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Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Women in the future of leadership

Following International Women’s Day, we examine the role of women in the paradigm of leadership and how their traits stack up against those of the leader of tomorrow.

Over the last few years, it is obvious the world has shifted to a more responsible leadership with values and purpose at its heart. Speaking to four current women leaders at the top of their game, we considered this shift, challenged the traditional assumptions of leadership and explored how women are uniquely positioned for responsible leadership.

From across different sectors and countries, Laurence Zenner, CEO CFL Cargo Group Luxembourg, Dr. Christine Theodorovics, former Designated CEO Baloise Luxembourg, Member of the Global Strategic Board and Katia Gauzès, Managing Partner, Clifford Chance Luxembourg, discussed their experiences with us.

In your experience, what makes a good leader?

Katia: Leadership is about grasping opportunities, daring to step forward and be bold. As I often say to my younger colleagues, you have to work on your luck to ensure that luck eventually comes to you.

Laurence: My leadership is based upon building up a strong team made of complementary personalities around me. I am a participative leader, setting objectives and projects to be carried out together, making sense for both the company and the teams.

Diversity and complimentary teams are the key factor to this success.

This conviction, which was increasing with my experience, is a common thread for all the different steps I made.

Christine: Always work on improving your competencies, build a good track record, a good network, and engage in lifelong learning.  And don’t forget, there is always some luck involved to be at the right place at the right time.

Do you agree with the statements about women’s leadership qualities such as greater empathy and adaptability? Does it make an average woman more able than the average man to become a leader?

Laurence: Leadership is not about being female or male, it is about personality and mindset. I do not appreciate binary views and splitting up leaders into two categories: empathic, adaptable and humble females and self-oriented, inflexible and dominating males.

Katia: Certain women can show more empathy and adaptability than certain men, but the contrary is also true.

What I strongly believe in is diversity and the power of collaboration. To become a great leader, you have to be willing to stand above the average, whatever the gender.

Christine: I have learned that there are empathic and adaptable people, and then there are those who do not possess these qualities, regardless of gender. Having said this, studies show women tend to outperform men in humility, self-awareness, self-control, moral sensitivity, social skills, emotional intelligence, kindness, and a pro-social and moral orientation. And these are all regarded as key traits that make leaders more effective.

Do you see confidence as a sign of competence?

Laurence: Confidence in a healthy amount is a necessary quality of a good leader. If you do not believe in yourself and your visions, how can you ignite your team to reach shared goals? But overconfident managers are dangerous – they make it difficult to build up a mature organisation, especially if they tend to feel they are right, are not willing to question themselves, and do not treat the people surrounding them on an equal footing.

Christine: Confidence is often misinterpreted as competence because we assume that someone very confident must be competent as well. We know, however, that this is not always the case. Sometimes women show a lower level of self-confidence, which is then mistaken for incompetence. We need to be aware of this unconscious bias and be prepared to ask questions regardless of the appearance of the person in front of us.

What helped you grow in your career? Have you had any mentors or sponsors?

Katia: Many exchanges throughout the years with other people, from other countries and others sectors. Here as well, diversity was key for me. It helped me find my own path and innovate in my own field of expertise.

Laurence: My professional career has been made of a bunch of unexpected opportunities which I seized by taking measured risks and by getting out of my comfort zone. Helping me succeed was my perseverance, my passion for my work and my curiosity for meeting new people – I adore learning and discovering new sectors.


I learnt if somebody really believes in you and your talent, you can shift mountains. But you need to be a hard worker, especially at the beginning of your career.

You need to be curious, and always open for new projects and challenges.

What are the greatest enablers and showstoppers for females in their career?

Laurence: Careers can be accelerated by giving yourself visibility, taking care of your network and making clear statements of what you want to achieve within your organization and outside of it. Working on your confidence can help to reach it.

Katia: The showstoppers for females are very often females themselves, who more often than men tend to misjudge their competence and think that they are not qualified for a job until they are nearly over qualified for it. In this sense, the greatest enablers can be role models and coaching to help boost performance.

Christine: Lack of visibility is a big one – often due to less face time and less willingness for window dressing. You also need courage and boldness to step up. Men just throw themselves into new roles, whereas women tend to have more self-doubts. Interruption for maternity leave and then coming back in a part-time role is also a hurdle.

If we want to help more women become leaders and build truly transformational leadership teams, we need to maintain a high standard in our selection, understanding that high-performing leadership comes down to traits and behaviors, not gender. This means being inclusive of both men and women and disposing of flawed archetypes around ‘masculine’ leadership. By creating authentic cultures which support a diversity of backgrounds and values, with space for purpose and bold visions, both male and female leaders can become inspiring and responsible leaders.

If you would like to find out how Odgers Berndtson can help you with your leadership journey, contact Agnieszka Zajac, or get in touch with us here. You can also find your local Odgers Berndtson contact here.

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