Bouncing back with purpose post-pandemic

Organisational psychologist Sarah Rozenthuler joined Jayne Constantinis and Fiona Murchie in a Think Women conversation to celebrate International Women’s Day. She explains why purpose is so important to women now.

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Sarah Rozenthuler is a chartered psychologist, leadership consultant and author passionate about inspiring leaders and strengthening organisations to help them become a force for good.Her latest book, Powered by Purpose, unpacks how leaders in high-performing companies on a mission to make the world a better place are making work meaningful and delivering excellent financial results.“The subtitle of the book is ‘energise your people to do great work’ and it’s really picking up on a growing trend,” says Sarah Rozenthuler. “In the last ten years or so companies large and small – large like Unilever for example – are choosing to be more purpose driven. In Unilever’s case it’s about making sustainable living commonplace.“What’s interesting is that they are getting strong financial results as an outcome. This is getting attention in the business world. I wanted to write about the leadership capacities that would enable leaders to enliven their people and make work meaningful and then deliver excellent profits as well.”

Taking stock and moving forward with purpose

Powered by Purpose is a timely and accessible addition to the leadership and management bookshelf. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted how we work in ways that would have been hard to imagine before successive national lockdowns hit.It has hastened trends on the margins of existing practice, such as more flexible and hybrid working and the focus on employee health and wellbeing. It has also shone another light on the issues women face in the workplace, highlighting opportunities as well as challenges.Business leaders now acknowledge that working from home and more flexibly are good for productivity, to the extent that many companies are rewriting policies and changing practices for good, for example.“It’s interesting how much the pandemic has changed things,” says Sarah Rozenthuler. “I think it’s had a real impact on work. Many of us have had time to maybe reflect or become aware of what we were doing and what wasn’t working so well, so I am seeing a real appetite amongst people for more meaningful work.“There’s an opportunity here to take stock and reflect,” continues Sarah Rozenthuler. “The public is becoming less tolerant of the companies that profit from this crisis. I think there’s also increasing pressure on companies and on leaders to have organisations that are contributing to long term wellbeing. So we’ve got two trends running alongside one another there at the individual level and at the organisational level.”

Watch the video replay

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The impact of the pandemic on women

This International Women’s Day, one of the key areas of conversation was how women’s careers have been more negatively impacted by the need to work from home. Evidence shows women around the world have shouldered a disproportionate burden of home schooling, adding to the existing physical and mental load of domestic responsibilities.What does this mean in the context of these wider workplace trends – and for moving the dial on gender balance in the workplace?“I think part of the challenge for us as women is that we tend to put ourselves last,” says Sarah Rozenthuler. “We are last on the list after our children, our partner, our parents and so on. One of the things that means is that we are at risk of overlooking our feelings and what’s inside us.”This is where shifting mindsets to having purpose – what gets us up in the morning, gives us a spring in our step, energises and engages us – and being “on purpose” can be so important. “We can think of purpose as our North Star,” says Sarah Rozenthuler. “But I think in the cut and thrust of daily life, women with all the different things we are juggling in our daily life – work, homeschooling, looking after the kids and so on – seeing our North Star and following it is a real challenge.“Purpose can actually help us navigate that experience,” continues Sarah Rozenthuler. “My own experience is that getting clear about what feels right about what is ‘mine to do’ – if that’s the right way of putting it – actually has helped me to make decisions, like I’m not going to stay in an organisation where my values are being compromised, or I’m not going to stay working with that boss where I’m feeling put down.“I ran a programme recently looking at purpose-led leadership and a participant had a wonderful way of putting it. She said, ‘purpose is my anchor. It is greater than my fear.’ Purpose can help us call up our courage, make some decisions and do some reaching out.”

Taking steps to follow your own purpose

With hints of life beginning to return outside our own front doors, how can people this International Women’s Day and year-round make sure that something positive comes out of the negative of the pandemic?“I really hope to encourage women to make the most of any opportunity from the changes that are happening now and coming as lockdown is released,” says Sarah Rozenthuler. “I think it really starts with valuing ourselves.“I do think men – and I am going to stereotype a little here – are more comfortable with going after what they want. And maybe because they carry less of the responsibilities sometimes for the childcare or the homecare they can be more singular in their focus. But I do think that as women we have the capacity to really tune into ourselves; how we’re feeling.”This self-awareness, or leadership presence, forms the basis of the first of four leadership traits highlighted in the book from its evidence-based literature review. “This is about being present to oneself,” says Sarah Rozenthuler.“When we do this, we are noticing and paying attention to how we are feeling in our interactions. I think we only really energise and engage people when we are fully in the room ourselves. It links to purpose because it’s only when we’ve got an embodied sense of what’s enlivening for us, that we can tune into our North Star.”
Interactions and conversations also matter if dialogue is going to be authentic – the second leadership trait in evidence in successful sustainable businesses. “This is about growing the capacity to have the conversations that matter most where there might be some hard truths to be acknowledged and difficult decisions to be made,” says Sarah Rozenthuler. “This is also talking in a way that is inclusivewhere we listen to all the different voices in the room and drawn on that collective intelligence to make the best decisions that we can.”

Mobilising resources

Today, communities like Think Women have therefore never been a more valuable asset to help move the dial on gender imbalances and helping ourselves and other women to realise their purpose.“Our Think Women group is an evolving community welcoming people who want to help define what we do and what we need to support them,” says Fiona Murchie. “It enables people to make these little steps, throw in all sorts of ideas so we can all move forward.”“I think if we just take a moment to think about what’s on our own radars and what we’re finding interesting, then just sending out some feelers without needing anything to happen immediately; it’s those small steps that mobilise energy when we do just one tiny thing,” says Sarah Rozenthuler. “It keeps us with this sense of forward movement.“Women are often good at drawing on the support of other women and their networks. It can sometimes be by talking things over we can get clear in our minds – hey I need to make a change or what if I sent that email off? There are real resources we can draw on here.”

Watch additional Think Women video replays

Why is Purpose so Important for Women Now? with Sarah Rozenthuler
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Ripples of Change for Women in the Post Pandemic World with Vlatka Hlupic
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If you want to learn more about Think Women and future activities and workshops please email Fiona Murchie via

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