Businesses must restructure to challenge traditional notions of leadership

Anna Coscia, Planning Director at Quiet Storm, argues that society still associates power with masculinity, presenting a case for business restructuring which allows women and men to lead in a more inclusive way.

Anna Coscia

Strategic Planning Director Quiet Storm


When I was younger, I often felt I didn’t have what it takes to get to the top in my career. I was told to be more confident, assertive, louder; to shout about what I do; to leave emotions out; to ‘man up’.

I found this immensely difficult, as it just didn’t feel like me. Yet I saw many women behaving like men, and some who were quite evil, succeed. I witnessed them bullying other women and being harsher on their gender than they were on their male peers.

The more I saw such behaviour, the more it put me off wanting to rise up the career ladder. I didn’t want to be like these people. I hated that person I felt I had to become in order to achieve success.

I am certainly not saying that there are no great female leaders. But if I was asked to think about the women who, in my career, have inspired me to think that I could lead in a more authentic way, in a way true to myself, my list would be very short.

We need to create a culture that values feminine traits as much as masculine ones.

Anna Coscia

Let women lead like women

I truly believe we need more women in boardrooms. Yet not much good is going to come from it unless women can lead more like women. When we don’t show up as ourselves, what we say is that ‘being me isn’t ok’. When we behave like men, we just perpetuate the status quo, and make a mockery of our true selves.

But change is not easy. Adhering to a generally accepted masculine style of leadership is often the only choice women can make. It is not our fault: it is the system that needs fixing.

The problem is that our culture still associates power and leadership with masculinity. Historically, companies were designed by men and set up for male success. Men created the rules and we are still largely playing by them. Undoing centuries of tradition takes time.

What are generally perceived as typically ‘masculine’ qualities, such as taking risks, competitiveness, and over-confidence, tend to be those which are most rewarded. More typically ‘female’ skills, such as intuition, empathy, and collaboration, are seen as weaknesses, or labelled as ‘soft’ or overly ‘emotional’.

We need a change. We need to create a culture that values feminine traits as much as masculine ones; where women can let their feminine side lead the way.

It is corporations that need to lead the change and radically transform how they operate.

Anna Coscia

Acknowledge gender bias

We can all play our part in this. We can start by becoming more aware of our gender biases. We all have them. We grew up in a culture that has ingrained them into our beings. They are mostly subtle and unconscious. You may not notice they are there.

‘Would I feel or behave differently if this was a man rather than a woman (or vice versa)?’ Let’s ask ourselves this every day.

As women, indeed as individuals, we should resist the urge simply to ‘fit in’ because when we do this, we give away our strength and power. We should look underneath the layers of conditioning created by society, education and family and acknowledge what makes us great. And we must have the courage to bring more feminine energy into the world.

It is corporations, though, that need to lead the change and radically transform how they operate.

They, too, need to uncover gender biases and encourage more introspection in all staff. Listen to female executives. Understand why women may not be getting to the top or why they may not want to. Don’t just label them as ‘not ambitious’.

Companies must broaden their leadership models, to include more diverse styles, and reflect these in all training and leadership programmes. All hiring, appraisal and promotion protocols need to be reviewed, to widen the skills and behaviours that are valued.

We must be free to be ourselves, allowing both men and women to lead in an inclusive way, rewarding softer skills, kindness and empathy.

It is only by blending the best of both genders that we can truly make the world a better place.

Guest Author

Anna Coscia

Strategic Planning Director Quiet Storm


Anna works as Strategic Planning Director at Quiet Storm. She started her advertising career at JWT in Italy, her native country. She is passionate about human nature and fascinated by how people think and behave. But it’s how people feel and how they connect to one another that gets her really excited. She is big on emotions and plans from the heart, not surprising for an Italian. In the UK she has worked at world-famous agencies like Saatchi&Saatchi, AMV and Leo Burnett, on international brands such as Fairy, Dolmio, Always and Pampers. On Always she led the strategy for the ‘Like a girl’ campaign, one of the most awarded internationally, including two APG awards and a UN award for the impact the campaign had on female empowerment around the world. On top of her work in advertising, Anna is also an executive and leadership coach and a qualified yoga teacher. She is very interested in wellbeing and mental health and passionate about helping people grow and thrive.