How can female business leaders develop their resilience? This was a question Sheridan Resolutions and Julie Courtney asked a number of senior women at a fascinating lunch held recently. Two important themes emerged from the stories our guests told us. Firstly, in spite of the widespread use of the term “resilience”, it clearly means very different things to different people. And secondly, whichever their preferred definition, many women leaders are still struggling to maintain, let alone develop, their own resilience.

Firstly, what does resilience really mean? In a narrow scientific sense, it means those materials with the capacity to return to their original shape after being bent or stretched. Over time, the definition has itself been stretched to include people. And with it, the expectations placed upon the power of resilience at work have grown:  Justin Haroun, founder of University of Westminster’s Centre for Resilience, for example, sees resilience as “an ability to bounce forward”.

Whether resilience allows us to remain unaffected by pressure or become even better than before, the reality is that many women in business are struggling to match up to either definition. Women have had to demonstrate more resilience than men in the past, simply to overcome challenges to their participation in the workplace. Now some find themselves as the main breadwinner in their households. Workplace attitudes, however, lag behind this new reality and the difficulty many women find in communicating and shaping culture in their favour only adds to a sense of struggle.

Perhaps the route map to resilience requires a new evolution in our thinking. Much of the attention around resilience rightly focuses on the efforts of individuals, on their need to take care of their own health and wellbeing and achieve a delicate balance of their work and home priorities. This is of course vital, but to achieve a higher and sustained level of resilience, women may now also need to do more to support each other, both within and across businesses. At Sheridan Resolutions, we believe that at least some of the “resilience gap” currently felt by women leaders can be bridged through the growth of facilitated networks of mutual support, coaching and mentoring.  It is vital that some women take a proactive approach to giving and seeking support, to reinforce resilience in each other as well as developing it within themselves.