Why Female Leadership Development Programmes are Still So Crucial

Written by Robert Landon
6th December 2021
Woman working and planning

We’re pleased to share a blog written by Simone Robinson and Deborah Larder-Shaw of the Oakridge Centre. They have developed and successfully been running a programme for women in leadership, called STRIDE. We’ve been inspired hearing about this programme and asked them to share a blog with our readers. If this topic is of interest to your organisation, please get in touch as we’re looking forward to working with the Oakridge Centre to deliver STRIDE in Qatar. 

Women in Leadership


Over the past 18 months, living through the most challenging of times, we have seen some amazing women step up. We have seen authenticity, presence, power and empathy. Regardless of our politics, women such as Kamala Harris, Amanda Gorman and Jacinda Arden have demonstrated some phenomenal tenacity, compassion, and commitment to their beliefs along with the power to make real change.

A 2019 analysis of 5,825 new executive appointments by S&P Global found that not only did female CEOs outperform their male counterparts, but boards with greater gender diversity were more profitable as well.  Studies prove that seeing and getting to know women in leadership roles encourages individuals just starting out in their careers to set their sights high. In fact, a KPMG study on women in leadership found that 86% of women reported becoming encouraged to achieve more professionally when they saw other women in leadership positions.

Within the same study when asked what training and development skills were needed to help move more women into leadership roles in the future, professional working women cited:

  • Leadership training (57%
  • Confidence building (56%)
  • Decision-making (48%)
  • Networking (47%), and
  • Critical thinking (46%) most often.

The study reported that professional working women believe it is critical for companies to support a woman’s development in her twenties (80%) and career advancement in her thirties (61%).

Women can outperform their male counterparts and are encouraged to develop their careers when they see females in leadership positions – these are the reasons that female leadership development programmes remain crucial to business growth.


Why are programmes specifically for women a benefit?


Unfortunately, many organisations still have boards, and indeed leadership teams, that lack female leaders.

“According to a recent IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) study, despite heightened awareness of women’s challenges in the workplace driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, gender equity is still not a top priority for 70% of global businesses to business professionals surveyed.” Forbes June 2021

Decision makers may well ask why is it necessary to provide specific female only development programmes? Do potential female leaders not gain the same benefits as men from mixed leadership development programmes?

Yes women will benefit from mixed leadership development programmes however they will benefit even more from programmes specifically designed and presented by women.

The afore mentioned KPMG study reports that ‘confidence is an attribute woman themselves identify as the key to leadership success. Throughout their professional careers, women struggle with what they characterize as a lack of it.  67% of women said they need more support building confidence to feel like they can be leaders.’

Female only leadership development programmes can address specific career barriers that, overall, only women will face. A lack of confidence is one example while assertiveness and self-promotion are other examples of skills sets which most men do not cite as needing development. 

Many organisations, consciously or unconsciously, appear to have leadership qualities defined in traditional, stereotypically masculine styles exemplified by the majority of their senior-most male and some female colleagues that was considered the benchmark. In many companies, the commonly held perception was that nothing else counted.

One of the many benefits of female leadership development programmes, is that they hold a mirror up to the ‘perceived’ leadership qualities of organisations. When female potential senior leaders have the space to analyse their own leadership skills and their individual experiences, they often highlight challenges faced by themselves and other women within their workplace.


Female leadership programmes provide women with a ‘safe space’ to develop their own leadership identity, to freely discuss the socio-cultural and workplace barriers they face and build the confidence to challenge the norm regarding stereotypical leadership traits within their organisations. Women do not want to appear to be complaining or weak and some know that their employers might react negatively to a challenge of the status quo. During female leadership development programmes they are able to speak openly and develop the skills needed to not just make a change but to actually ‘be’ the change they wish to see in the workplace.


“I have a heightened level of self-awareness and a lot more confidence, as a result which was, not only supported by the highly experienced facilitators, but also by the wonderful group of women who shared their stories and journeys.  I had lots of light bulb moments and would highly recommend STRIDE without hesitation.” Rachel Ryan, Global Software Asset Management Lead End User Computing – OCIO, AstraZeneca


How STRIDE has made a difference


The STRIDE female leadership development programme is co-ordinated by The Oakridge Centre, a UK leadership training company, who have been delivering the programme for several years. The programme focusses on 3 key themes:

  • Leading Myself – uncovering personal values and unique leadership identities
  • Managing Perception – learning communication, profile raising and presence building skills
  • Managing Business – discovering how to impact the organisation through leading change, coaching, mentoring and role modelling

Previous STRIDE (know as Striders) attendees include Joanne Conway who was Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Strategy Lead with EY UK, responsible for creating a D&I strategy for our EY’s global population, when she attended the STRIDE programme

“I can honestly say that I am a much braver and stronger person as a result of attending the programme.  Different to anything I have ever done before, STRIDE has given me the belief that I can drive things forward with confidence.  I took a huge amount away for ‘me’ alongside the amazing group dynamic.  The engaging and caring facilitation meant what I wanted to cover really mattered and I felt part of the decision to frame the content and focus, which was exceptional.” Joanne Conway

On completion of her STRIDE journey Joanne took on her existing role as Deputy D&I Head of EY UK&I where she is responsible for activating EY’s D&I strategy for their 15,000 employees across the UK.

Organisations cannot lose focus on the importance of female leaders and are encouraged to recognise the potential revenue increases gender diversity can bring to their bottom lines.

STRIDE demonstrates that to see women reach their full potential they need an environment where the specific gender related issues they face can be honestly shared.  From this context of being heard and understood a foundation can be built that will enable women to lead authentically and with courage – an immense benefit to all organisations who value great leaders.” Simone Robinson, Interim Managing Director, The Oakridge Centre

Written by Simone Robinson and Deborah-Larder Shaw of The Oakridge Centre

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