Partially hidden woman behind door - Leadership Coaching for Women in Global Development

Women Leading in Global Development 


Do the technical skills that helped you to rise to where you are, help you to lead?

Why has hard work alone not advanced your career?

How do you lead as a woman without impersonating a man?

These are just a few questions we often look at when coaching women working in global development. Women often present for coaching with symptomatic and/or generic issues. These include: wanting to advance in their career; improve their assertiveness, or wanting to articulate and communicate a vision. All of these fall squarely in the remit of exploring, articulating, and exercising a leadership identity. Whilst many female coaching clients are actively working on developing their leadership – it is often not recognised as such until further into the coaching process. Why is it that many women don’t come expressly for ‘leadership coaching’?

Why don’t women come for leadership coaching?

In coaching women clients, particularly those working in the global development space, I encounter their perceived ‘inaccessibility of leadership.’ This needs to be explored and dismantled before we can actually move on to the important business at hand – building one’s personal leadership brand. This ‘inaccessibility’ manifests in a number of inextricably linked ways.

One, is sheer overwhelm and apprehension regarding their confidence and ability to navigate the enormous volume of leadership discourse, history and resources. Try a Google search of ‘leadership’ and you get something like 3,190,000,000 results in 0.60 seconds!

Two, there’s a limiting belief around the sanctity of the ‘leadership’ concept itself. Specifically, leadership has been defined millennia ago by ‘great men’, for great men. Hence, for many women, there is an erroneous assumption that leadership as a concept is a fixed and incontestable concept that is not open to being re-conceptualised. We often need to spend some time normalising the concept of leadership. This we can do in part by simply paying attention to the plethora of leadership advice on styles, behaviours, models, etc that invade our media streams on a daily basis – and point to the ever-changing and dynamic nature of leadership.

Three, and most importantly for women, is a perceived incompatibility of gender stereotypes and leadership stereotypes. Put differently, a leadership stereotype understood as agentic and hence more closely aligned with the male stereotype. This can in many instances make it difficult for some women to see themselves (or self-identify) as leaders. Furthermore, this can also result in others not seeing them as leaders. Hence, an important process in this leadership coaching relationship is exploring and examining women’s relationship to leadership. Ultimately with the goal of helping women see themselves as leaders so that others can also see them as leaders.


glass ceiling - women in global development

Women in Leadership – What we know

There is no arena with more profound implications for gender equality than leadership. Gender equality cannot be attained until women and men share leadership equally (Kark and Eagly, 2010).

What do the statistics say?


Globally fewer than 24% of senior management roles are held by women. According to S&P, women in executive or senior management positions make up 26.5%; with less than 5% as CEOs . This suggests there is ample room for improvement.

This trend in leadership is also observed in the development space, where the same phenomenon is playing out. For example, fewer women occupy senior management and leadership positions, the further up the hierarchy we go. Let’s look at some numbers –

What about diversity?


Yet, we know that diverse leadership teams translate into tangible benefits. In an analysis of 300 companies around the world, there was a 47% difference in return on equity between the companies with the most women on their executive committees and those with no women on their boards. There was also a 55% difference in performance (EBIT).

It pays companies to ensure diversity in their workforce and leadership, since ‘diverse companies are 35% more likely to have financial returns above the industry median’ (McKinsey, Diversity Matters (2015).


sustainability development goals - gender equality

What about gender equality and the SDGs?

We know that the Sustainability Development Goals call on governments, private sector, civil society and individuals to end poverty, protect the planet, ensure prosperity for all – to ensure that ‘no one is left behind.’ It has a specific goal: ‘SDG 5, to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.’ And one of its targets is to:

‘Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life’.

According to a McKinsey global survey, Women Matter (2017), completely closing gender gaps in work would add as much as $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.

And yet, the higher up the hierarchy, the less women are represented. We also know that there are many intersecting reasons for this.


A web of reasons


According to Kark and Eagly (2010), greater family responsibilities, prejudice against women, and structural and organisational culture all intersect to produce challenges. This means that women have to traverse this ‘labyrinth’ to attain power and authority and exercise it effectively.

web of challenges - to women's advancement in leadership

Put differently, social norms, bias, personal choice, the ‘double burden’, ‘anytime, anywhere mentality’, age, ethnicity, confidence, etc intersect to form a complex web of factors. It is this complex web of factors that helps to explain women’s under-representation in leadership positions.

In working with, and coaching, female development professionals, I have also confronted a number of salient issues that can undermine advancement. For example, an over-reliance on your technical skills – what got you there (technical skills) won’t take you further (leadership). Also, the challenge of identifying and practising an authentic leadership style, versus assuming a dominant (hero) model of leadership. As well as a lack of confidence and/or skills, and the belief that hard work alone is sufficient to take you to a leadership position.



Woman holding coffee mug entitled - Leadership Coaching for Women in Global Development

Leadership Coaching for Women in Global Development #GlobalDevWomen


For women wishing to advance and lead in their careers, there are options – one of which is leadership coaching.

Research proves that coaching is a worthwhile investment – benefiting you, your team, and your organisation. As such, coaching improves and/or builds work/life satisfaction, resilience, team relations, organisational fit, value, cross-functional relationships, shared value and goals. Additionally, it develops one’s ability to respond to complex challenges and goals, and improves skills. For example – communication and interpersonal, leading teams, and decision-making. We know that positive outcomes have also been reported at the organisation level in terms of increased employee satisfaction, engagement, productivity, leadership effectiveness and retention (Andromachi Athanasopoulou, 2017).

I have designed a leadership coaching programme specifically for women working in Global Development, which I deliver to individuals and organisations.

The content and focus of this programme emphasises areas traditionally more challenging for many women beginning with self-identifying as a leader. We then cover areas such as assertiveness, self-confidence, communicating with impact, self-promotion, and networking.

What we work on:

  • Building your brand as a leader
  • Improving your self-awareness (insight and outsight)
  • Leveraging your resources and networks
  • Negotiating expectations
  • Driving personal and professional change
  • Understanding and navigating organisational power and politics
  • Positively influencing and impacting others.

The coaching process involves a number of phases that develop/refine your leadership, strengthening your resilience and resources, in your unique journey to maximise your personal, professional and societal impact.

collage of diverse women - leadership coaching for women in global development

Please download my new coaching programme brochure – Women’s Leadership Coaching – For Women in Development – specifically designed for women working in global development.

Please feel free to like and share my posts. Contact, link and follow me.

Email me:

Visit my website: 

LinkedIn: Palena Neale

Twitter: @PalenaNeale