Parent organisation of Community Links, Foundation and Bridging the Gap

IWD21 – Leading through a Pandemic with #EverydayCourage

Ruth Kettle

Inspire North CEO Ruth Kettle

I was not planning on writing a blog for International Women’s Day 2021, until I attended a health and care leaders network event on Monday.

I was not sure what to expect from a whole day virtual conference, and when I logged in that morning, I could not even work out how the day was going to run.  However, listening to the introduction and seeing the programme I became excited and inspired.  Some of the ground rules for the day included #BeInclusive, #BeKind #HaveFun. How great is that?

One of the sessions I attended was about being a woman leader, and it was at that point I decided I needed to write something as part of the individual commitment we were asked to pledge.

My commitment is to:

Support women to be who they want to be and to aim high.

This commitment, alongside the presentations, got me thinking of my own journey to being a CEO, a role I NEVER aspired to – in any way shape or form!

What has helped me on my journey? I understand that I did start from a place of privilege as a white middle-class woman, but things that assisted me were:


  • Working for organisations that were aligned to my values and beliefs.
  • Moving on when I did not agree with the direction of travel an organisation was taking.
  • Taking all opportunities that were presented to me.
  • Never asking ‘how much money are you going to give me?’ (Promotion always followed at some point).
  • Doing roles that I enjoyed/believed in.
  • Always looking ahead for my next challenge when things became routine.
  • Embracing learning opportunities and support/advice.
  • Not ruling myself out on the grounds of “can I do it?” but asking “do I want to do this?”
  • Making career sacrifices to balance my work/home life, accepting that being around for my children was better than accepting challenges that would have taken me away from home.
  • Managing my anxieties/self-doubt, getting help as required.
  • Prioritising self-care.
  • Taking learning from my personal life to work and vice versa.


There are many other things, but these quickly sprang to mind. I have always been proactive in being inclusive, and I have had a lot of fun at work through my career. One of the things we have had to give more attention to in the wake of the pandemic is about being kind to each other and about prioritising self-care.

The conference presenters also talked about being real, being honest and being authentic.

Have I always been authentic?  I have always been me, a part of which is worrying too much that I must act or behave in a certain way to fulfil certain roles. Experience has enabled me to become less hamstrung by this, and has taught me the importance of being open enough about the challenges so as not to be seen as “superwoman”, nor overly sharing personal challenges. This does not enable others to imagine that they too could follow suit and become a CEO, as either way the job will seem too difficult!

Prior to the pandemic I was asking myself the question “how long can I work at this pace?” I work and think pretty quickly – as I am sure my team will attest to, but it did feel unsustainable, especially as a single parent working full time in such a big role.

The pandemic has given us the opportunity for radical change. Who knew that we would live in a time where we were not allowed into the office? Let us not waste this opportunity. As a woman leader I have had to make choices about family versus career, and I am more than comfortable with all the decisions I have made – they were right for me and my family. But perhaps now we can envision a different future, where a better work-life balance can expedite gender equality in the world, which last year was expected to be achieved by 2155!

So, one of the questions we should be asking ourselves this International Women’s Day is what lessons have we learned from a global pandemic that could enable us to achieve a gender-balanced world – hopefully in less than 150 years!

by Ruth Kettle, Chief Executive, Inspire North