Header Contact

The female leaders who influence us

To celebrate International Women’s Day this month, we’ve decided to highlight some of the female theorists, practitioners and activists who influence our work.

Marilyn Loden

Over forty years ago Marilyn Loden used the term “glass ceiling” to describe gender inequality. She first developed the Diversity Wheel model in 1991 as a tool to help people better understand how group-based differences contribute to people’s social identities. The Diversity Wheel consists of four dimensions of diversity (personality, internal, external and organisational levels) through which stimuli, information and experience are processed by all of us.

Her work today involves working with organisations to help them become more inclusive to all groups. She said “Men and women have different values about things, we see intractable problems differently. What would society be like if 50% of all decisions were made by women?”

Mary Parker Follett

Dubbed the ‘prophet of management’ by management consultant Peter Drucker, Follett strongly influenced several management thinkers including Abraham Maslow, famous for his hierarchy of needs.

Follet was born in 1868, carved out a reputation for her humanistic and ethical approach to management structures and conflict resolution in organisations. Widely regarded as the predecessor to modern theorists on management, the academic devoted much of her research to the subjects of authority, leadership and power.  She said: “The most essential work of a leader is to create more leaders.”

Patsy Rodenburg

In her book,  Patsy Rodenburg writes about the different types of energy that flow between people and how they  affect our actions, voice and ability to connect with other people.  In her framework, “The three circles of self” she distinguishes between:

  • First circle – the circle of victim-hood – those whose energy is focussed on themselves
  • Second circle – the circle of intimacy, survival, equality – those who exchange energy equally, participating on equal terms
  • Third circle – the circle of controlling superiority – those who wish to impose their energy on others.

Rodenburg’s work influences our Presentation Skills programme.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross

Swiss psychiatrist Ross was famous for her work on the five stages of grief (which play out in our emotional responses to change) she is referenced in programmes about change or the emotional responses we might get during a ‘difficult conversation’.  She said: ‘The opinion which other people have of you is their problem, not yours.”

Amy Edmondson

This Harvard Business School professor first identified the concept of psychological safety in work teams in 1999.  In her book The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation and Growth, Edmonson asserted that psychological safety – the ability to ask questions, provide candid feedback and learn from each other is a key driver of high-performance teams.

Her work underpins the belief that the most innovative teams work in an environment where both psychological safety and accountability are high.  She said: “Many managers confuse setting high standards with good management.”

Betty Kitchener

Australian Kitchener is a mental health educator who founded mental health first aid training. In partnership with Professor Anthony Jorm, a mental health literacy professor, she first developed the idea in 2001.

Mental Health First Aid is a 12-hour face-to-face training program for members of the public to learn how to provide initial assistance to someone developing a mental health problem or in a mental health crisis (e.g. they are suicidal).

The programme is now run in numerous countries – including here at BiteSize – and has helped alter the conversation about mental health – providing greater parity between mental and physical health. Almost half a million people in Britain have now been through an MHFA programme.

Katherine W. Phillips

American business theorist Phillips, spearheaded research into diversity, authenticity, status, information sharing, decision-making, and performance in groups.

Growing up in a predominantly black neighbourhood while attending a largely white school inspired a lifelong exploration into how racially and ethnically diverse groups perform differently from more homogenous groups. Her studies tackled issues of diversity and ethics, and how homogeneity affects group processes just as much as diversity itself. Phillips made the business case for diversity when she said: “Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working”.

Isabel Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs

The mother and daughter duo were the brains behind the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® instrument. Who hasn’t taken this test at least once in their careers?

They built their tool after following the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Their goal was to enable individuals to grow through an understanding and appreciation of the individual differences in healthy personalities and to promote harmony and productivity in diverse groups.  Isabel Briggs Myers said: “Do you want a collection of brilliant minds or a brilliant collection of minds?”  

Carol Dweck

Based on work in neural linguistic programming, Dweck’s work has gained huge popularity for the idea of the growth mindset.

Recent advances in neuroscience have shown us that the brain is far more malleable than we thought.  These  discoveries have shown us that we can increase our neural growth by the actions we take, such as using good strategies, asking questions, practising, and following good nutrition and sleep habits.  She said:  “It’s not always the people who start out the smartest who end up the smartest.”

Amy Cuddy

Cuddy is known for the power pose – hands on hips and feed wide set apart before a business meeting or interview – opening the conversation about posture and its importance in how we feel and act.

While her initial research was questioned, as to how we measure cortisol has changed, Cuddy has refuted the criticism. It’s indisputable that her work has made a big difference in the field, where her power pose research has gained traction. Her latest book “Presence” is well worth a read. She said: “Focus less on the impression you’re making on others and more on the impression you’re making on yourself.”

Patty McCord

McCord was Chief Talent Officer at Netflix during its rise to becoming a global entertainment player, where she was influential in establishing its corporate culture of empowering employees but only retaining those whose performance is excellent.

Her book Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility shares her insights on recruiting, motivating and creating great teams and highly relevant to work we do Bitesize.  She said: “Culture is something you never stop working on.”

Anna Whitehouse

Journalist Whitehouse (a.k.a Mother Pukka) is a champion of flexible working in the UK for men and women.  Her campaign is called flex appeal,  engaging both workers and employers in the campaign.  She defines flexible working as anything that doesn’t fix people to a 9-5, five-day week in the traditional way that excludes so many from work. It could be more creative shift patterns, flexitime, job shares, part-time, compressed hours, core hours, or as simple as allowing some employees to work different patterns. She said: “(Flexible working) is NOT unpaid overtime, getting four days money for five days of work, or zero-hour contracts.”


We hope this list gives you a flavour of the massive contribution female theorists and practitioners make to the world of learning and development. Is there anyone that you wish to add?

Images supplied by wikimedia/commons.


Comments are closed.