Last year I attended the Women of Silicon Roundabout conference in London and heard a number of memorable talks by tech leaders and entrepreneurs. The one that stood out most was delivered by Professor Sucheta Nadkarni of Cambridge Judge Business School.

Sucheta’s specialist area is gender diversity in business and boardrooms, and she spoke with energy and warmth about what successful women do well.

Her findings were based on interviews with 47 of the most successful women in the financial sector from 12 countries. I appreciated her refreshingly positive approach: “Let’s focus on how women succeed, not on why they fail.”

Here’s a quick look at her list of things successful women do. I’d recommend you read her longer article from which these points are taken.

1. Be authentic and unique
Instead of trying to be ‘more’ anything – more confident, assertive, aggressive – the answer lies in being yourself. “Research shows that authentic leaders are trusted more and gain deeper commitment from their teams”.

2. Invest in yourself
Do this off your own back rather than relying on your company to do it for you. Networking, strength-building exercises and coaching are all cited as ‘common investements’ by the women Sucheta interviewed.

3. Seek out mentors
The leaders in the survey all proactively adopted a group of mentors, building a network of people around them that they could trust to give candid advice and feedback.

4. Proactively take on challenging tasks
“Taking on challenging, high profile tasks will help position you as a leader and someone who can make effective decisions. In particular there is great importance placed on taking up profit and loss roles to directly link your efforts with the health of the business.”

5. Learning to say no
It’s important to be persistent and resilient, but it is equally important to learn to say no to things that don’t matter or don’t align with your wider goals.

You can read Sucheta Nadkarni’s full article, Five Top Lessons from Female Leadershere. She was the Director of the University of Cambridge Wo+men’s Leadership Centre until 2019. Their annual conference is held on 14 March 2020 and the theme is Re-imagining Diversity. Find out more and book tickets here.


I had been planning to write this article ever since I attended Sucheta’s talk in June 2019. It’s with great sadness that I’ve discovered she passed away in November 2019. 

She was an amazing woman who pursued her work with ‘romantic passion’. I know she will be missed greatly by family, friends and colleagues, and also that the work she has done will benefit women for years to come. Here is Cambridge Judge Business School’s tribute to Sucheta.