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Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations
Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations

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5 Leadership traits and Camila: a critique

Some of these issues with leadership were certainly highlighted by Camila Batmanghelidjh during the 2015 problems with Kids Company. In a revealing and compelling BBC documentary, directed and produced by Lynn Alleway (Camila’s Kids Company, 2016), Batmanghelidjh casts her problems as partially concerned with racist and sexist sentiment. ‘I’m going to be entirely Persian about it [attempts to remove her as the Kids Company chief executive]. I’m going to smile and accept my place as a woman on the sides, not knowing how to run a business’, Batmanghelidjh says mischievously towards the beginning of the troubles.

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Figure 4 Weighing the gender balance

Indeed, to the casual British viewer Batmanghelidjh might well cast something of a counter-cultural leader-figure. For one, she is open in displaying her affection to staff and clients. She expresses her ‘love’ of certain clients and in fact love was taken as being a core value of Kids Company. As Batmanghelidjh explained to Glamour magazine in 2015, when recruiting staff, she:

[looks] for a capacity to love. I’m interested in their relationships with their parents, their loved ones, their friends. I also look for a quirky talent or gift – one of my best hires used to be the number one rollerblader in Italy. I look at individual presence and their humanity. I’m not interested in skills – you can teach those. In key workers, I’m interested in people with an ability to love.

(Alexander, 2015)

In the Alleway documentary she openly expresses her love for her staff, greeting them with refrains of ‘lovelies’ and ‘darlings’.

The inferences of the documentary and Batmanghelidjh are clear. Precisely the traits attributed to her in positive terms when people were keen to celebrate her organisation’s successes were now portrayed as negative characteristics in times of failure.

Does Batmanghelidjh’s view that she is a victim of sexism hold weight against evidence within the sector? The 2016 National Council for Voluntary Organisations UK Civil Society Almanac (National Council for Voluntary Organisations, 2016) demonstrates that there continue to be more women employed in the voluntary sector than men (66 per cent against 34 per cent). In Scotland, SCVO’s State of the Sector report [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] reports that 70.6% of the Third Sector Workforce is female (SCVO, 2020). Evidence from 2012 indicated that women occupied 46 per cent of chief executive roles in UK voluntary organisations overall, whereas ‘just 27% of chief executives of [major] charities with an annual turnover of £10m plus [were] women, and in the top 100 charities by income there [were] just 26 women chief executives in post’ (Lewis, 2012, p. 4).

More recently, the ACEVO Pay and Equalities Survey, carried out across the UK, reports that ‘the number of female CEOs (responding to the survey) has increased again from 57% in 2017 to 63% in 2018. This is at odds with many surveys looking at the largest charities by income but suggests that there are a large number of women leading small and medium-sized charities’ (ACEVO, 2019). The survey results highlighted that Scotland COs are more likely to be female (58%) compared to England COs (54%). However, only 22% of the overall sample (115 responses) came from COs of organisations based in Scotland, and due to this relatively small sample size, the interpretation of differences should be treated with caution. It is also important to note, that Scottish survey respondent organisations were more weighted towards small charities than the overall sample taken across the UK. Of the Scottish respondent organisations, 70% had a turnover of under £1m, 20% at £1–5m and 10% over £5m, and 3% had an income of over £15m.

Comparatively, the UK voluntary sector tends to come close to the public sector in terms of gender balance but remains far ahead of the private sector: the sector certainly suffers from some problems of gender inequality but these seem less pronounced than other sectors. That said, problems clearly do exist in the sector. We might note that counting the numbers of women in senior positions is only one indicator of sexism and that it is harder to account for women’s experiences of more everyday, casual sexism. Sexism remains a big problem for UK society as a whole and it should therefore not be a surprise that women in the sector face discrimination, as do women in all sectors of UK public and private life.