How the ActionAid Australia team practice feminist leadership


At ActionAid we have a vision of a just world free from poverty, oppression and patriarchy. This requires transformative feminist leaders; leaders who enable others to lead, building power with them instead of over them. To develop this we live by 10 feminist leadership principles. 

So let’s hear how our team put feminist leadership to use and why these are essential traits for every leader!

  1. Self-awareness Executive Director Michelle Higelin said: “For me this is about humility and recognising that no matter what position we hold or how much experience we accrue, we always have more to learn. Opening ourselves to truly listen to and learn from others continues to help us grow as leaders and enriches our ideas and thinking.It is also about recognising our privilege and using our power consciously to open space for others. This includes ensuring there are people around us who will challenge our perspectives and bring a diversity of views to the table. As feminists we have to challenge this idea of a solo leader who rises above all others to one that practices shared leadership bringing everyone along on the journey and harnessing the combined potential of the collective. Self-awareness is critical in this, being aware of our own limitations and biases, as well as building genuine relationships with people based on trust and empathy.”
  2. Self-care & Caring for others Donor Care & Communications Coordinator Monique Corkin said: “It is so valuable to practice self-care as a leader. It’s like the plane analogy where if you don’t fasten your own oxygen mask first you won’t be in a position to help others. There is so much uncertainty in the world at the moment and having a caring compassionate leader at work who is focused not only on the needs of the business but also staff makes a huge difference to morale and can help ease unnecessary anxiety.”
  3. Dismantling bias Senior Programme Coordinator Sally Henderson said: “I strive to be very conscious of who I am, what assumptions I make and what power dynamics I may carry with me. I try to ask questions rather than make statements in discussions so I can really understand perspectives of other cultures and to challenge my own assumptions. Leaders must embrace all of humanity and empower everyone to be whom they want to be. I think if leaders do this we can have more equality and live more sustainably on this planet of ours.”
  4. Inclusion Philanthropy & Partnerships Manager Simon Vaughan said: “Inclusivity is all about trying to make sure everyone in the organisation is heard. This means supporting people who don’t always speak up. Embracing inclusion means you can get the absolute best out of your team. If you’re not being truly inclusive, you’re likely missing out on the wisdom of those you’re excluding.”
  5. Sharing power Media & Communications Manager Liz Pick said: “We talk about ‘born leaders’ but we are all born with leadership skills that we can develop and expand upon given the support and opportunity. When leaders focus on sharing power rather than competing for power they create an environment that cultivates the leader in all of us, giving each person the space to contribute to something bigger than themselves. At ActionAid we recognise and appreciate everyone’s unique contributions, big or small, towards our common goal. We have a team culture where we proactively share our knowledge and expertise with one another through informal workshops and encourage each other to lead different activities to build the confidence and skills to step up and lead.”
  6. Responsible & transparent use of power Head of Global Engagement Stav Zotalis said: “I recognise the abundance of opportunities and resources I have been blessed with and the power I have. I actively look for ways to share my abundance by consulting, listening and communicating openly.As a leader it’s important to support others to thrive as well as achieve the organisation’s goals. A leader must have emotional intelligence that includes not just technical knowledge and experience but self-awareness and empathy. A thriving and respected team is critical to achieving an effective organisation.”
  7. Accountable collaborationFinance & Program Compliance Manager Leocadio Dira said: “By being transparent, sharing knowledge & valuing the contribution of every team member we can build a just, equitable & inclusive organisation. A leader that abides by this principle will set a clear expectation that he/she is a part of the solution to help dismantle structures of discrimination and oppression.”
  8. Respectful feedback Chief Operations Officer Karen Kandur said: “Building trust and a strong working relationship means providing continuous feedback and opportunities to grow. A leader is only as successful as her team. I value receiving open, honest feedback myself and see this as an opportunity to develop both personally and professionally. When providing feedback I encourage my colleagues to be open with me and ask how I can support them or do anything differently. Feedback provides us with an opportunity to ensure expectations are clear and encourages us to learn from our experiences. If we play to each other’s strengths we will live out ActionAid’s bold mission.”
  9. Courage Head of Policy & Campaigns Katherine Tu said: “By ensuring that we are bold, radical, and progressive in what we ask for – and ensuring that it delivers justice for all groups, especially the most excluded people. Pushing ourselves to try things, even though the outcome can’t be guaranteed. Courage is contagious and it pushes us to imagine things that some people may not think possible. When someone demonstrates courage, it gives others permission to dream big too.”
  10.  Zero Tolerance Communications Officer Marie Kent said: “In my personal life I practice zero tolerance by calling out any gender discrimination whether that be in the form or abuse or meant in a joking way. I try to challenge my friends and family to have uncomfortable conversations about gender equality in a way that is constructive for all of us to learn and grow. I think that this is a valuable trait for a leader because it sets the standard of what is and isn’t acceptable. It makes it clear that any form of discrimination in the workplace with not be tolerated. This helps to cultivate a safe and positive culture for everyone.”