Please look after the trail blazers

Last week I was moved to hear three different, unconnected female leaders describe, in executive coaching sessions, their immense work in top leadership roles.

Coincidentally (I thought) the story going with each of them in their organisations happens to be that they need to get stronger, delegate more and ‘think even more strategically’ to free up diary space. And sure, they could all do with more of that, of course. Who couldn’t?

However, it suddenly came to me as the third one described another flight to the other side of the world to present some data she’s not that close to, because there're no other female speakers on the agenda, that being stronger is not something that’s under discussion. These women are strong already, and doing the day job AND a whole stack of extra input to support their mission in promoting the gender agenda. It’s such a huge extra undertaking.

I speak from the gender agenda because that’s my speciality, but being the first one up there, from any under-represented group must bring a tonne of extra work with it. Each one of the women I worked with last week went on to mention super-high-profile tasks that they’d volunteered for or been asked to undertake in addition to the day job, over and above the ask on their colleagues; delivering massive extra key-notes across continents, organising global networks, quickly gathering new skills so they could attend symposia right on the edge of their true expertise.

The reason?

Each of these women was a “First”. The first lone female in the lead team. The first woman to make it up there, and a sparkly star, for sure.

I’m writing this not because I don’t think they can do it. They can. And I’m not writing because the women were moaning about their extra roles – they weren’t. They all threw the info in as an aside. I’m calling it out for you to watch out, if you work at the top of an organisation, or on the HR/OD team, if you have any lonely Firsts.

If you have one person representing a group up there in your lead team and they’re pouring energy into representing their minority, or spreading the word, mentoring others coming up behind them or building networks to encourage more like them – you’d better have their backs because it’s a seriously tiring, courage-requiring job.

Please - Ask them what would help. Notice what they’re doing;

And get them an Executive Coach to help them build the safe container to think, recover, plan and then smash their performance goals as well, because they will – they’re amazing; And they’re tired; And they might leave if you don’t.

And then where will you be? Looking for another brave soul to send in to represent.

Please look after your Firsts, people.

Thank you to John Sting on Unsplash for the cover photograph.

This article was written by Aly King-Smith. Aly is Director of Clearworks and writes for Clearworks and others as Aly KS & Co Ltd. Please get in contact via