Women represent the majority of the international social impact sector’s workforce – yet they don’t even make up half of management teams and supervisory boards. This specific manifestation of inequality is what FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders was founded to address.
However, we know that simply putting more women at the top is not going to achieve all the necessary change in our leadership and organisational cultures. That’s why we believe Feminist Leadership is the other crucial piece of the puzzle. To foster more inclusive workplaces and equitable collaborations, we have to fundamentally transform how we work by bringing feminist values and practices into our systems and processes.
But we also know that there is no shared, universal definition of ‘feminism’. When we launched a survey about our idea to build a Feminist Leadership hub, we were flooded with responses from trolls who identified as feminists but took issue with our use of the term ‘gender’ in the survey as well as the option to indicate pronouns. These trolls insisted that feminism is a movement to counter “sex-based oppression”; that is, the oppression of cis women.
At the same time, we were receiving feedback that there was a lack of clarity on whether or not we agreed with this stance. We have always explicitly defined women as anyone who identifies as such rather than in relation to sex assigned at birth. And, while not an area of our work, we recognise that trans people of all genders face additional layers of discrimination and harm in the workplace that cis women do not. Nevertheless, factors like our name (“women leaders”) as well as the initial survey design and presentation of the FAIR SHARE Monitor could indeed suggest that we define feminism narrowly in relation to women – overlooking the expansiveness of gender and reality of gender non-confirming, gender-fluid and nonbinary people at best; actively rejecting the validity of their existence and struggle at worst.
Indeed, the FAIR SHARE Monitor survey has historically only asked for data on the number of women and men on staff and in leadership. Back in 2019, when FAIR SHARE was set up against the background of appalling reports of sexual abuse in large civil society organisations, the focus was tracking the representation of people who identify as women. Since then, we have begun collecting data on Black, Brown, Indigenous women and women of colour as a first step towards making the Monitor more intersectional.
We don’t want to contribute to a world in which the gender binary is considered universal and “normal”, where trans and nonbinary people are overlooked, erased and not considered important enough to include in feminist pursuits. While the focus of the FAIR SHARE Monitor will remain on the representation of women, and further developing our intersectional approach to that category, starting with this year the FAIR SHARE Monitor will include a third gender option to reflect employees who don’t identify as men or women.
At the same time, we are aware of the limiting and discriminatory nature of the legal gender status in official documents, on which we currently base our data collection. This is reinforced by the fact that our survey is sent to employers rather than employees – meaning that, in most cases, HR reports the gender distribution of staff based on legal documents. Ideally, the survey would be sent out directly to employees, who could then anonymously state their actual gender identity, which might differ from their legal gender status. Changing one’s gender legally is not possible in all countries, and often perpetuates harmful ideas of gender – such as requiring psychological evaluation or medical transition – even in those countries where it is possible.
That’s why we have also added a field to the survey asking for the number of people whose gender identity differs from their legal gender status, if this data is available (i.e. voluntarily shared by staff with their employers). In doing so, we intend to draw attention to the restrictions and assumptions that trans and non-binary people are dealing with every day and help create more space for them to become visible in their workplaces if they so choose.
In the process leading up to these decisions, we spoke with representatives of organisations fighting for trans and nonbinary rights here in Germany as well as international Committed Organisations. We received support for this proposal as well as concerns: not all nonbinary staff will necessarily be able to, want or feel comfortable to share this information with their employers. And despite the fact that the data is anonymised, for small organisations, it could be possible for others to try to guess who identified as nonbinary – which, in some countries, is treated as a crime.
To address these privacy and safety risks and protect the anonymity of the non-binary colleagues, we will only publish an organisation’s share of non-binary staff members when an organisation has a certain number of employees. Given that leadership teams tend to consist of fewer people, we will not break down the share of non-binary colleagues for individual organisations, but rather calculate averages for the entirety of the sample. Maintaining the safety of nonbinary people is a priority and we will continue to discuss potential risks and ways to mitigate them with the experts in our community throughout the process: data collection, analysis of results and, of course, before publication. Furthermore, we will evaluate this Monitor cycle and have our learnings and external feedback guide the way for future iterations.
Progress is rarely simple or straightforward. As we noticed when we began collecting data on BIWoC, it takes time for organisations to consider how they want to incorporate and respond to new prompts in the Monitor survey – prompts which we hope can lead to reflection, discussion, and ultimately organisational change. In this case, privacy and safety concerns are rightfully at the forefront. But just as our community has pushed us to look at ourselves and our work critically, we hope to now play a small part in pushing the sector towards recognising, caring for and protecting its trans and nonbinary staff.
As always, we welcome your questions, comments and feedback. Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org