Unit 1: Leadership skills required for safeguarding


1.8 Leadership styles: the case for feminist leadership

There are many leadership and management styles available for organisations to adopt, but which styles or skills have a particular resonance with effective leadership in relation to safeguarding?

Research stemming from the education sector (Strachen, 1999) has identified a number of features of leadership primarily associated with women leaders, which have come to be categorised as ‘feminist’.

Definitions of what constitutes a ‘feminist leadership style’ vary, but they share some fundamental points including:

  • Cooperation instead of competition.
  • A belief in shared leadership.
  • An emphasis on the emotional and physical wellbeing of all staff.
  • An emphasis on shared power.
  • A recognition of the role of power.

This last point – the recognition of the role of power – is perhaps the most important, as it means that the focus is not just on the position of women but a whole range of ways in which power is relevant in the intersection of race, social class, gender, and sexual orientation. It is also the focus on power that makes this approach to leadership so relevant to safeguarding:

Implementing a ‘feminist’ leadership style is more than simply placing more women at the top (although this is a helpful step) as it is not a guaranteed indicator that an organisation has a particular leadership style. Both men and women leaders could perpetuate patriarchal structures if they benefit from positions of power and authority or feel they need to adopt the prevailing leadership culture to be accepted and retain their positions of power.

Equally while these principles may be a greater challenge for organisations where men have historically dominated the management hierarchy it is important to stress that Men are equally capable of deploying elements of a feminist leadership style – such as sharing power and challenging their own behaviour. Labelling this collection of leadership features as feminists is therefore not intended to be divisive by setting supposedly male and female approaches to leadership against each other, it is just acknowledging the perspective from which they have arisen.

You can see slightly different versions of the ‘top principles’ of feminist leadership in the readings below, which report on how some aid organisations (including those who had been the subject of the critical reports as we have already discussed) have been exploring this idea.

Activity 1.3 Feminist principles and safeguarding practice.

Read these three short articles of feminist leadership principles and reflect of the questions that follow.

How ActionAid implemented feminist leadership principles

ActionAid: How we practise feminism at work

Feminist Principles

  • Can you identify at least two examples of how any of the principles of feminist leadership might help you support good safeguarding practices in your organisation?
  • What would be the likely cultural or other barriers to implementing some of these principles?

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Want to find out more?

For another resource on different leadership styles, follow the link below: