Think Women’s 40 Outstanding Global Women 2023 - Zarina Ward, Kantar Public

We spoke to Zarina Ward, global chief people officer at Kantar Public to profile as one of Think Women's inspiring international leaders. The series demonstrates the calibre of women working in international leadership roles. The profiles are part of our celebration for International Women's Day 2023.

“When managing global teams and working with different cultures there is not a magic formula. It's about mutual respect, and really trying to understand someone's perspective,” says Zarina Ward, chief people oOfficer at Kantar Public.Zarina has led people and talent functions in major professional services firms, as well as having run her own business. Before joining Kantar Public she led the people function as senior vice-president at MindGym, worked at Ernst & Young, and held senior roles at Oliver Wyman. Kantar Public currently employs more than 700 people in over 20 countries.“At times in my career I have felt like I needed to act like a leader rather than just bring myself to work,” she says. “I ended up feeling quite conflicted, as though I was playing a role. Through my career I have learnt that it is important to find where your leadership style resonates, and find a place where people appreciate you, rather than trying to mould yourself into something that you're not.”“My career has been a series of serendipitous moments where I've taken a leap into something new,” she says. “Initially I did a law degree because I'd always wanted to be a barrister. When I got to the end of my law degree, I thought it was a bit dry.”Zarina’s first job was working for one of the fastest growing recruitment consultancies in Europe, where she experienced an incredibly progressive people policy and a commendably meritocratic structure. By the time she left at aged 25 she was head of recruitment and resourcing and leading a team of ten people.

What are the qualities of female leadership?

She says that female leadership and the importance of authenticity and empathy is becoming more recognised.“Having been through redundancy myself, I try to have as much human kindness and empathy as I can when having to make other people redundant, and it doesn't always have to be an adversarial negotiation,” she says.She argues that women should not try to fit into societal norms or whatever version of female leadership they might think is the right one. Instead, just be yourself and seek out the opportunities that enable you to shine.“For example, I think it's important to have a bit of a laugh and a joke because otherwise I just don't think you get through the day,” she explains. “In some organisations that wouldn't be that accepted: that's fine, but that organisation isn't for me. You have to be bold about making those decisions, not feel grateful for having a job but instead thinking about what really works for you.”

Zarina’s tips for women leaders

  • If you work hard, you will do well: I worked really hard and opportunities landed at my door because I delivered on things I had been given to do.
  • Move out of your comfort zone: sometimes it is OK to learn on the job.
  • Give yourself permission to take time out: after I had been working for a while I took time off and went travelling around the world. When I got back I set up my own business.
  • Don’t give in to imposter syndrome: I got a job at Ernst & Young (EY) in London and I remember walking through the doors thinking I had never dreamed with my background and my education that I would work in a place like this and be treated as an equal.
  • Be your authentic self at work: often people in senior positions don’t feel able to share the professional and personal challenges they face, particularly as a woman around childcare and family, but it can make you a more authentic and human leader.
  • Don’t be afraid to have fun: people always comment that I bring quite a lot of levity to my work and that I always have a smile on my face. I think life is too short to be miserable at work.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of networking: I got my job as director of talent at Oliver Wyman through chatting to a colleague over a cup of coffee.
  • Try to get the balance right: I'm a really big believer in work life sustainability, as opposed to work life balance. I can work through periods of high demand at work as long as there is an opportunity later to spend time with my family.
  • Find yourself a coach: if you can ask someone to be a mentor or coach, then seize the opportunity. I have benefited from professional coaching, which has been life-changing in helping me set my personal and professional goals.

Back to Think Women’s 40 Outstanding Global Women 2023

Think Women 23 Intext NEW

Sign up now at and subscribe to our newsletters to find out more.

Subscribe now to Think Global People magazine and read more from Marianne Curphey on women leaders and Ruth Holmes on the talent agenda for 2023 in the brand-new winter issue

Sarah Murray live stream IWD 23 intext

Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.

Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.

Related Articles