Power with others not over others

One Activist’s Reflections on Feminist Leadership.

Guest blog by ActionAid Australia activist Georgie Coutts


The call of the 2019 Federal Election has urged me to reflect upon the problematic leadership that we, as a country, have been exposed to in recent years. This time of change brings the potential for better representation if we as individuals are able to reconsider what it means to be a leader and make meaningful changes as to how we want to be led.

Leadership is a skill, like most, that we learn from the world around us. From the public spheres of media, government, pop culture and education to private, domestic spaces, we are exposed to the seemingly omnipotent force of patriarchal leadership on a daily basis. This style is a dynamic of dominance and subordination centred on individualistic pursuits and exploitations of power at the expense of others.

Through years of established, institutional learning we have adopted a compliance with this style of hierarchical leadership. From school appointments of “Captains” to work place politics and corporate ladders, many of us experience leadership as a game of popularity and pay cheques.

With the recent failures of the Australian Government’s leadership in mind; particularly the appalling battle of the egos shown by the right wing members of the Liberal Government after Malcolm Turnbull’s exit, I think it’s imperative that we reclaim and rewrite ourselves into the definition of leadership. We must redistribute leadership into the hands of each of us who have a unique capacity to learn, lead and inspire. When I came across ActionAid’s definition of feminist leadership as the positive and inclusive use of power to build an organisation that is capable of changing the world, I realised the importance of having alternatives to the current systems that fail us. Feminist leadership provides us with this alternative, as it exists upon the knowledge that we can be powerful by making the people around us feel empowered, able and respected.

The following list of Top Ten Basic’s (TTB’s) for feminist leadership was created by the ActionAid community as part of a wider commitment to intersectional feminism. This compilation offers important points for reflection and ideas for personal change against a backdrop of patriarchal leadership.

1. Self Awareness

In the workplace I have noticed the importance of listening to others rather than just trying to promote my own ideas. The outcome is a better quality solution from having more than one perspective.

2. Self-Care

I’m sure we have all experienced a time when the workload becomes a bit overwhelming. Not taking adequate care of mental, physical and emotional wellbeing takes its toll on the work we do and our interactions with others. Sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back and look after ourselves.

3. Dismantling Bias

This is all about “checking your privilege,” and learning to be compassionate towards people’s struggles and to acknowledge that they may be different from your own. Anytime we are able to celebrate successes from feminist leadership we help to dismantle the patriarchal systems that oppress us.

4. Inclusion

Being a conscious member of a workplace, we must be aware of who has access to the conversation and information and ensure that any marginalised voices gain equal access and have the ability to input. Perhaps there is an opportunity to create a women’s forum or LGBTQI forum to provide safe spaces in your workplace.

5. Sharing Power

There’s nothing worse than being micro managed in the work place, or when a tricky boss doesn’t trust that you can carry out a task on your own. We can be more aware of our co-workers’ skills and talents and support them to achieve our shared goals.

6. Responsible and Transparent use of Power

People higher up in a work place often bypass members of their team when making decisions and instead make a decision on everyone’s behalf. Feminist leadership encourages communication amongst team members and the justification of certain decisions when necessary.

7. Accountable Collaboration

There are always a few tricky situations when it comes to sharing a workload, or working in a group. Someone always wants to either take the credit or deflect the blame. This style of leadership challenges us to involve everyone and to willingly put our team members in the limelight.

8. Respectful Feedback

This process shifts our actions from a fear of making mistakes to appreciating the growth and positivity that comes from consistent and constructive feedback. It’s easy to get defensive about your work and what people think, but communication and collaboration are great elements of respectful feedback that can help foster great work.

9. Courage

This is a really important one for me. There is really something rewarding about trying out new things whether at work or in personal lives, and this always takes a great deal of courage. In order for change to occur we need people from different areas of society to challenge and share their insight and experience. Sharing can be scary but hopefully through feminist leadership we can ground ourselves with courage for the betterment of our workplaces and ourselves.

10. Zero Tolerance

There is just no room for discrimination on any basis and we have to support our colleagues in reporting injustice or abuses of power.


Reflecting on these feminist leadership basics, I’ve learned that leadership is not something to be bestowed upon us by others who think they have it, but something that we can grow and be in control of with the support of others. These Top Ten Basics of Feminist Leadership make up the commitments we can adopt on an individual and organisational level. In order to make positive and effective change to our world, we must first change our learned tendencies and our expectations for leadership. I hope we can start to see some of these practices upheld by the leaders around us.



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