Photography by Jason Stephens

Female leaders have often been told that taking on certain male personality traits would make them better leaders. Over the years, women have been advised and encouraged to act like “men” in order to be perceived as good leaders. Traits like being authoritative, decisive, and elite are believed to be those that men in leadership positions often display and should be emulated. Today, women continue to challenge the old narrative that often says, “To be taken seriously you must lead like a man.”

The Lakelander interviewed three Lakelanders leading the way in their own authentic leadership styles within male-dominated industries, with hopes to inspire the next generation of women. 

There is a power paradigm shift allowing women to lead by embracing the personality traits that are authentic to who they are. Studies show that most women naturally lead with empathy, compassion, communication, and emotional intelligence.

With an understanding that generalizing groups of people can be inaccurate, it is important to point out that regardless of your gender there are qualities that are unique to each and every one of us, and the freedom to lean into these qualities creates great leaders.

Dr. Nicole A Hinds is a pediatrician at Lakeland Regional Health, leading within her sphere of influence. She uses her interactions with kids as an opportunity to mentor and encourage their interest in joining the medical field.

“I pursued a career in pediatrics because it warmed my heart and it filled me. I’ve always enjoyed being around children. They are fun and playful, sincere, and trusting, so I always felt this desire to help them when they’re sick,” she says.

“As a woman, you have power. This is what was instilled in me and I want to pass that on to someone else.” – Dr Nicole Hinds

Dr. Hinds is one of four daughters. Her mother was a nurse, and two of her older sisters are also doctors. With support from both of her parents who instilled courage, confidence, and the importance of humility, Dr. Hinds’ passion for patient and family education goes beyond her job requirements.

“There were obstacles in my own journey, but I am always reminded of the values my parents instilled
in me.”

Often met with students looking to pursue medicine as a career, Dr. Hinds has the opportunity to encourage them on their journey. “I want students to know that things are possible despite the obstacles that may come your way. There were obstacles in my own journey, but I am always reminded of the values my parents instilled in me, including my mother’s Bible verse quote: Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’”

In a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association, findings show that women tend to have a natural innate ability to be more nurturing because of their maternal instincts.

While there are many male doctors who are extremely empathetic and have exceptional emotional intelligence, women rank higher in these areas and tend to be better listeners. The study also reports that there is a balance to be found: creating more leadership opportunities for women in the medical field would help implement systems where their strengths can complement those of their male counterparts and essentially lower mortality rates.

“Being a female in the medical field is certainly different than being a male. Women have to prepare and think about professional goals and family planning a certain way. The industry has certainly taken huge steps toward being flexible and understanding the need to accommodate women,” says Dr. Hinds.

In his book The Big Leap, psychologist Gay Hendricks writes about the “Zone of Genius” which he defines as “everyone’s innate, natural ability,” the skills where you shine as an employee or leader. Hendricks encourages everyone to amplify what they are good at when they can.

The Zone of Genius is about identifying what comes most naturally to you, and then capitalizing on that, rather than identifying what has come naturally to other people in order to recreate their genius. To take your life or leadership to the next level, you need to find a certain level of authenticity, and that is truly what it means to find your Zone of Genius.

Although Hendricks’ theory is a more generalized theory to help individuals unlock their unleashed potential and thrive as people, it can also seamlessly help define how we embrace natural authentic leadership styles within our gender identifications.

Dr. Hinds has a passion for patient and family education, providing support to patients for lactation and breast-feeding consultations.


Over the years, Edwards has received professional awards, including the City of Lakeland Woman of the Year award, and the Florida Fire and Life Safety Educator award.

The Lakeland Fire Department is on the forefront of women making big strides in the fire service industry. Former Lakeland teacher and now 27-year member of the Lakeland Fire Department, Cheryl Edwards has worked her way up the ranks becoming the first woman in a senior leadership role at the Lakeland Fire Department. 

As the daughter of a volunteer firefighter, Edwards was inspired by her father to pursue a career in the field when the opportunity arose. 

“When I joined the Fire Department, there was one female firefighter and that was Maggie Coulson who retired three years ago just shy of her 30-year mark,” says Edwards.

Edwards not only had a goal in mind, but she also wanted to lead well and understand each person’s job on her team. “I wanted to prove myself as a fire marshal but also as a woman in the industry.”

Since 1994, Edwards has been a member of the Florida Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association.

Early on, during Edwards’ time as a public education officer, she decided she would continue her education and training to become a fire marshal. “Through the years, I became certified as a firefighter, fire instructor, fire code administrator, and fire and life safety educator.”

Two years ago, the Lakeland Fire Department’s administration, Chief Douglas E. Riley, and Janel Vasallo decided to launch Ignite the Change, an initiative that would continue to help lay the groundwork for the next generation of female emergency responders. 

Ignite the Change highlights women’s stories through a series of videos and marketing assets about becoming emergency responders and how their jobs became rewarding, lifelong careers.

“We are seeing a shift in culture, not only for female leaders but for all minorities. The workforce should be a reflection of our communities, and the way to do that is to have intentional programs and initiatives in place where people can see themselves in these roles and at these jobs,” says Edwards.


Studies show that diversity of thought opens possibilities to new views and visions that can drastically change profit margins and ideas, including architectural planning for the better. Here in Lakeland, The Lunz Group is leading the way in the architecture world. 

 Over 50% of The Lunz Group team are female, filling executive, architect, and leadership roles, including Stacy Witschen, Designer; Eden Konishi, Director of Operations; Maggie Briggs, Director of Marketing; and Carole Philipson, FACHE, Director of Business Development.

“Until we start bringing more diversity to the table, design will continue to be an echo chamber of what we’ve always known. By seeking new ideas, we learn, grow, and provide more creative solutions to problems.”
– The Lunz Group

It is said that women design differently than men, and gender inclusion on a team can result in a more well-rounded design. Women currently make up only around 28% of the STEM workforce overall and even less — 13 percent — of the engineering workforce. To help solve this problem, The Lunz Group team provides mentorship and development opportunities for its emerging female leaders. (To read more about this program, see The Lunz Group: Building A Future of Equality).

The Summit Consulting building project in downtown Lakeland is being led by a team of women at The Lunz Group.

There is often a misconception about women working in architecture and their ability to lead a project. At The Lunz Group, women have worked on, or are currently designing, some of the largest projects the firm has ever designed. They are leading not only clients but also very large teams of engineers, designers, and contractors.

“Design is an inclusive process, and when we looked around at the people at the table, we didn’t like that everyone looked the same and came from similar backgrounds. The idea was really organic. We actively sought people who brought different viewpoints to the table through life experiences, upbringing, gender, race, ethnicity.”
– The Lunz Group

Until women are represented equally across all fields, there will always be a natural sense of anxiety or feeling the need to prove oneself. With the support of employers and male and female leaders and allies, women can continue to thrive in the workplace. By empowering women to find confidence in making their voices heard, we can change the gender imbalances that exist across numerous fields.