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Leading by example – women who inspire me

A group of women in work clothing including blazers and shirts sitting at a table having a discussion

We are who we listen to. We listen to people because we value what they say. They inspire us. Their influence shapes how we show up in our careers and our personal lives.

At its heart, inspiration is about stimulation, brilliance, and – quite literally – breathing in fresh air. Inspiration is also one of the themes of International Women’s Day 2024.

In this blog, I’ll introduce you to seven women who have inspired me to build community with intention and integrity.

silhouette of woman with long hair raising her fist to the air. Orange sky in background
Inspiration is about stimulation, brilliance, and breathing in fresh air.

Seven women who inspire me

If you’ve played a computer game or streamed a movie, you’ve probably experienced design that was inspired by Amy Jo Kim. Amy Jo was part of the early design team for Rock Band, The Sims, eBay and Netflix.

The author of Game Thinking, Amy is a pioneer in how design and experience can transform the engagement and adoption strategy of your product or service.

Communities happen when we bring people together intentionally and they find value in that connection. This happens in all walks of life, including professional associations and membership non-profits.

Marjorie Anderson found it hard to surface good practice for people working for associations, so she started a blog – community by association. Marjorie doesn’t know that her work inspired me to start this blog about community building for nonprofits.

large television with netflix logo on the screen, a coffee table with books and plants, and crossed legs and feet with socks. A guitar sits next to the television
Every time you use Netflix, you benefit from the early game design work of Amy Jo Kim.

We hear a lot about engagement. And many will race to the summit of vanity metrics and forget the purpose of community building. Carrie Melissa Jones brings a different voice to our profession.

Carrie is one of the leading voices on meaningful engagement and values-led community strategy. She is also co-founder of the community management organisation CMX.

Grab your passports, because we’re zooming across the globe to meet our next inspirational woman. Venessa Paech is internationally recognised as a strategist, speaker and event leader.

Venessa founded Australia’s national centre of excellence for online community management, launched the SWARM conference and is also the founder of All Things In Moderation, the world’s first conference for people who moderate content online.

A group of women in work clothing (blazers and shirts) sitting at a table having a discussion
I’m grateful for women who organise conferences and events to bring others together

What is the future of management? Rachel Happe believes the future of management is community management, and I think she’s right.

Rachel is a visionary thought leader in the area of executive leadership and corporate community building. She helps organisations to transform their workplace cultures into places of connection, joy, and trust. Rachel is also the co-founder of Community Roundtable.

Communities come together in all parts of the world, including Europe. Let’s head to Germany and meet Tanja Laub. Tanja has worked as a consultant, speaker and trainer for over a decade, and has been a lecturer on the topic of community management.

Tanja chaired the Federal Association of Community Management (BVCM) and co-founded Germany’s first conference on the topics of community management, hate speech and crisis communications. She also wrote Online Community Building for Beginners. 

You will find women who lead online communities all over the world (not just the US!)

And last but by no means least… I have to talk about Rebecca Newton. Rebecca is a true pioneer in the field of online Trust and Safety and content moderation, particularly for children.

From 1994 to 2024 when she retired, Rebecca built communities, protected and empowered young people, and educated leaders, peers and the wider business world in online safety policy and practice.

Rebecca led one of the earliest communities of practice and conferences for online community professionals. Rebecca’s influence has helped the entire profession to build safer online spaces. A true community legend – and someone who isn’t given the credit she deserves.

a mosaic style artwork with triangles in different colours with the words You Belong painted on in a handwriting style
You belong – it is important that women in leadership know this.

Giving women credit matters

Why does it matter to celebrate women in community building? Because there are many challenges that are holding women back in the community profession.

I’ve unfortunately seen some of these first hand, including the erasure of women from the history of the online community profession. (Consider who you see on the industry stages and who you don’t…)

Women remain under-represented in business leadership. We’re also seeing an exodus of women from leadership due to hostile or toxic organisational policy and culture.

The issues are well known – unfair pay, inflexible work hours and location, poor benefits and employee policy, undermining or erasing the work of women, sexual harassment, and bullying. 

This is why it matters even more to champion female leadership in community building. It matters to give women credit for their work, to empower them to lead, and to actively champion the needs and rights of women. Men – you know we need you to do this too.

How we lead matters

I have to admit to feeling awe-inspired and a little overwhelmed when I read the bios of the seven women above. You may be too.

What about me, you may be thinking. How can I make a difference? 

Women – we don’t have to be a pioneer, a world-renowned author, or a tireless campaigner to make a difference. Many of us are already leaders – of our communities, our teams, our businesses. We organise events, handle challenges, and make decisions. We lead. 

Every leader has to start somewhere. Let’s start by listening to the leaders who inspire us.

Who has inspired you? Perhaps they shared valuable wisdom about community building, showed courage, or stepped out with integrity.

In leadership, it isn’t just about what we do, but how we do it. Let’s lead with integrity. This means knowing what we stand for, and what we don’t.

Being prepared to try something new, to fail, to tackle a challenge, and to take action when things go wrong. Because a better outcome is more important than our comfort zone.

Women in leadership – you’ve got this. No – we’ve got this.

Action time! My intention to mentor

Talk without action is frustrating. It would be disappointing if International Women’s Day became an event that was all talk, and no action. 

So I’m going to take action this year, and lead by example. I’m creating some space in my schedule to mentor three women who are working in (or hoping to work in) community building. Get in touch if you want to take part.

I’ll offer three one hour sessions to each person I mentor, providing a space for you to ask questions, explore challenges, or test ideas. The aim will be to help you to increase your knowledge and confidence in building online communities.

My aim is to prioritise women I am best placed to help, including: 

  • Women who work in nonprofits and charities
  • Women building peer support, health or wellbeing communities
  • Women who want to develop skills in empathic communication
  • Women who are new to leading teams
  • Women who want to learn how to build safe online spaces 

If I get a lot of interest, I will do my best to provide support to everyone, including signposting you to helpful resources and organisations. 

Every leader has to start somewhere, and every leader has to step forward with intention and integrity. I hope this blog inspires you to make steps forward in your own leadership. If you have questions or comments, feel free to get in touch.

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