Feb 14, 2022 | FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders

What does Leading for Change look like?

What does #LeadingForChange actually look like? On Thursday 10 February, we hosted a Twitter chat to further explore the themes in our new publication, Leading for Change: Case studies from organisations committed to gender equality, with contributors as well as other change-makers in the sector. 

Here are some of the key takeaways.

Gather data (in all its forms)

Data isn’t only numbers – it also involves working to understand the experiences of the communities you aim to serve or recruit. Skateistan, who discuss implementing their ‘girls first’ policy in their case study, discussed the importance of identifying barriers for recruiting your target group:


"Important to look at barriers as well as perks. Especially when hiring in different contexts. Do we really understand the barriers that women might face in each context that we’re working? Do we analyse why we might get fewer female applicants than we were hoping for?"

WeMove Europe, who identified diversity in their team as a blind spot, also recommended taking stock of your network and who you’re involving or inviting first as a first step to diversifying your organisation:

A5 Definitely #diversity in the @wemoveEU team. First next step is to partner up with and support more organisations that are addressing diversity in power in #Europe. Both because that matters and because we need to connect with and widen out our community #leadingforchange

For EngenderHealth, improving recruitment was not a one-time affair, but involves regular monitoring:

"We conduct annual pay gap analyses for gender & race/ethnicity to evaluate ourselves in terms of the balance of our staff. Reviewing our data annually helps us continue improving policies, procedures & practices to become a more inclusive organization."

Changing an organisation takes an organisation

When it comes to the question of staff-led, volunteer initiatives – like the Care International Gender Network, which Head of Gender and Inclusion Kassie McIlvaine discusses in CARE’s Leading for Change case study – there was some consensus: these can serve an important role, but ultimately, senior management needs to be on board if you want to see fundamental shifts. 

We established informal self-organised learning sessions/discussions on a specific topic every month. The informality of the format may not be suitable for everyone, especially in times of remote working. But give it a try!

Leila Billing: A2) There are some beautiful examples of how people of colour have self-organised to push for greater progress on anti-racism in their organisations. However, collective action is sometimes perceived as threatening & these groups may be encouraged to 'dilute' their work

Article19: For us teams within any organisation can decide to function in a more equitable and diverse way; however, sustainable and broad change will only happen when the whole organisation begins to implement such changes too!

Self organised change like adapting to #coleadership as a model for #FeministLeadership seems to be gaining ground but it's impact is limited if the hierarchies and oppression in the org are not addressed . #LeadingForChange means cocreating the vision and not just positions

Making decisions differently

Which brings us to the next theme: co-leadership and other ‘unconventional’ decision-making structures. Deconstructing traditional hierarchies – and building something new in their place – takes time, effort and more than just implementing a co-leadership model at the very top. 

As Leila Billing (We are Feminist Leaders) pointed out, and Gemma Graham (former co-CEO of Restless Development) agreed, for models like co-leadership to be truly transformative, we must question our understanding of what a leader is, rather than simply adding another one:

Gemma Graham: Challenging my own view of what a "leader" is / should be was an interesting part of the co-leadership pilot - and I was starting from the point of aiming to be a feminist leader

The process towards shifting power this way may also get messy – but that’s part of the process, the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Feminism and Gender Democracy Global Unit pointed out:

It takes time to implement the concept of shared power in an otherwise traditional setting. Roles, responsibilities, objectives and the “big picture” might get mixed up, unclear and blurry – at least for a while. 

And this takes the bravery to sometimes rethink the entire structure:

Skateistan: We have to be brave if we really want to make this change. That means actually handing over power and decision making. Skateistan removed all ‘international’ staff from our Skate Schools in 2018, so that the skate schools are completely locally led.

 #COLEADERSHIP models in feminist spaces without enabling the system to change the lone leader image can have a disastrous impact on the leaders and systems.

But the good news is, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the radical overhaul you may think it is – find ways to make it manageable and functional for your purposes!

Remember that feminist decision making doesn’t have to be decision by large committee every time. You still need a system that allows you to be accountable and true to your mission – too unwieldy a process won’t allow you to do that.

CEO Laura Sullivan shared that WeMove worked with an organisation called The Hum to review their decision-making processes – check out their Toolbox for Self-organising Teams here!

Invest in mentorship (and let it go both ways)

There also seems to be growing momentum around mentorship – though it wouldn’t be Feminist Leadership if we didn’t talk about shifting the traditional power dynamics:

co-mentorship programs - in @CAREWARegion we have a youth network that created a program pairing younger with older colleagues so they would both learn from each other

For one, we believe experienced leaders can build and participate in mentorship programmes. In addition, more experienced leaders must also make room for younger voices as soon as they have the opportunity.

Single best thing to do is to #mentor. Many are scared of this because of the cost. But lots can be done either inside (larger) organisations matching more and less experienced people (i benefitted from this at previous employer @actionaid) or inside ngo networks

Shout-out to Zahara’s Dream and CREA for their work in this area – who else is working on Feminist Mentorship? Let us know: hello@fairsharewl.org 

Just get started

One last word of wisdom? Whatever it is you want to do, just get started. Not every detail has to be worked out to set a process in motion that could ultimately transform your organisation for the better.

“Take one step to positively disrupt the status quo in the interest of equity & it will reveal other opportunities for change.”

And don’t forget to celebrate successes along the way!

Small yet deliberate actions add up. We regularly meet to share updates from across the organisation where space is made for people at every level to showcase their work and successes.

Want to learn more about how organisations are #LeadingForChange? Check out the case studies to hear their experiences, insights and advice!

The case studies are from organisations who have made the FAIR SHARE Commitment to achieve gender equality in their leadership by 2030 and participate in the annual FAIR SHARE Monitor. Learn more on that here.