderfully genuine and approachable. She seemed unafraid, even when in a very senior meeting, a tough corporate environment and often the only female. It was as if she didn’t notice that. I was in my mid 20’s, not as confident as Shirley yet but was so inspired by her. She stood out next to the many senior men around me. I look back now and believe it was her attitude to communicating with everyone equally that set her apart. 

Authenticity Inspires Others

After my time with the firm, I lived for over a decade in the Middle East where I spent many of those years both raising my children and growing my own retail business. In an extremely male dominated world out there, I pushed against the larger retail giants to carve out a niche business based on customer experience. I ran my business authentically. When it grew and I had a large workforce of people working for me, I put fun, teamwork, and smiles at the top of the agenda and people naturally worked hard. I didn’t change myself in order to lead others. I led by example. I always wore a smile even when times were tough, I worked as hard as everyone else and made sure to foster an open team spirit where we all supported one another. Both the men and the women. I channeled my inner ‘Shirley’ and was genuine with everyone.  

What it Means to be a Good Leader, Regardless of Gender.

Some people believe they have to act a certain way when they reach leadership level ‘status’. The old clichéd leader, closed off from the team and overly direct in their communication style. They believe they have to suddenly appear stoic and very serious. During the Covid lockdown, a video of a BBC news presenter went viral. While he was live on air, his children unexpectedly entered the room and disrupted the live broadcast. His initial reaction was one of frustration and anger. He tried to hastily remove the children and maintain the traditional facade of a serious news anchor, as he must have felt this was what was needed to keep the respect of his role. I think in reality, people would have respected him far more if he had embraced the unexpected interruption with grace and perhaps even seen the humour in it.  

Everyone is human, and their being extends beyond their professional roles. To push the idea of bringing your ‘whole self’ to work is to push back against the old stereotypes. 

In Summary

If I reflect back on all my working roles, I have always been authentic in my approach. Asking questions when I don’t understand something, admitting when I’ve made a mistake and learning from it, and certainly putting authenticity into my sales & customer service conversations. In a world full of bravado and fearfulness, people have always responded well to me being open and authentic. You might call it being real. 

In my role today at Arcadia, whether it’s managing a team, working with my peers or leading a function, I put integrity and openness at the forefront of my communication and decision making. I am on a constant learning journey as a leader, I fully admit that I still get things wrong and I love the fact that we have a culture here at Arcadia where authenticity is celebrated and encouraged. If you aren’t learning or failing then you are standing still. And personally I have too much energy to be standing still! 

Whilst the world is looking for the freshest perspective on the best ways to lead, I don’t believe we need to look further than authenticity. To be authentic, in all scenarios and in all decision making, is to inspire others. And perhaps, women are just naturally a bit better at being openly authentic… 

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