You'll have read parts 1 and 2 of Sonia Brown's story. Now here's the final part.
From a Jamaican, South London background, Sonia has crafted a pathway to success that involved helping and inspiring other women and creating an impressive network of influential people who have championed her cause.
Read on and find out how being a black woman from a Jamaican family has influenced her leadership and her top tips for women aspiring to be leaders.
What do you understand by leadership?
All the best leaders that have stood out for me have been inspirational. They are charismatic communicators. It’s because they have an individual and often quirky style. Think of Boris Johnson and Aloun Ndombet-Assamba, Jamaican High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. They get the job done but they’re unconventional. More importantly, they are confident in who they are. I think that’s the key. Others I like, include Theresa May MP, Vanessa Vallely, Dawn Butler MP, and the former Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick to name a few.
Which other leaders do I like? There’s the Director General, at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, Rachel Sandby-Thomas. She’s amazing. She’s funny. She’s bright and she’s a true role model for women. The most impressive leader I’ve met in the last year was Sir Bernard Hogan Howe, the Commissioner of the Met Police. I am in awe of that man. He's not cut from the same cloth of previous commissioners. He commands respect. He’s intelligent and the way that his organisation respects him at all levels is very impressive. He is willing to embrace tough challenges yet on the whole is fair. Plus, he seems to be taking the diversity issue seriously.
So what would you say your qualities are as a woman leader?
I’m resilient, I’m determined, I’m focused and I am learning not to care what people think about me, as long as I do the right thing. However, I recognize my faults. I know when to admit that I’m wrong. I know how to bring other people on board and I’m very committed and principled. As a leader, I’m a bit like Marmite- you love me or hate me. There’s no in between.
So what difference did it make, being a woman leader?
It’s more fun! We don’t have to stick to the “perceived” rules! There is no set definition for female leadership. It's a blank canvas. We can be who we want to be. We are filling the boardroom with our feminine spirit. No more group think or unconscious bias. We’re coming in with innovation, creativity, high heels and make-up! There’s a place for everyone. You just have to make sure you’re seated at the right table.
What part did your being a black woman from a Jamaican background play in all of this?
I tell people business is like chicken. Some like boiled, some like Korma, some like Kentucky. However, I bring the jerk! I’m very proud of my Jamaican roots. It's about your personality. Your personality is your culture, your environment, your values.
Take Usain Bolt. There are lots of people who have run the 100m. What is it that Usain brings to the table? It’s not just the extra speed. Usain Bolt brings the jerk! Murray, for example, is the opposite, He's an impressive tennis player but he’s boring as hell!? I think culturally, we bring that difference that is the innovation. For a small island, Jamaica has a massive impact across the world.
What are your top three tips for women who want to be leaders in their field?
Know your stuff. Know it inside out. Be thought leaders. This will give you confidence. Nobody can challenge me about my area of business because I know it well and I’m confident about that. I might not say it in the way you like, but you can’t challenge me about what I do because I know what it takes to be at this level.
Be confident in your style, your plan and your purpose. Own who you are. I am second-generation from immigrant parents with a working-class background and a South London accent. Everything’s against me. But because I’m confident in my knowledge and style, I cannot be stopped from achieving what I want if I am prepared to push!
Finally, just do it. Give yourself permission, and then just do it. Get rid of that negative self talk. Stop defining yourself by other people’s standards and expectations. Remember, you’ve only got one life. And nobody’s ever come back and said it’s great on the other side. So just do it in full make up and a super weave!
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