Women in leadership: empowering others, staying kind & overcoming challenges

Profile picture

Rachel Osborne

President of Zero Waste Society

Talk us through what you do for your society/sport/activity?


I set up and am the President of the Zero Waste Society. This year I have organised clothes swaps, a trip to a falconry centre and organised my favourite event, a night of Sustainable Business where successful green entrepreneurs expressed their feelings on why businesses should find more purpose than just profits.

As the leader of the society, I aim to encourage people (with the help of my team) to do what they can for the environment by demonstrating a real passion for the cause. A good example of spreading the passion was speaking on the BBC news about our Zero Waste Christmas formal- which was incredibly exciting!

I also aim to create a vision for society and listen to the concerns of those around me of the environmental challenges they face. I love coming up with creative solutions to tackle them. For example, to tackle clothing waste we’ve run charity shop crawls and clothes swaps!

 What is your approach to leadership and teamwork?

For me, leadership is all about using the power and opportunities I am so lucky to have, to empower those around me. Being a leader provides you with so many awesome opportunities for connection. I love to listen and speak to people around me about the issues they face, giving me a chance to represent them as a group. Another huge benefit to me is the power to make a positive impact on those people through utilising those opportunities and talking to the people in charge.

My approach to teamwork is to recognise what your personal strengths and weaknesses are and then find the complementing strengths in your team. For example, I have always been good at big picture thinking but when it comes to the details of a project I tend to struggle. My secretary this year, Beth has been incredible at mapping out how events might work and noticing when a detail has been missed. I would be lost without my team and I think they know that; I try to always express gratitude when they help out no matter how big the thing they may have done is. I think feeling valued is a core component of what makes or breaks a team.


What encourages or motivates you when you face a challenge as a leader?

There are three things I think when I face a challenge as a leader.  Firstly, no one is perfect and this is an opportunity to learn and grow. There’s a lot of pressure to perform perfectly but even the best leaders make mistakes so once you take this pressure off it makes everything less scary. The second thing I tell myself is that I am doing my situational best and I can’t ask for any more than that, it’s easy to criticise yourself in hindsight but as far as I’m aware of I am not superhuman and neither is anyone else so my best is all I can ask from myself. Finally, I remind myself of all the challenges I’ve faced before.  I’ve had my fair share of tough situations and some of them I really didn’t think I could get through but here I am, smarter braver and stronger than ever. Nothing has broken me so far so bring on the challenge! 

Is there anyone who inspires you and why?

A cliché maybe, but I have incredibly unique and brave parents.

I lost my dad when I was 14 years old to a long battle with cancer. He always believed in me and used to tell me I was going to go places in life. Just before he went for a particularly bad round of chemotherapy, he went on a 6-week long leg on the Clipper Round the world sailing race (having had minimal sailing experience, who does that?!). I recently read his diary of the trip and it mentioned how scared he was but how incredible the experience was to him. It inspires me so much and reminds me that even at the scariest moments to follow your passion and embrace uncertainty.

My mum is equally amazing. She has travelled the world, living in Swaziland for the first 21 years of her life and even worked in Israel on a kibbutz with no contact with home. She raised me as a true feminist and opened my eyes to inequality between gender, encouraging me to speak my mind on it. She also raised me to be an induvial and not to worry too much about being different. In my room at home lies a quote ‘don’t be most people’ which I live by.

Whenever I feel scared or stressed about life I remember about where I came from and how wonderful and brave my parents are. Even if I only have the smallest amount of their bravery, I know I’ll be just fine no matter what comes my way.


What advice would you give to those who are considering taking on a leadership role?

DO IT! Leadership is addictive and once you have the chance to inspire, help and change the lives of those around you, you will never look back! Be ready to make mistakes though, It’s all one big learning curve.

I would also say that listening is really important to make you the best leader you can be. Listen and watch the leaders in your life you are inspired by and listen to the criticism of your own leadership skills (not always fun so take it with a pinch of salt!). 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yeah, it’s easy to get sucked into the status of being a leader but remember to keep kindness at the core of who you are and what you do. This way you will always be able to feel pride in yourself no matter what happens.