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Community industry Professional development Self development

Women rising – how to succeed in community management

The community profession – the work of bringing people together – is ideal for women who have stronger skills in relationship building, empathy and cooperation according to science. Many talented and passionate women have been successful in the community management profession. 

But there are many challenges that are holding women back in the community profession and I’ve unfortunately seen some of these first hand. On International Women’s Day, I’ve taken some time to reflect and add to a talk I gave a year ago about women and community building.

What does it take for women to succeed in community?

Right now, we’re not seeing equity for women in terms of representation, pay, opportunity, or recognition. What changes do we need to see for everyone, especially women? 

I’ll share three not so secret ingredients below…

What are the ingredients to help women succeed and progress?

1. Inclusion matters.

We need to make it easier for people to enter the community profession and to progress their careers. How? Start with the hiring and project pitching process.

Be consistent and clear in the timescales for hiring

If you say a vacancy is open for applications until 12pm on  31 March, keep it open until then. Too many vacancies are closing early. In my 7 years experience of hiring people, the best and most interesting vacancies come in toward the end. Why? People are taking time to thoughtfully write their application. Or they have life commitments. By closing vacancies early, you could exclude people with disabilities, carers, or parents. Not cool. 

Be open in where you’re advertising your opportunities. 

In the UK, the ‘old school tie network’ refers to a privileged private school world (usually men-only) where deals are made and jobs secured behind closed doors. Similar networks sadly exist in community building and they gatekeep everyone else. By sharing your opportunities for jobs and projects in public spaces, you invite a wider pool of people to get in touch. You’ll hear new ideas, reach new people, and tap into new markets for your business.  

Be transparent on pay. 

We could reduce the gender gap by a staggering 40% but the community job boards are STILL full of roles where you have to be a street magician to guess the salary and offer. How do you know if you can get the job if you don’t know if you can pay your bills or take maternity leave? We need this to change, not just for women but for everyone. If you’re a hiring manager, a leader, or run a community job board – sort it out. By being clear with your offer you save time all around.

a mosaic style artwork with triangles in different colours with the words You Belong painted on in a handwriting style
Inclusion matters – women should have equal access to opportunities

2. Representation matters.

We need to see the work and voices of women represented consistently in the community profession. This includes at senior levels. How can women have opportunities to progress? 

They need to be seen.

When a woman is seen, this means they are recognised and accepted for who they are. We need to see workplaces that see women’s lives, their health, and their wellbeing and not just the work that they do. We also need to ensure that women are recognised for their contributions. If a woman has led on a piece of work, give her the platform, or the credit. 

They need to be respected.

We need to see the work of women respected by the leaders in their organisations and their profession. Champion the women who are doing great work. If a woman does great work and an organisation doesn’t reward them appropriately, take note. 

There are red flags to look out for.

Sadly, there is evidence that the work of women community builders has been played down or ignored in the community profession. To stop this cycle continuing, there are things we can do. If you’re part of an organisation that isn’t recognising the work of women you can try and find an opportunity to respectfully challenge this. If this pattern continues, it may be a sign of a toxic culture. In that case, I’d recommend finding the earliest opportunity to leave.

a group of women who are sitting at the same table are working on a project together with one woman leading them through content on a laptop screen
Women need to be represented and recognised for their community building work

3. Integrity matters.

When we’re in the business of fostering trust, we need to keep integrity at the heart of what we do. We need to follow the examples of our leaders, and set examples for others to follow.

Our values matter.

Key to integrity is staying true to our own values. When we build communities we have control over how people are welcomed, how we keep people safe, and how we recognise our communities. When we lead community teams we have control over how we support and challenge our teams. When we represent an organisation we have control over how we respond to change and culture. 

We need to navigate conflicts.

Another side of integrity is considering when work may be conflicting with our own values, or what we expect from our workplaces. How do we respond if we see abuse and harassment? How do we handle dishonesty and harmful decision making?

Boundaries are vital.

We need to draw boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable. When those boundaries are crossed or we see things that concern us; we need the confidence to challenge, or the wisdom to step away altogether. We need to lead with our hearts, and with our feet.

woman looking upward and unsure, and is standing against a plain background
We face challenges when staying true to our values at work

What do we do next? The power of ‘we’

I’ve explained the importance of inclusion, representation and integrity for everyone in the community profession, but especially women. So what do we do next? 

We’re in this together.

Our own professional communities matter as much if not more than the ones we build in our jobs. We need to invest time in building a network of peer support: a space to be honest, to ask questions, to share what you’ve learned, and to help each other out. 

Is there a space for a network of women in the community profession? 

How can we create spaces to share experiences, foster trust and encouragement, find ways to lift each other up, create networks to champion each other and nudge great women into opportunities we know they’d thrive in?

Women in community – I’d love to hear from you! If you’d be interested in being part of a network like this or know that one already exists, let me know. Together we are stronger, better, safer.    

a group of women dressed in work wear sit around a table having a discussion with friendly expressions and listening to the speaker
Is there space for a network of women in community building?
Categories
Community advice Community industry Self care

The truth about burnout and community

The first draft of this blog post opened with ‘we need to talk about burnout’ but from what I’ve seen in my research, the charity sector has been doing little else for several years. Look at this powerful confession piece from 2015.

Burnout seems to be a persistent issue. It’s relevant for community managers who are expected to manage an active online space, and particularly relevant for non-profit community pros who also have a duty of care to support people facing difficult issues.

a row matches that are burned out

Burnout is a persistent issue

There are hundreds of articles giving advice to stressed and overwhelmed charity workers, and much of the advice is excellent. My self care blog series brings together some of this advice and my own ideas to help community managers manage their own wellbeing.

Why is burnout such a persistent issue? Are we getting our self-care strategies wrong? Are community managers and charity workers neglecting good practice? 

Let’s start by understanding the causes of burnout. I’ve summarised three of the main causes of burnout, what can prevent it from happening, and the warning signs to look out for.

orange life saver ring on a wall

Lack of support

It’s important to find and develop your own support networks. This helps you to guard against having insufficient support, which is a key cause of burnout and particularly an issue for specialist roles like community management. 

In a community role you will handle conflict, rule-breaking, complaints and have responsibility for organisational risk and safeguarding. Support networks help community pros seek advice, refine their practice, seek reassurance and feel able to keep going. 

When your support networks break down, this can put you at risk of burnout. It’s important to put alternatives in place. Finding a trusted ‘go-to’ person to debrief can make all the difference.

woman walking along a line in the road

Lack of boundaries

If you’re running a 24/7 online space for an organisation, any issue can arise and you can feel huge pressure in handling everything. If this rings true for you, then you’re at risk of burnout.

Boundaries can help you to determine what your true remit is and identify the tasks that need to be escalated or passed on. If you’re struggling to determine or agree boundaries, or lack the autonomy to do so, you’ll need to get support to put these in place. 

Watch out when those escalation pathways break down. If you feel you have no one to pass up to, your work can start to feel overwhelming and isolating. It’s important to put in place one or two points of contact who are willing to support you or your team. 

breathe image

Inability to step away

Are you a sole community manager, or is it difficult for you to step away from your role? In any job, it’s important to be able to step away or switch off and it’s dangerous to expect one person to be the sole point of contact at all times.

Strategies to step away and switch off not only guard against burnout but also retain community managers who may ultimately choose to leave a role or organisation that impacts on their wellbeing.

You’re at increased risk of burnout when it becomes difficult for you to step away from overseeing your community. You need to be able to step away at the weekends or take a few days off in succession on a regular basis.

a collection of stationery

The role of your workplace

If you’re at risk of burnout are you solely to blame? A few days ago Harvard Business Review published a compelling article which argues that burnout (which impacts on productivity, turnover and absenteeism) could be due to your organisational culture. It says:

“…evidence is mounting that applying personal, band-aid solutions to an epic and rapidly evolving workplace phenomenon may be harming, not helping, the battle. With “burnout” now officially recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), the responsibility for managing it has shifted away from the individual and towards the organisation. Leaders take note: It’s now on you to build a burnout strategy.”

In the article, experts advise organisations that want to tackle burnout to move away from putting the onus on employees to improve their own wellbeing, and focus on addressing the root organisational causes of burnout. The solutions are simple:

  • ensure people are treated fairly and have autonomy to make decisions
  • provide the right amount of work and work hours 
  • ensure people are supported and feel heard
  • give people clear attainable goals and acknowledge good work
  • provide an environment suitable for work, based on need, not gimmicks

A culture of openness, non-blame and empathy also ensures the sustainability of existing initiatives that are much easier to provide (including wellbeing programmes). This excellent article from Mind explains how having support and agreed boundaries on workload and work time can guard hard-working people from burnout.

book with title damn good advice, some food and a drink on a table

Helpful resources 

If you’re not sure where to start, head to this excellent Wellbeing Guide from Charity Comms, which includes advice on mental health and wellbeing, how to support others, and an article from me explaining how a three step framework can help when handling difficult issues.

This article from the Blurt Foundation shares 15 ways to switch off and is helpful for anyone who is struggling to wind down, or wanting to learn creative ways to make the best use of downtime.

If you’ve been feeling stressed, anxious, low or are experiencing poor sleep, take a look at Good Thinking. This is an initiative aimed to support Londoners but has useful advice for everyone including a self assessment tool, guidance and tips on useful apps.

If things are really hard for you at the moment and you’re struggling to cope, please talk to someone. Why not speak with a trusted friend – they don’t need any qualifications other than the ability to listen. 

Look after yourself – your wellbeing is important.

breathe image
Categories
Community industry

Our little corner of the web: caretaking and community

Today the web is 30 years old.

The founder of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee has written a passionately worded article about the future of his own invention, and hints at how community building plays a key part.

Opportunities and dysfunctions

Tim explains that the web has become more than just a place to find information, which was the initial purpose of the HTTP part of the internet we know as the web. The web is also a place to connect with others. It’s not only a shopping mall but also a service provider. A place to find humour, kindness and mutual support.

welcome sign with the image of a house, a cat and the word welcome

There are three key dysfunctions that are harming the web today, according to Tim: deliberate malicious acts, intentionally manipulative systems, and unintended consequences from things that had good intentions.

I think a fourth dysfunction underpins how those three dysfunctions are able to happen – the lack of effective resources (machine and human) for managing online spaces. In other words: ineffective or insufficient community management, design, development and web administration.

As recent articles have alluded to, Facebook’s failures indicate that their platform could be working as intended. Their response showing a new interest in ‘private spaces’ shows a possible change in direction – but time will tell.

red wall with a sign with the word private

Caretakers of the web

For websites, communities and networks to work well, we need community managers, moderators, designers, developers and web administrators.

We also need well-trained and well-resourced people and tools, ethical practices and organisations held to account by effective laws. This is vital to ensure the web is well managed, and users are protected from harm.

The Web Foundation which is working to bring this about with their Contract for the Web which asks people to:

Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.

Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.

Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.

The role of community

Community Managers have a key role to play in caretaking our own online communities and looking after our little corner of the web.

We have the ability to establish our own cultures – offering connection and encouragement, and enabling people to feel that they belong.

We’re able to manage expectations – removing damaging content, encouraging positive behaviour and closing the door on people who harm the wider community.

We’re also able to empower and enable – sharing useful information with newcomers, helping to co-create resources that benefit the community, and signposting people to specialist help and support.

multiple people building a house together

Community Managers who are dedicated to making the web a better place for everyone are worth their weight in gold.

Thanks to the commitment and hard work of many digital roles including community managers, the future’s looking good on the web. Here’s to another 30 years!

Categories
Community advice Community industry

Appreciation matters

You never forget the important milestones in life like graduating from University, getting married, or being called a despot for removing a racist joke.

You nostalgically nod when recalling the first time someone told you “I wish I got paid for sitting on the internet all day.”* Or that time the charity CEO said “What’s the point of Facebook.”**

breathe image

Not a lot of people know this, but today is Community Manager Appreciation Day. If you manage an online space where people come together, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed at times, and misunderstood by many.

If you work for a charity, you’ll be absorbed in the real-life experiences of your supporters and on the receiving end of anger, complaints or disrespect. You’ll know the importance of ‘smiling from the wrists down’ when responding!

You’ll never forget the first person whose distress brought tears to your eyes, the first threat to leave your community due to a misunderstanding, or the first time a much-loved member passes away. You’ll know how important it is to find someone to offload with.

toy monkey chain showing support

You’ll also remember the first time someone told you why the community matters to them and what they’ve learned as a result. You’ll know the great feeling of reading through positive feedback, or being able to direct someone to the support they need.

If you’re new to community management, some of those things may be new to you. In time, you’ll find your own highs and lows, and your own tips and tricks to manage through tough times, learn from mistakes and share the great moments.

If you’re a lone community manager, you may not know who to connect with or how to go about this. The best way to do this is to find people in similar roles at similar organisations.

If you’re a community manager and you’re struggling, please know that you’re not alone. That there are others who understand.

Keep on learning, keep on sharing, keep on doing. You’ve got this.

graffiti message says you got this

Happy Community Manager’s Appreciation Day! More about CMAD:

http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/category/cmad

*Yes that happened to me.

**That too. In three months they knew they were wrong. In 3 years, I built the brand community from 0 to 14,000 people across multiple platforms.