Seven inspiring women and the lessons they’ve taught us

As a female-founded company, we’re always keen to celebrate the achievements of exceptional women from around the world. We apply the lessons we learn from these women – whether they’re in business or another sector – to our own lives and work. And of course, these lessons are reflected in the daringly different virtual coaching we offer our clients.

Here are just a few of the women we find most inspiring, and the lessons they’ve taught us.

Malala Yousafzai: Never stop learning

There are many things we can learn from Malala Yousafzai, but first among them is the importance of education. She was devastated when the Taliban banned girls from attending school where she lived when she was just 11. So she spoke up, gaining international attention for her efforts. The Taliban attempted to kill her in 2012, but she survived. Not only that, but she spoke up more loudly and on a bigger stage than ever before, even becoming the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 2012.

In 2013, she set up the Malala Fund with her father, an education activist, “for a world where every girl can learn and lead”. And of course, she continued her own education. She graduated from Oxford University in 2020 with a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

We don’t doubt that Yousafzai will continue pursuing knowledge and championing its life-changing power for the rest of her life, whether through formal education or in other ways. In the world of business, we want to remind everyone of the importance of developing new knowledge and skills like that. When your employees have opportunities to stay intellectually engaged, they will feel more fulfilled and contribute more to the company.

Professor Sarah Gilbert: Preparation is everything

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread, the need to develop a vaccine quickly became apparent. So once the genetic structure of the virus had been published, Professor Sarah Gilbert and her team designed a vaccine – over the weekend. In a few weeks, they had a vaccine which worked in the lab and were preparing for trials.

How could they work so fast? Because they were prepared. Professor Gilbert had worked on an Ebola vaccine from 2014, and used a similar approach for COVID-19. Her research in recent years had focused on developing a universal flu vaccine. Also, she’s a mother of triplets – something she points to as great training for discipline and a no-nonsense approach to time management.

Hard work and in-depth research in her field meant that, when the challenge of COVID-19 arose, Professor Gilbert was ready to face it. As is so often the case, just being smart isn’t enough. You need to be dedicated to your field, and put in the hours knowing that it will make you better prepared when a challenge comes up. Your work may not get results straight away, but it can lay the groundwork for future successes.

Inga Beal: Bring your full self to work

Inga Beal knows a thing or two about how to succeed in business, having become Lloyd’s of London’s first female CEO in 2013, a position she held for five years. So when she says that something limits your productivity, we listen.

Back in 2008, she decided to stop holding herself back by denying part of who she was at work: she came out as bisexual during a job interview. She knew that staying in the closet in her professional life was affecting her productivity. As she puts it, “you spend half your energy hiding the reality, leading a dual life, making excuses.”

In her continuing work in D&I, advocating for LGBTQ+ people in the workplace, she focuses on this message. It’s a lesson we always want to convey in our coaching: people feel better and perform better when they know they’re safe bringing their full selves to work.

Angela Merkel: Meet crises with calm

Germany’s second-longest-serving chancellor, Angela Merkel, is known for being cool and collected. During times of crisis that’s exactly what we need, which may explain why a Pew poll named her the most trusted world leader in turbulent 2020.

We find Merkel’s calm, considered approach very inspiring as leaders. She approaches each problem with a level head and calculating mind. Plenty of pundits have suggested this comes from her academic background, given her doctorate in quantum chemistry. She aims to find compromises and diplomatic solutions, and seems allergic to grandstanding and posturing.

That’s not to say that she always seeks consensus and shies away from necessary conflict. Instead, she’s guided by purpose, carefully deciding a path and explaining why she’s chosen it. This is what happened during the refugee crisis, when she made a powerful statement:

“Politically persecuted people have the right to asylum. […] I put it simply: Germany is a strong country. The motive with which we approach these things must be: we have achieved so much – we can do it!”

Be thoughtful, be clear, be firm, and stay calm in a crisis. If those aren’t great lessons for leaders and managers, we don’t know what is!

Sophie Chandauka: Invest in diverse talent

Alongside her own successful legal career, Sophie Chandauka has spent years working as a mentor, motivational speaker and advocate for better D&I policies. As co-founder of the Black British Business Awards, she highlights the achievements of other Black businesspeople in Britain. In her philanthropic roles she works to improve access to training and talent pipelines for people of colour.

As Chandauka points out, “people of colour are underrepresented at all levels of UK organisations [and] the issue is particularly severe at higher seniority levels.” Is changing this a big challenge? Yes. But is it an important challenge to face? Absolutely.

This isn’t simply a moral argument – it’s also just good business. To quote Chandauka again, “companies in the bottom quartile for ethnic diversity statistically lag behind their peers in financial performance.”

The bottom line for leaders? Do the work. Invest in diverse talent. Your company will benefit.

Whitney Wolfe Herd: The only failure is not trying

By all accounts, when Whitney Wolfe Herd left her job at Tinder, she had no interest in working for another dating app. But as time went by, she realised she’d learned some important lessons from Tinder – which she sued for sexual harassment and discrimination shortly after leaving. Combining her personal and professional experiences, she set up a dating app which put the decision-making power in women’s hands. And so Bumble was born.

Fast forward to 2021, and Wolfe Herd is, at just 31, the world’s youngest female self-made billionaire. A large part of that is because of her smart risk-taking, identifying a huge and under-served demographic (single women) which she personally understood, and making a dating app aimed at them.

Taking such a risk might be scary. But Wolfe Herd says she is “more scared of complacency than having something not work out.” And that’s a lesson we love: if you don’t try, you’ve already failed.

Angelica Ross: Pave the way

A true multihyphenate, Angelica Ross is not only an activist and an actor, but also the founder of nonprofit TransTech Social. She taught herself to code, and credits it with saving her life. As Ross explains, when she began to be identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community, “things got hard. Jobs got hard, keeping jobs got hard.”

The prevalence of remote work in the tech sector was one of the things which drew her to it – “it didn’t matter what I looked like or sounded like.” With this in mind, she set up TransTech Social, an incubator for LGBTQ+ talent. Initially, she approached existing nonprofits with her idea. But she was met with resistance.

“Other nonprofits … thought that [technology] was over the heads of trans people and the people that we were serving,” she explains. “I thought that was underestimating my community, so I started TransTech.”

And paving her own way has certainly paid off, with TransTech going from stength to strength. It now counts such major companies as Microsoft among its sponsors, and pipelines to employment at companies such as PayPal and Groupon.

We find Ross inspiring for her resilience and determination to help others. She found something which helped her, but that alone wasn’t enough. She knew she had to find a way to get that help to others in her position. And when no one offered to help – she did it herself.