Inspiring inclusive leadership: Four women share their voice

25 March 2024

On 8 March  we celebrated International Women’s Day. This is a day to reflect on the achievements of women, and to look to the future for challenges still to overcome. This year the theme was ‘Inspire Inclusion’ and with that in mind we spoke to four women who have inspired inclusion within their roles and asked them to share their advice for aspiring future leaders. 

We are honoured to introduce; Florence Chihowa – Head of Clinical Services, George Hawes – Leadership Development Co-ordinator and Chair of Women’s Staff Network, Joanne Bertelsen – Senior Project Manager, and Launa Crow – Peer Support Lead.

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Florence Chihowa

After 25 years in psychiatric services, Florence Chihowa draws on her resilience from working in challenging situations by maximising the strengths of her team and identifying areas for development. Florence said:
"I enjoy empowering others and encourage women facing opposition to be stand firm and be confident in being themselves. […] I have actively sought to identify others who share the same values and capitalised on our similarities as opposed to our differences."

George Hawes

Not only is George Hawes the Chair of Sussex Partnership Trust’s Women’s Network, but she also takes time outside of work to coach and mentor others. George has proved herself to be a champion of creating spaces free of judgement to motivate and inspire others, and her advice highlighted the importance of kindness, saying: "Being kind and letting people just share without judgement is so important, and asking questions like; what is it that blocked them from thinking for themselves? And what is it that causes us to have this disbelief in ourselves?"

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Joanne Bertelsen

From Solent NHS Trust, Joanne Bertelsen shares her wisdom about her current position in Estates and Facilities, as well as her experience of working in a variety of NHS roles. She talks about how she rises to meet challenges: "Being a woman in quite a male-dominated field and working with senior colleagues whilst in a junior role, has shown its challenges. However, by maintaining a respectful and professional approach, demonstrating my knowledge, and delivering on my commitments, any early issues were conquered."

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Launa Crow

Isle of Wight NHS Trust’s Launa Crow shows her passion about inclusion and equal opportunities, using her role to advocate for others. Leading on change by encouraging employees to bring their authentic selves to work; Launa said: "I can’t place enough value on that. I’ve never worked anywhere else where I have been able to be open about my challenges and the things that I struggle with and not only have that be accepted, but actively encouraged as an integral part of my role."

With this year’s theme for International Women’s Day focusing on ‘inspiring inclusion’, we asked these inspiring women what advice they would share with ambitious individuals, keen to achieve great things.  

  1. Value Yourself
    George wanted to encourage women to value their time, their experiences, and to find happiness for themselves, as she has done:"I’ve embraced many things, being in a society that not only where I’m plus size, I’m old, I’m a woman of colour and I’m now perimenopausal. I’m also registered disabled, but none of these things on that list stops me from doing what I want to do in life or for myself." She added, it is only through kindness and courage for yourself, that you’ll feel ready to take on challenges, and whatever obstacles you may face should never stop you from grabbing an opportunity with both hands.
  2. Always bring your best
    Feeling stuck at a certain level or position is something many people encounter at work, and it can be hard to navigate. Addressing this situation, Florence gave this advice: "Women aspiring to be leaders can enjoy the journey and do the best whichever level they are at. It is helpful to understand each level well as we cannot help others when we have not understood it ourselves. When we give our best, opportunities will come to us."
    Although Florence added that she has been fortunate to work alongside leaders who were open to recognising her strengths and abilities.
  3. Find your support network
    When talking about ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved as a result of one’s own efforts – Launa urged people to talk about it: "I’ve had many conversations with senior members of staff who have told me that they feel the same. This was a massive shock to me as I always imagined that was just a ‘me’ problem but turns out its quite a common problem that a lot of us experience." She went on to emphasise the importance of creating a safe space for women to share and support each other in the workplace, reaching out to people in similar positions that you trust can transform your perspective. 
  4. Know your strengths
    Joanne advised those wanting to progress their career to always maintain integrity. Joanne said being proactive will open many doors for you, but playing to your strengths and being authentic in your work environment is essential to building a good reputation. "I would like to think sharing my story will help to inspire the next generation of women in Estates. My biggest tip would be to “do you” – know your strengths and your personal style, be responsible for your personal development, and be consistent – build your reputation." 

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