Women, leadership and power – IACD 2014

International Association for Community Development Conference – Glasgow 2014: Community Is The Answer
Report from a workshop – Women, leadership and power; Equalities, social justice and community development


This WomenLC6workshop, facilitated by changes/Working for Change hoped to develop some of the themes that emerged from changes’ workshop at the prior Lisbon conference, where the focus was on women and transformational leadership[1]. At the Glasgow conference, we sought to create a vibrant space to encourage challenging and insightful conversations around women, leadership and power.  We planned for group discussion, versus lecture, and ambitiously sought to address these complex questions and ideas in our brief 90 minute session.  To facilitate group discussion, we split participants into groups using fruit – pomegranates, pineapples, and grapes.

changes were pleased to support the attendance of six women at the conference from the cohort of women from the African Diaspora they were working with at the time around leadership.[2] We were excited for opportunities to have discussions around power, leadership and change; benefitting women looking to develop their leadership confidence and become more active in community, public or global life. This seemed assured, as the discussions in the leadership programme were directly related to the theme for day two of conference – harnessing the wealth of communities.  This theme complimented our collaborative efforts with our Diaspora leadership programme, offering opportunities to share experiences in the journeys and challenges faced around leadership for self, family, community and wider society.  Traditionally,  the assumed identity of a ‘leader’ is male, therefore, there are important discussions around gender and power that must accompany a process of women recognizing themselves, and being recognized as leaders (hence the term “transformative” in our session).  Freeing up the wealth that women offer their communities requires these complex discussions of gender, power, and leadership, and we focused on these ideas during our session.

A participant in the session, Lucy Mayes of Heart Works Australia, wrote a blog entry about the workshop for the September edition of the Australian Journal of Community Development.

More pointedly, we were interested in how Lucy described the discussions in the session, and the way she highlighted the visions participants had vis-à-vis the potential contributions the increased involvement of women could bring to community development:

So what, in the opinion of the pomegranates, would it look like in a world where women aren’t valued, equal and valuing themselves? It didn’t, as you would know, take too much imagination (please note, these lists came out of a five minute brainstorm with a small group of people and are only scratching the surface of where these excellent questions might take us). There would, we decided, be: breakdown of family units; family violence; stagnant development; loss of skills to society; compromised mental health, spiritual health, general health and children’s health; lack of representation and democratic c deficit; and disempowered communities. One comedian added that nothing at all would happen.

And if we (women) were more involved in creating the wealth, what might that look like? We decided there would be: more checks and balances in the system; more focus on social justice, social services, human rights and environmental protection; families and communities would be healthier physically, emotionally and spiritually; there would be more diverse economies and increased family income; balanced leadership and increased collaborative decision making; women and children would be safer; compassion and sensitivity would be given higher value; we would enjoy a more holistic world; there would be better emotional health for both men and women; and there would be a better balance between the domestic economy and the wealth economy.

Lucy speaks to the negative ways our gendered binary plays out in community development.  When one gender is pushed to an extreme, limited in how it may be expressed, the other side of that binary system is equally limited: the more women’s gendered expectations (beauty, servitude, passive behaviour) are narrowed, the more men’s oppositional gendered expectations (masculine appearance, dominance, active leadership) are narrowed as well.  In terms of leadership, the more men are pushed into the limelight as leaders, and their gendered traits valued as conditions of leadership, the more women are pushed out, and devalued when they adopt leadership behaviours.WomenLC5
It is in these ways that gender is shaped by our daily interactions, creating the context for how women, girls, men, and boys live their lives.  Strict gendered expectations limit the expressions for everyone.  Women may be left out of leadership decision-making, their needs unacknowledged.  Men who do not adopt masculine behaviour, or who show more passive traits may be limited in their communities as well.  Cultural assumptions of who is a leader, and whose voices are important to be considered, are formed with notions of gender normative behaviour.

Normative behaviour extends into issues of sexuality, race, class, and nationality.  The concept of “intersectionality” describes the dynamic that individuals may experience multiple differences that define them in cultural or social categories that are non-normative, or out of step with the most valued traits.  This could include people of colour in a society dominated by white leaders, or being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transsexual in a world defined by hetero-normativity (the assumption that all people couple with only differently sexed partners).  Minority religious practices may also be a contributor to issues of intersectionality, as a factor for exclusion, repression, or marginalization in economy, society, or community life.  As practitioners and academics in community development, the heart of our work is to recognize those differences and work toward equality, as our field understands that societies are enriched by our differences.  This is the backbone of social justice.

Developing leaders, then, becomes a process of social change – addressing social roles, conducting social activities. Leadership is not something you do by yourself – it is essentially social and interpersonal.  Creating leaders means working with people to identify their differences, honour their experiences, and teach self-awareness that allows for growth beyond social norms and expectations.  Enacting leadership within communities is a process of challenging individual view of the self, challenging other’s views, as well as challenging social views of what defines a leader. These are all foundational to creating a context for change.

Along those lines, workshop participants identified that we need the following conditions to facilitate women’s leadership development (click on photo to enlarge).


To create the conditions needed to harness the potential wealth women bring to communities and society, there is a need for individual, community and institutional responses; we have to question how we think, what we think and what we do. We all have roles to play where we can start to do things differently; in our families, community organisations and in wider institutions.

We are eager to continue these conversations by asking, how can we:

  • Engage men and women in these conversations
  • Challenge media representation of women
  • Look for alternative positive role models of active influential women
  • Encourage collaboration between men and women
  • Question structures that favour a ‘male style’ of working
  • Explore solutions and conversational styles together
  • Offer childcare and avoid token women at the table

Further, we are looking to how we can have these conversations and push these important and critical issues of gender and difference using community development processes.

[1] We aim to increase the pool of women who make a pivotal difference; women who influence change as well as inspire and support others to find their ‘leader within’. http://www.iacdglobal.org/publications-and-resources/conference-reports/lisbon-papers

[2] Funded through Common Ground Initiative https://www.gov.uk/international-development-funding/common-ground-initiative-cgi


Note on contributors

Co-authorship of this piece by:

Jill Bedford, Director changesuk

Holly Scheib, PhD MPH MSW, Director, Sage Consulting, USA

…with timely contribution from Lucy Mayes, Heart Works, Australia

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Making assertiveness work for you – an opportunity for women

Short sessions in Shrewsbury: 10am – 1pm on 23rd October, 6th November  and 20th November  2013

This set of 3 sessions will include:

  • making space for yourself
  • saying no when you want to
  • managing difficult situations
  • hearing things that are hard to hear
  • telling people things that are hard to say

There are 6 places available at £90 each. Participants will need to come to all three mornings

Please contact hello@changesuk.net to book


This is the first of changes’ mini-morsels – a series of short sessions, an informal, nice experience with a cup of tea and a biscuit!

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 Uncategorized

Women Take Part

We were delighted to receive this bit of feedback

“I have just found your women take part report. Fantastic! I am going to use it to argue for why we need a gender analysis in all we do in the Joint Forum’ and also for our service agreement with the council. The emphasis on learning about gender inequality, women centred support and the framework to overcome organisational barriers is brilliant”

Jackie Patiniotis

Joint Forum Development Worker
The Joint Forum, Liverpool

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011 Active citizenship, Equalities & Diversity

Women Take Part

New ImageIn 2007- 2008 changes undertook research for the Government Equalities Office to produce guidance on models, approaches and resources which can be used to encourage, equip and support women who are currently under represented, to become more active, both formally and informally, in governance structures and other aspects of both civic and civil life.

Here you can download:

  • Closing the Gap: executive summary
  • Closing the Gap: final report – is a report on the findings of the Women Take Part project supported by the Government Equalities Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government, highlighting what needs to be done to encourage more women to play an active role in civic and civil life.

And associated reports:

  • Women Take Part: Organisations and Structures – outlining a four-stage model of organisational journeys towards a genuine willingness to change, take risks and do things differently to increase gender parity and equality within their organisation.
  • Women Take Part: Learning, Support and Development – specific initiatives to encourage and support more women to gain the skills, knowledge and confidence to enter and stay in public life.
  • Women Take Part: Women in Governance Focus Group – hosted by the Gender and Participation Unit at Manchester Metropolitan University. The purpose of the focus group was to learn from the journeys, experiences and perceptions of women currently active in governance roles; exploring the main barriers, motivations and support women have when getting involved and becoming active in civic and civil life, and hearing participants’ ideas for ways to encourage and support other women to become more involved and take up similar roles.
  • Women Take Part: Where are all the women in the voluntary and community sector? This report is based on two focus groups, one in Bath & North East Somerset and one in Cornwall, exploring women’s involvement in small Voluntary and Community Groups. The focus groups were organised by the South West Foundation
Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Women's Journeys

This Briefing Paper summarises the WTP findings in relation to a model of women’s journeys to being active, critical citizens

Download the Women’s Journeys Briefing Paper

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 Equalities & Diversity

INSIDE/OUTSIDE women's art exhibition

An unusual show of mixed media art works reflecting the emotional, intellectual and social journeys of nine emerging artists from the Black Country and Birmingham who came together as IMPACT! ‘Women Active in Community and Public Life’ as part of the Active Learning for Active Citizenship learning programme.

This exhibition was at Bantock House, Wolverhampton in September but if you missed it don’t worry – it was hugely successful and details of the tour will be here as soon as they are known.

Artists: Pauline Callaghan, Nusrat Javaid, Nazia Kausar, Rose Busby, Shahida Chaudhry, Rani Gundhu, Sue Ralph, Rakhyia Begum, Di Drew

Coordinating artist: Sue Challis: ms.challis@btopenworld.com

A flagship Arts Council funded project

Download a copy of the Impact Evaluation report

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006 Equalities & Diversity

Women Take Part

Click here to visit our webpage hosting the Closing the gap and other women take part reports.

There is a power gap in our institutions and workplaces. Women are much less likely than men to reach the top of their professions. Only 10% of directorships of FTSE 100 companies are held by women. In today’s workplace requesting flexible working can still spell career death for many women. Instead they often have to ‘trade down’ when they take on caring roles and then lose out on the top jobs.

When it comes to political representation the situation is no better. Currently less than 20% of MPs are female, and at the current rate of change it will take up to 200 years to achieve an equal number of men and women in the Westminster Parliament.

For certain groups of women, for example ethnic minority women, their representation is even lower.The power gap needs to be closed, with true representation for all groups of women, including ethnic minority women, disabled women, lesbians, and women of all ages and faiths. Shared power would be an important sign of gender equality – it will show us that we have managed to complete the social revolution

In 2007- 2008 changes undertook research for the Government Equalities Office to produce guidance on models, approaches and resources which can be used to encourage, equip and support women who are currently under represented, to become more active, both formally and informally, in governance structures and other aspects of both civic and civil life.

This work followed on from the work that we had been involved in as part of Take Part.

Where Take Part started… In 2004 the Civil Renewal Unit (now part of the Department of Communities and Local Government) set up the Active Learning for Active Citizenship (ALAC) programme, bringing together seven regional ‘hubs’ all based on existing community learning programmes.

The hubs took very different routes to ‘citizenship learning’, yet shared similar values and principles: social justice, participation, equality, diversity and cooperation. The programmes were all about creating opportunities for people to use their knowledge and capacity to shape their lives and their communities. It is widely acknowledged that many people feel disengaged and unable to exert influence on the wider world they live in; they support democracy as a principle but do not see or feel it in action in their everyday lives.

The regional hub organisations who took part in the pilot have formed the National Take Part Network and created the Take Part Learning Framework to share their good practice and guidance for other learning providers.

changes has been involved in this work from the beginning through the West Midlands/Black Country Hub and we have produced an evaluation of our work on ‘Impact! – Women Active in Community and Public Life’ programme (available in pdf format)

The Impact Evaluation Report (8 pages; 237kb)

The Original Report on Women, Leadership, Participation & Involvement (30 pages; 928kb)

Monday, July 17th, 2006 Equalities & Diversity

Voice is back in our midst

Following our last blog post we have facilitated the Away Day. Perhaps unsurprisingly it worked really well – using Voice (a framework in the Axis of Influence series) to frame the day was fantastic and we had forgotten how enjoyable it is – so very rewarding. its flexible

Voice took about 3 years to develop in full and there was a great deal of agony in its development, as we tried to get it ‘right’. It has all paid off – it is so easy to use and the outcomes are really heart-warming.

So – what difference does it make?

  • For a start off – it is all there – it is all written up with suggested discussion points and suggested/example activities – so all you need to do is pick and choose the bits that are appropriate for the event you are facilitating. We always reckon it takes about the same amount of time to plan a facilitated session as it does to deliver this so having the Voice Resource pack at hand more than halved that time to plan.
  • Secondly it gave a real coherence to the programme, forcing a focus on developing the group to influence – everything they do is about influence and it is so easy to get caught up in the distinct parts e.g. developing a communication strategy or developing a promotions strategy. Using the Steps in Voice these tasks happen but there is a subtle difference in the way we look at it – the starting point. For example – we wanted to start talking about how we would go about developing a promotional strategy. The temptation here is to start thinking about the different methods of promotion: magazines, websites, social media, leaflets, radio etc etc. Voice took us a different route – Step 9 ‘Know How to influence’ suggests that we look at the different ways in which influence happens – more subtly – through:

1.Whispering – in the ears of influential people – private discussions which represent issues,
opinion and priorities through a more influential other.
2. Shouting – which could be about passion, bullying or frustration. It is not usually viewed as
an effective form of influence but it can reap rewards
3. Negotiating – this is about sitting around the right ‘table’ (where relevant discussions are
happening and decisions being made) at the right time, having all the information, skills and
organisation you need in order to be an equal.
4. Taking action – encouraging members to play active roles which are related to and which
highlight the issues.
5. Being part of a bigger network – joining with others, for example Neighbourhood Watch
benefits from an even wider network – it is part of national neighbourhood watch and
receives support, information and greater strength in numbers.
6. Shaming – drawing attention to poor decision making or embarrassing those who are not
listening or taking account of people’s views
Extract from Voice Resource Pack Part 2 – in the Axis of Influence series, changes 2009

Internal externalFrom this point, we could start to think about examples in the room and start discussing which are most appropriate for the group – and when – and why. From this point it becomes pretty apparent which methods might be most effective with different audiences. It was a challenging and very enjoyable way to do it!

So – our Voice resources are dusted off and sitting in the middle of the changes office once more. Needless to say this has spurred us on and they will be back in action this weekend at our residential ‘ Women, leadership & Change’ programme.

We are quite excited to recall that we trained about 1000 people to work with Voice – many have changed jobs, changed sector and been made redundant and the momentum for Voice, along with a huge amount of great work, was lost. Perhaps now is the time to start feeding it in again, to nudge and remind people about this and other fabulous resources designed to challenge the power differential between communities and the state – between the voluntary sector and the state – and between communities and the voluntary sector.

Since our last blog we have gently started reintroducing Voice as a subject for discussion and consideration. This is a continuance of that.

We have always said that people need facilitation skills and proper training to work with Voice – we still believe this. Long ago we made the first part of the Resource Pack available to download for free – have a look

  • Handy Guide – Part 1 of the Voice Resource Pack – this provides the basics of Voice so you can have a go with it. If you want to do more, orResource pack use it in different ways, then we strongly advise that you get in touch with us to discuss how – we have been developing some useful resources.

If you are interested in reading more about Voice then check out these articles:

changes offers a specific course to help local people with facilitation skills who are already working with groups to learn how to work with Voice. We call this ‘Voice facilitator training’ and we are the only providers. The course is complemented by a comprehensive resource pack and networking opportunities.

We also offer training in facilitation skills – get in touch!

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Thursday, November 20th, 2014 Community development, Community influence

Our thanks

We have recently run a crowd-funding project (our first) to raise money for us to support women from our latest learning programme to go to New Imagethis year’s International Association for Community Development Conference which takes place in Glasgow. Our WeFund ‘Supporting Women from African Diaspora Communities’ project did not make its target amount – partly because it was so clunky to use. Happily all our pledgers have found other ways to contribute.

We are massively grateful to the people who have given. They are:

Paola Alessandri-Gray
Nick Beddow
Claus Best
Community Sector Coalition
Jan Francis
Jane Gormley
Betty Halford
Norma Hampson
Barbara Phillips
Peter Roscoe
Annie Ingold
Peter Taylor
Kathy Watson
Anne Wignall
Ann Wishart

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Active citizenship – how does that happen?

Here is some feedback from participants on our Take Part (Active Citizen) Learning Programme – for me it makes a strong case for recognising the particular skills needed to really make a difference in our current climate of localism – how to make the best of it. All of this has come back a bit since a recent visit to Holland to discuss Democratic Dialogue. The programme has been run very successfully with women who are interested in becoming more active in community (and public) life. It consists of 9 days, a residential and ‘field visits’ to the House of Commons and, where the budget is available, a valuable trip to the European Parliament in Brussels.

We asked participants what they had learned during the Take Part Programme, this gives a better overview of the course than we could ever hope to do!

Looking at our own communities and how we can become involved, standing up for them and making them better for everyone. This helped me to identify my own self in the community and how I can play a part in influencing the decision making process to my area a better place to live. Also how important citizenship is, how we are all part of ‘it’ and identifying what we are in our community (and country) and what role we have to play. This made me realise that I didn’t want to be an individual or active citizen, but a critical citizen, I feel that I want to stand up and make my voice heard and to play a part, collectively, in the decision making process.

I now know how important human rights legislation is and how it is able to stand up for everybody, regardless of who they are. How different charters of rights can be so different and also similar.

The course helped me to become a better communicator – realising where my weaknesses were and working on them and turning them into strengths. I said at the beginning of the course (I think even at the taster session) that I felt uncomfortable being a communicator, although I did identify my weakness of being too self-critical – always thinking that people listening to me were trying to find fault when really they were just listening. I believe that my communication skills have improved as the course progressed.

In group working I felt more confident as the course went on, being part of a group made me realise that each member is equal and we should encourage others to get involved and recognise and accept each other’s point of view. This became more apparent at the residential when we did a lot of work as small groups, identifying leadership and making group decisions, and how to work together. The ‘fantasy island’ exercise was a good example. Although this was great fun it had a serious side as it taught us how we would need to produce outcomes with limited resources by making collective decisions.

I know and understand more about becoming involved in making decisions and, in this session I identified 2 local organisations who I felt fitted into the examples given to us. The ‘X’ I considered was ‘The Clique’; and the ‘Y’ was the ‘Silent Consensus’ as I am a member of the ‘Y’ I now know that I have my part to play in making this group more influential and more forward thinking!

I am more aware of the structures of accountability in decision making (although some of those structures have already been abolished by the coalition government). I was surprised at how many levels there were and, at the bottom, what a long way up you have to go to influence more. One way of doing this effectively was by lobbying which I learned during the session on parliament. It was during this session when we watched live on TV at the case involving MPs and Lords being investigated for expense claims. I also found very interesting the relationship with the Houses of Commons and Lords and the Monarch – how this relationship had developed over time and how they are involved in the law-making process.

I also learned about leadership skills, what makes a good leader, how to be effective in leading a team, treating the group with respect and gaining respect in the process. This made me realise that being a leader isn’t about giving out orders but more about a leader of a group encouraging consensus, formulating decision making and standing by the decisions made and being supportive of the group.

I have appreciated during the course the importance of equality and equal rights. I have covered in my work this subject fairly well, but again this is something that I hadn’t asked myself about before and has made me realise how important this topic is within my community and beyond.

I believe, therefore, that I have become better equipped to enable me to be a better citizen. I have more understanding since I began the course and I have appreciated the way I have been encouraged to consider how I fit within the big picture that has become my community, country and the world”.

You can read more about our thinking on active citizenship here

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Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 Active citizenship