Leadership artistry with Gill Gatfield

There needs to be something for the eye, the hand, the heart, and the head’ is the quote on the inside cover of Gill Gatfield’s book Abstract Figure – a monograph of her art theory and practice, and a statement that neatly encapsulates Gill’s leadership approach.

A Global Women member, Gill held the floor at a recent Breakthrough Leaders Workshop, where she spoke about her leadership journey and how she has integrated art with all facets of her life. Gill gave those at the Breakthrough Leaders Workshop a precious window into her world and how she navigates leadership.


Multi-disciplinary career

In the past eighteen years, Gill has earned an international reputation as a sculptor having already forged high-powered careers in both business and law reform. After working in legal practice, NGOs and central government as a senior advisor on human rights law, Gill founded and directed Equity Works Ltd., advising private and public sector organisations on equality and diversity strategies.

She then made the decision to immerse herself fully in her artistic pursuits, and while it may seem her career has jumped from one end of the spectrum to the other, Gill says the disciplines of law, business and art have more in common than you might think. “Invention, flexibility and diversity are cornerstones in all fields of work”.

“My career shifts involved a change of form and medium, not a change in message.”

Gill’s artwork is exhibited in sculpture symposiums, galleries, museums and universities, and held in collections in New Zealand and around the world, including at the gateway to Smales Farm and in the atrium of Spark NZ.

She recently constructed a giant black granite sculpture, The Kiss, in Denmark and was artist in residence at the Danish Women’s Museum during their national suffrage centenary.

Disruptive and constructive

In art and law, Gill describes her approach as being both disruptive and constructive. Her artworks aim to challenge and enrich. She is focused on affecting positive change through the mechanism of cultural capital.

“Cultural capital is the intrinsic value attached to an object or an idea, for example a public artwork. This cultural value is not a balance sheet item but has immense worth. Cultural capital is a powerful way of expressing who we are and what we believe in,” Gill says.

Realm of ideas

Gill works in the realm of ideas. She imagines, initiates and realises ambitious projects which involve high levels of invention and risk. She describes her approach as being open to ‘failure’. “I do not see my effort as resulting in failure. I see it resulting in things I’ve learned.”


Work-life balance

“Work-life balance is a life-long equation. I try to focus on the quality not quantity of time spent with family and friends. Placing too much emphasis on the notion of balance can give grounds for guilt.  Balance doesn’t need to be perfect.”


Tips for breakthrough leaders

  • Be creative. Next time you are presenting a new idea, use an object or a visually powerful image to convey your message.
  • Trust your instincts. Ask the hard questions.
  • The personal is political. Stone-wall moments that stop you in your tracks will often have a political message. The political is collective, take strength from that and act.
  • Power is subjective. No one owns power. Take it, use it, enjoy it and be good with it.


The Breakthrough Leaders Programme is one of Global Women’s key initiatives, comprised of 11 months of intensive workshops and one-to-one executive coaching.

First launched in 2010, the programme is tailored for senior women across various sectors, to develop the breakthrough thinking and being that drives exceptional leadership performance in executive leadership teams, governance roles and wider spheres for economic and social impact.

Now involving almost 40 women each year, the programme has helped more than 120 alumni into significant executive positions, to start companies of their own, or to move to senior positions abroad.

For more information on the Breakthrough Leaders Programme click here.