How feminist leadership can help us in times of crisis

The COVID-19 crisis is hugely challenging but feminist leadership can get us through, says Christina Lewis.

It was only a matter of months ago that my life was as it always has been. Then, enter COVID-19.

I’m so proud to be a woman in a leadership position in the development sector, however I had no idea that my leadership was soon to be tested beyond my wildest thoughts.

I was quickly playing a leadership role through a crisis with constant conflicting priorities between my children and my job – both of which I love dearly.

I’m lucky enough to be able to work from home, as is my husband, yet I am also expected to be homeschooling my children whilst working full time. We’re also cleaning and organising the house, tidying up constantly (no mean feat whilst we’re here all day, every day) and servicing the constant demand for food

Whoever decided that parents can work from home and homeschool their child – probably wasn’t the primary caregiver in their household.

The tension between work and family life has never been so apparent as all my insecurities about being a working Mum have been brought to the surface. I have taken Zoom calls whilst changing a nappy or cooking fish fingers and pasta. I feel guilty about not giving my children healthy home cooked food and not spending time with them.

But then I feel guilty towards my work as now more than ever my role is tested to take care of all our people during a time of crisis. The guilt cuts both ways and doesn’t let up.

This is the guilt that often makes parents – mainly women – feel that they are failing in all areas of life. Feeling like you’re not enough. So you work. You work really hard. Until you’re tired, exhausted even. And you don’t stop. You do whatever it takes. Luckily for me Restless Development has supported me to work part time. Not part of my plan and not ideal – but for now it’s helping to relieve this demanding situation. I wonder how many other employers are supporting this.

Harnessing my vulnerabilities

As a woman in leadership there is a pressure in society to ‘have it all’ and this crisis has forced me to put my ego in the passenger seat and not just embrace, but harness my vulnerabilities to navigate this crisis. This is a fundamental principle of ‘feminst leadership’ , which is a style of leadership myself and my colleagues have adopted during this difficult time. It’s a type of inclusive leadership that endeavours to leave no one behind.

In a time of crisis inclusion is more vital than ever in order for us to make the best decisions and to respond in the most significant and impactful way. That often starts with asking the right questions and encouraging colleagues to talk openly.

When I meet with colleagues, the first thing we ask each other is a meaningful: ‘how are you’? And we give an honest answer. We talk about what we’re afraid of within this pandemic and bring our vulnerabilities and struggles with us. This leads to better connection as we appreciate everyone’s whole self and their personal experience of the crisis. These are principles of feminist and inclusive leadership.

We are working hard to open up more communication streams across the global agency – ensuring that these are two ways wherever possible; for example opting for video calls where possible over long written communication. We are working towards making collective decisions – ensuring other voices are heard and represented. We work closely together and cover consistently when one of us is unwell, exhausted or just needs to breathe. We let our kids get in the video calls and we pause and say hi to them.

Moving forward we need to continue to be checking our own privileges and actively putting ourselves into other people’s shoes.

We are not all in the same boat. But we are in the same storm. Embracing feminist leadership can help us pass through it together.

Christina Lewis is Restless Development’s People Director.

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How feminist leadership can help us in times of crisis

by wearerestless Reading time: 3 min
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