Lessons from Women in Leadership

Celebrated as a woman shattering glass ceilings and cliffs, winning many awards, getting international recognition and accolades, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala coauthored a book with Julia Gillard, 1st Female Prime Minister of Australia, titled “Women and Leadership- Real Lives, Real Lessons.” This book aims to help and educate many women to combat and controlling gender bias that they may face along the way of leadership.

The book also draws insights and conclusions from the life of eight other remarkable women leaders who share their stories. It has so many lessons, and I would be summarizing some of them:

Achieving remarkable results is possible for any woman, not only privileged women. She only has to be willing, prepared, confident, and determined to do so, not minding the challenges that come her way. In raising her, it is crucial that she is taught never to aim lesser than boys from childhood, is empowered to lead, and given responsibilities.
In achieving your objectives, understand that it is okay to have and get necessary and reliable help. Help might come from an understanding partner, a nanny, family relations, or caregiver. It is okay to feel guilty but choose a coping mechanism, understand that balancing is a myth, and employ whatever strategies work best for you.

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People might be more critical of your style and appearance than they would the opposite sex. However, choose a personal style that works best to increase the focus on your message’s credibility than on your appearance, primarily because of critics. Individually in our personal social media spaces and the media should also try to do a better job of judging based on substance and not appearance.

In the competition for the few spaces available, women should compete without bringing down each other down. Bring your best foot forward, collaborate, and champion each other forward. One woman getting to the top rarely makes that difference. It needs to be done multiple times or by more than one woman for sustained impact to be felt. We need to ensure that there are more role models, mentors, and most importantly, sponsors because the fewer role models and mentors are, the more pressed for time they would be.

In standing out and making tough decisions, you might be ‘villainized’ (called bitchy), and the general perception might be harmful towards you about your leadership style and emotional reaction. It is imperative to work on the leadership style that works best for you, avoid being forced to accept general stereotypes, and call to attention such bias. It is also okay to experience self-doubt, to have weaknesses and strengths but be aware, strategic, and thoughtful about working on perceptions about ‘being a bitch’.

Be aware that women are held to higher moral standards and punishments than men and have more conversations about it but never let it deter you from being your true self. Role model positively and speak authentically about challenges.
Set out scenario planning exercises itemizing thoughtful, well-thought strategies ahead of time for how you would counter challenges that come ahead of you. They might be along the lines of tribalism, racism, sexism, competence, etc. They help when the time comes.

Never underestimate the power of networking. Build the right networks and coalitions and regularly apply to yourself, especially the advice you would give others
Moving forward; we need all hands on deck- male and female. We need more research, more collective actions, more advocacy, education, more funding, more sponsorship, more conversations, and better policies until, as a community, we move to change this wide gender inequality gap: the media, community, economic, religious and political leaders, policymakers, everyone.
Nothing beats reading the book by yourself, but I hope you learned something.

Oluwatobiloba Lawalson is a legal practitioner and Development Professional. She is a Platform Young Professional Fellow, is passionate about the role education, gender equality and SMEs play in African development and holds a certificate of Distinction from the World Bank. She can be reached at

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