Season 4: Thriving in a changing world

Michelle Kennedy Founder & CEO

Empowering female leadership in startups: navigating change in an unpredictable world

In the ever-evolving landscape of startups, where navigating change and adapting to uncertainty is essential, the role of diverse leadership, particularly female leadership, has never been more critical. As the founder and CEO of Peanut—a platform dedicated to connecting women through the various stages of motherhood—I have seen the profound impact that inclusive leadership has on an organisation’s ability to thrive amidst change.

Startups operate in a landscape marked by rapid shifts and unforeseen challenges, where change presents both obstacles and opportunities for growth. It’s in this volatile environment that female leadership proves invaluable, bringing to the table a blend of diverse perspectives, empathy, and innovation that fosters adaptability. At Peanut, our diverse board and leadership team is more than a nod to representation; it’s a strategic advantage that enriches problem-solving and decision-making, bringing unique life experiences and viewpoints to the forefront.

The inclusion of women in the development and leadership of products designed for women, like Peanut, is crucial. The women in our team offer authentic insights into their experience, ensuring our product resonates on a deeper level with its intended audience by addressing real needs and concerns. This authenticity is amplified by the varied backgrounds of our team, making Peanut a product that is not just for some women but for all women. The team’s ability to empathise with our users has led to a design philosophy that prioritises safety and user needs, cultivating a supportive and inclusive community that’s at the heart of Peanut’s mission. This approach, coupled with our team’s unique problem-solving skills, enables us to meet market needs creatively and effectively, enhancing user satisfaction and engagement.

The adaptability of our business was put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic, a period that demanded rapid innovation and flexibility. As physical connections became impossible, we quickly pivoted to enhance Peanut’s online interaction capabilities. Within weeks, we launched ‘Pods,’ a live audio feature that allowed women to connect in real-time, ensuring our community remained connected and supportive, even in the face of global isolation.

In addition to the shifts prompted by COVID-19, Peanut has also navigated changes spurred by significant societal and cultural moments, such as Roe v. Wade. The ruling triggered a surge in related conversations, reflecting the deep impact such events have on our community and their emotional well-being. Recognising the potential for these discussions to be triggering for some members, we took proactive steps to ensure our platform remained a safe and supportive space. We reminded users of our Community Guidelines, emphasising the importance of empathy and respect in discussions. Furthermore, we implemented additional trigger warnings for content related to sensitive topics, helping to protect our community by giving them the autonomy to engage with such content at their own discretion. These measures underscore our commitment to adapting our platform to meet the evolving needs of our users, ensuring that Peanut continues to be a supportive haven for women navigating the complexities of motherhood and womanhood in an ever-changing world.

This adaptive approach not only reflects our response to immediate societal changes but also aligns with broader business principles that prioritise diversity and inclusivity, especially in leadership. Supporting the value of diverse leadership, research from McKinsey & Company and the Boston Consulting Group highlights the tangible benefits of inclusivity. McKinsey’s findings reveal that companies with gender-diverse executive teams are 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability. Similarly, BCG’s research shows that more diverse management teams report a higher innovation revenue, attributing up to 45% of total revenue to new market innovations. So, if you’re curious about how inclusive leadership can foster adaptability and success in startups during times of unpredictability, I encourage you to explore this topic further.

Mentoring plays a pivotal role in preparing women for leadership roles, offering tools and confidence needed to navigate the complexities of leadership in a changing world. Effective mentorship programs are about creating pathways for women to develop their leadership styles and understand strategic decision-making.

Addressing unconscious biases is essential for creating a flexible and inclusive workplace. At Peanut, we undertake bias training workshops and inclusive hiring practices to ensure diversity is celebrated and inclusivity is woven into the fabric of our company culture.

Finally, ensuring equitable opportunities for leadership is essential. This involves identifying and dismantling systemic barriers that may prevent women and other underrepresented groups from advancing into leadership positions, thereby fostering a startup ecosystem that is robust, inclusive, and poised for success in an unpredictable world.

Hear more from Michelle Kennedy on her inspiring business journey in our Sage Advice podcast.