Inside Edelman is an ongoing series that spotlights our colleagues who are doing extraordinary work across our network. This year's International Women's Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge and we’ll be spotlighting our female leaders, discovering how they build inner resilience and advice they'd give to future leaders.

Who is a woman you admire and why?

I really admire principled women, women who have strong values and stand up for what they believe in no matter the sometimes personal cost. I've been reading this brilliant series of books called Little People, Big Dreams to my daughter Maia which tells the stories of the lives of outstanding people from designers, artists, and scientists. All of them achieved incredible things. The story of Harriet Tubman, a slavery abolitionist who escaped and underwent a number of dangerous missions to rescue enslaved people, is one that inspires us. Closer to home, my mum is a hero to me. She left the Philippines at 17 to make a better future for herself halfway around the world as a nurse in the UK. She's focused, ambitious, principled even in the face of barriers - she never gives up or in. All things I admire.

With the status quo being challenged more and more, in the past 10 years, what have been the biggest changes you’ve noticed for women?

More women in the top positions, leading. It's no longer a surprise to see women in every sphere - I expect it now and if they aren't there I think those organisations or firms aren't innovative, modern, or relevant. I've seen many more women become the primary or joint earner, more sharing of caring and home responsibilities. But there's still more work to be done. We need to have more women in positions of power in every institution, and at the table making decisions. We've made excellent progress with the number of females in board positions (now at 34% and surpassing the target of 33% set by the Hampton-Alexander review) but we should aspire to go further. There are only 17 female CEOs across the FTSE 350.

What advice do you have for a woman starting her career?

If I were also talking to my younger self I would say, own your career - others may try to define you, suggest you go in a certain direction, or take on certain types of work. It's a good thing to be flexible to the needs of the business you're working for but not at the expense of consistently taking you in a direction that doesn't serve you. What are the experiences and types of work that you'll enjoy and will give you meaning, that will propel you further in your career and make sure you also carve out a healthy amount of time for those things and that they are also prioritised. If you own your career, you're taking control of your future.

How do you build your inner resilience?

Honestly, I've worked hard on this over many years in the same way someone might work on any skill. I've read books, listened to podcasts, invested myself in coaching. I think it's a muscle that needs exercise and I've turned to behavioural psychology over the years for tools to help me build mental strength. One of the most powerful tools I've found is CBT (Cognitive Behaviourial Therapy). CBT is all about reframing thoughts in ways that get you to a more positive and productive headspace, helping you manage challenging situations and thinking. It’s known for its use in helping people with anxiety and depression, but it’s also a great practice for rewiring the brain – much like meditation I feel. In my lifetime, just like anyone else, I've had unhelpful reoccurring thoughts that just don't serve me and I've found CBT a practical tool for processing them and moving on – I’d highly recommend it as a practice. This book is a great place to start. 

What do you believe will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women?

The pandemic has disproportionately affected women. Women have lost more jobs as sectors which employ women have been vulnerable such as hospitality, travel and personal care. Women have had to work and think about childcare/homeschooling which has led to some reducing or leaving paid work, citing company inflexibility, caring responsibilities, and stress. This will undoubtedly mean a reshaping of the workforce, and if women are excluded from crucial decision-making spheres when it comes to what work looks like in the future, we'll take a massive step back. I personally think we need to double down on flexibility for all, men and women, and redefine what work looks like.

What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received in your career?

Let go.  

The essence of this is that not everything needs 110% or 100%. Sometimes 80% or 70% is just fine. If my house is a mess, does it really matter? No. If my kids don't go to school with a home-made costume for World Book Day, does that mean I'm a bad parent or that they'll suffer? No. If I say no to something at work that isn't a priority, should I feel guilty? No.

I spent a good chunk of my early career thinking I needed to go at everything 150% - which is really only a recipe for personal unhappiness and burnout. So let go of perfection.


Gerry Wisniewski is Managing Director in the London Technology team.