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Sharron Gunn: My journey to becoming a female leader

Book open Reading time: 3 mins

We spent some time catching up with Sharron Gunn, ICAEW's Commercial Executive Director, to hear about her journey to becoming a female leader. 

How does ICAEW demonstrate their commitment to the professional development of their female employees? Do you have any specific examples that relate to you and/or your field? 

Men and women are supported equally in the sense that for all employees we review their competencies and training and development needs, against the role they are in, and add support as needed. 

We also have a Women in Leadership programme that supports women who are aiming for management, partner or board positions. One of the key purposes of this is to encourage women to focus on what they are good at, and then leverage their skills to thrive within and lead organisational change. Women are notoriously good at knowing what skills they lack, rather than where their strengths are. 

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

Quite simply: internal barriers. Women who want to work in a leadership position must harness their talent more. 

What will be the three biggest challenges for the generation of women who are at the start of their careers?

There are the obvious challenges - such as the fact that women are more likely to take a career break to have children, combined with the challenge that some women have in balancing a work life balance when they have a family. However, I'd argue that companies are more flexible now than ever to accommodate this - there is a huge drive to support and enable women. In addition, changes in technology have been absolutely critical. More and more - companies provide flexibility to work from home but even on a more basic level, wifi and cloud based technology are all conducive to balancing personal and work-life demands. Women in particular have felt the benefits of this. I'd still say that the biggest challenge is around confidence and internal barriers. 

What woman inspires you, and why?

My mother. At 80, she is as tenacious and reliable as ever. Two qualities I admire immensely. She has been a brilliant role model and is undoubtedly the most inspiring female in my life. 

If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you now know, what would you do differently?

I'd have invested more time and energy into realising my strengths and celebrating them. I spent years beating myself up over what I perceived to be my shortcomings. I suffered, like many women, from "imposter syndrome" --the feeling that I was not good enough or didn't belong. This led to me desperately trying to conform at work. I wish I'd known that the key is to be yourself - to be different. You have something to offer and it's so important to realise it.   Having a broad skill set is not enough. 

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

I love what I do. The key to being motivated is enjoying your job. I keep up to date with the markets, with new trends because I love it. My job constantly keeps me on my toes. 

What one piece of advice would you give to our members to help on their journey to becoming a female leader?

To own your weaknesses and harness your strengths. ICAEW has been fantastic for me because as an organisation it strives to develop strong female leaders. We do work in a male dominated sphere, but diversity is wonderful and there is scope for men and women to get to the top - they just have to want it. 

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