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Ask Deborah: What Does “Feminist Leadership” Look Like?

September 1, 2015Deborah Gillis is Catalyst’s President and CEO. This month she addresses the following question from a Catalyst supporter:

I’m currently enrolled in a leadership program with Coady International Institute and the Canadian Women's Foundation. We are unpacking both the need for feminist leadership and how to operationalize this in our everyday practice. I was wondering if you could provide insight on what this looks like in practice?

Great question!

As an alumna of St. Francis Xavier University, I am very familiar with and supportive of the great work of the Coady International Institute. I also share the belief of the Canadian Women’s Foundation that “Strong leaders build strong organizations and communities.”

The Institute, which was established by St. F.X. University in 1959, is a world-renowned center for community-based development and leadership education. Its mission is to reduce poverty and transform societies by strengthening local economies, building resilient communities, and promoting social accountability and good governance. Much like Catalyst, the Coady Institute relies on research and strategic partnerships to equip both leaders and organizations with the knowledge and practical tools needed to bring about change.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve traveled the world on behalf of Catalyst is this: there is no fundamental difference between “men” leaders and “women” leaders. There are simply good leaders and bad leaders. Some of them are men, and some of them are women.

I strongly believe that the principles of “feminist leadership” can be embodied equally by women and men. And when I think about feminist leadership, I think of inclusive leadership, which Catalyst research shows is essential to unlocking innovation and better team performance.

As for what this kind of leadership looks like in practice, I like to emphasize the four behaviors our research links to inclusion: Empowerment, Accountability, Courage, and Humility. I suggest using the acronym “EACH” to help keep these traits front of mind, as in “each and every one of us” has the power to practice the art of inclusive leadership.

Practicing truly inclusive leadership is a critical goal for any organization—and it’s accessible and beneficial to both women and men. The best leaders understand that every employee has unique skills, talents, and interests, as well as different roles to play at work and in life. I believe that leaders who recognize that all women and all men deserve equal opportunities to pursue fulfilling careers and lives, and who enact the EACH behaviors to help others live up to their potential and drive meaningful change, will find the most success.

It’s easy to learn how to cultivate these behaviors. Earlier this year over 40,000 learners from 200 countries around the world, 60% of them men, enrolled in Catalyst’s first-ever open online course on inclusive leadership. Due to overwhelming demand, we enrolled nearly 18,000 additional learners, 58% of them men, when we offered the course a second time. Come October, we’ll be launching our next course on inclusive leadership and work-life effectiveness—and I’m pleased to announce that you can register for the October course today.

Whether you call it inclusive leadership, feminist leadership, or just plain smart leadership, today’s organizations need more of it—and Catalyst is here to provide advice, resources, and support.

Click here to read the last column in this series! And please send questions for Deborah to [email protected]—your question could be featured on our blog!

The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.