The following is one of six case studies on Feminist Leadership from the FAIR SHARE team in our latest publication Leading for Change. Explore the rest as well as 10 case studies from Committed Organisations.
When I came across the job advertisement for my current position at FAIR SHARE, a particular combination of words stuck out to me: “feminist start-up.” This seemed like a contradiction; I always associated start-ups with for-profit enterprises, hypermasculine culture and lots of material perks paired with the expectation of going above and beyond.
Of course, what was meant was simply that this was a young organisation, founded just over two years ago, and it was therefore in that unpredictable and exciting phase of getting off the ground. In my work contract, I did notice it said that overtime may be required and would not be compensated. I clarified with the executive director—if we worked extra, we could take time off, right? She assured me that this was indeed the case.
At some point, however, the cracks in this informal understanding started to surface. During a particular busy period leading up to the launch of our annual FAIR SHARE Monitor, some colleagues indeed went above and beyond, working at night and on weekends. When the time came to ask for compensation, it became clear that much had been left up to interpretation and we were not quite all on the same page.
When we agreed that we should discuss this open question, I didn’t anticipate how intense and emotional the conversation would be. While we all believed in the work and wanted to give it our best, some of us prioritised personal boundaries, while others felt responsible for the sustainability of the organisation. What was a normal and healthy working habit for one person signified a lack of trust for another. At times it seemed like we were on such different wavelengths that the idea of a compromise or solution felt far off.
Fortunately, an experienced facilitator in our network volunteered to support us through the process. She introduced us to different decision-making approaches from “executive decision without consultation” to “decision by consensus” and the many variants in between. She also developed our input and ideas into different options for how we could proceed with our overtime dilemma. Over the course of two meetings, we came to a decision by anonymously measuring our resistance to the different options. A clear winner emerged: rather than overtime based on metrics (I worked X hours overtime, therefore I’ll take X hours off), each team member is now allotted two compensation days per quarter, which can be taken at the individual’s discretion and be accrued into the next quarter. We plan to debrief the process in an upcoming team meeting and have also set a first evaluation for next summer.
But an equally important moment for me came before the voting itself. We first talked in pairs about what a “good solution” is and concluded that it’s not just about everyone getting what they want. A good solution can also mean that everyone feels heard, involved and a part of the team; that the decision leaves the room and is actually implemented, that no one is totally unhappy and even that something new is created.
So yes, we came to a decision about overtime. But we also learned something about how we can make decisions together, what those processes may require in terms of energy and support and what we should actually aim for. And we now have an opportunity to unlearn internalised ideas about meritocracy and who has “earned” or “deserves” what. And that’s what it means to me when people say Feminist Leadership is not about quick fixes. Feminist Leadership means taking the time to grasp things by the roots, pull them up and see what we can learn.
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