With women under-represented in the sector’s leadership roles, fundraising and strategic philanthropy consultant and trainer, Simona Biancu of ENGAGEDin explores the need for more feminist leadership, stressing the importance of involving everyone – regardless of gender – in the drive for change.
As I sat down to write this blog, thinking about the need for a more feminist approach within nonprofits, the latest findings from the Fair Share Monitor 2021 landed on my desk, emphasising that women are still heavily under-represented in leadership roles in the sector.
Among the 56 high profile civil society organisations included in the monitor, almost two thirds (63%) of staff are women, and yet, women make up less than half of the leadership roles (46%). Even in a sector that is considered to be fair – and perhaps especially in this sector – the truth is that there is a lot of work to be done before we have a more equal balance of gender and power.
In my view, that growth will only come with clearer understanding of the vital role that women play in civil society and philanthropy and why it is so important that we create more opportunities for women to progress. We need clearer understanding too around what a feminist approach to leadership looks like and why nonprofits would benefit from it.
This is vital not only to enable our profession to be more representative and fair, but to ensure that the leadership traits associated with feminism – greater inclusivity, empathy and a more collective approach – become more widespread.
Too often, feminism is thought of as a topic for women or is confused with the concept of ‘by women and for women’. But it is not as simple a matter as gender. Thinking of feminist issues simply as being related to women creates a closed perimeter within which to confine thought, action and vision – a ‘pinkification’ of philanthropy, as Beth Breeze, researcher and director of the Global Challenges Doctoral Center at the University of Kent (UK), would describe it.
A feminist is someone who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes, regardless of their gender. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her book of the same title: We Should All Be Feminists. And to improve understanding, we need to promote discussion and debate – all of us – encouraging everyone to participate in the drive for change.
Opening up debate
Just a few weeks ago, we held the first Nonprofit Women Camp here in Italy. Led by 4 brilliant fundraising leaders, 250 women and men joined the 3-day virtual camp. It offered a leadership masterclass, workshops and talks exploring everything from charitable giving to community action, philanthropy to fundraising, communication and change.
Most importantly, it created a safe space to explore the issues surrounding women and feminism in philanthropy. Every session came from the starting point of what it means for women and encouraged people to consider each issue from a feminist viewpoint. And it’s this type of event and forum that is so critical if we are to tackle so many misunderstandings around what a feminist viewpoint entails.
Women and men both need to be part of this shift, and to inspire the characteristics and thinking that are more prominent within a feminist leadership style.
In my view, feminist thinking is not just inclusive and empathetic. It is upstream, it can draw communities together and identify new ways of working and new solutions.
The Fair Share of Women Leaders describes feminist leadership as “transformative, intersectional, collective, power-critical and a journey”. (You can read more in my interview with their co-founder Helene Wolf here). And this approach appeals to feminist philanthropists who are looking to connect with organisations and causes that correlate to their ideals and their way of thinking. But how can we bring about this change and inspire a more feminist approach to leadership and philanthropy?
Certainly, we should be making space for more women leaders and creating more opportunities for discussion. Within our own organisations, we should be asking ourselves how feminist leadership and philanthropy is perceived. Is it fully understood and how will we promote more feminist thinking? What opportunities can we create to further discussion and debate?
What feminist leadership traits should we be aspiring towards? And are we paying enough attention to wider issues of diversity? How can we give more weight to inclusion across our organisations and communities? What role can each of us play to make this happen?
There is no simple answer to these questions and everyone’s approach is likely to differ. But this reflection is intended to be an invitation to everyone to share thoughts, visions and discussion on the subject. So, I ask you to join the debate and feel free to share your thoughts with me.
About Simona Biancu
Fundraising and strategic philanthropy consultant and trainer, Simona is founder and CEO of ENGAGEDin, vice-president of the Italian Association of Fundraisers (ASSIF) and a board member of both EFA and the European Lung Foundation. With a post-graduate Masters in Fundraising at Università di Bologna, she has more than 10 years’ experience of fundraising strategy, major gifts, individual and corporate fundraising, strategic philanthropy with trusts and foundations, legacies and board development. She is a regular speaker and trainer, presenting at conferences in Italy and internationally. She has co-authored Board in prima fila (2020), which focuses on Board development, and the blog Welcome on Board. Simona is also a proud member of the AFP International Development Forum.
Follow Simona on LinkedIn.
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