How is the Women’s Leadership Programme helping to change perceptions?

The Women’s Leadership Programme, developed by Pure and People & Performance, is a leadership programme first and a women’s programme second. One of its purposes is to help women understand how they might be holding themselves back and to help change people’s perceptions of women in business.

Christina Youell, owner of People and Performance and facilitator of the Women’s Leadership Programme, has an MSc in Executive Coaching. She is passionate about helping individuals to achieve their potential and understands what it takes for women to be successful leaders. Here she shares her thoughts on how the Women’s Leadership Programme is helping to change people’s perceptions and mindsets as well as helping female talent to develop leadership skills, enhance their confidence and build a network of like-minded professionals.

How are women unconsciously holding themselves back?

“The most common thing I see is that women play by a different set of rules. Women have to be confident they can land a role before they go for it, whereas generally, men don’t. My experience of coaching men and women is that men will tend to go for jobs when they know they can fulfil 50% of the job description and they see the other half as a development opportunity; ‘I can learn on the job’. Whereas, often women will be able to do 90% of the role and still deem themselves not yet ready.

“There’s also difference in where people place ownership for their success too. In my experience, women say ‘I’ve been very lucky’, so put success outside of themselves. Men point their own success to themselves, taking ownership where women struggle to, for fear of bragging or coming across too boastful. In the same way, when a man doesn’t get the job, he will often put the explanation for this outside himself assuming that ‘the panel were idiots’. Conversely, when women don’t get the job, they take responsibility for this – ‘I was an idiot for applying’.”

How does the Women’s Leadership Programme help with this?

“We work with teams who aspire to be high performing and with senior women to support them to progress. As well as exploring different leadership skills we also look at self-awareness: What are my values? How do I influence what happens in my organisation? How can I handle change there and better understand people? I benefitted from this early on in my own career, going through a similar programme. It woke me up to how things work in organisations and helped me progress. Within a year I became HR Director.”

Why is it important to provide a programme like this?

“I think it’s really important to offer a programme like this. A lot of SMEs have no in-house provision of this sort of thing. We’re now on our ninth programme and 80 women have been through it already. Of those, 50% have gone on to broader or more senior roles, mostly in their current organisation.”

Why is the programme for women only?

“The experience of female leaders is often different from their male colleagues, and as a region, the East of England has fewer women in senior management and board roles. This programme brings together like-minded professionals in a safe and non-judgemental environment, supporting them to better understand themselves and develop strategies to take the next step in their career. That said, the programme has been developed to provide an innovative dual approach. The workshops, supported by individual coaching sessions, help women to strengthen their authentic leadership skills. Through the role of the employer sponsor, organisations are also supported in exploring their culture and shaping it to become even more inclusive and successful.”  

How is the programme having a wider impact on overall mindsets?

“As well as women we also talk to a lot of boards and teams – often male-dominated – and sometimes it’s their first time actually talking about the lack of women. We’re moving people’s mindset from ‘that’s how it is’ to people starting to question this.  Men tend to identify more with young ambitious male employees and feel comfortable challenging them by promoting them to a demanding role; using that sink or swim logic. However, in my experience, men are much more hesitant about throwing young women in at the deep end and instead want to protect them, deeming them not yet ready, ‘they need another year’. Senior panels need to be challenged on these assessments. What will be different in a year? What experience/skill does this person still need to develop to progress? Often panels can’t articulate this. In my view, this is unconscious bias in action and too often this hinders women’s career progression. The Women’s Leadership Programme is helping businesses in our region to develop workplace cultures where aspiring female talent can achieve their potential by exploring approaches to develop inclusive cultures and organisational values and by supporting businesses to sponsor and mentor talented women.”


For more information about the Women’s Leadership Programme, or to sign up for the next programme which begins in November 2018, visit or contact Lucy Plumb on 01223 666455,


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Written by

Lucy Shepherd

Lucy joined Pure Executive in 2014 to help the team with research and admin for executive and board-level appointments. She also helps run and organise events.

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