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?
Professional development Self development

When is it time to leave your community role?

We need to talk about leaving

Remember the fresh exciting feeling of starting a new job? We hear a lot about the value of onboarding in community circles because it’s vital that our members and the professionals that build communities feel welcomed and supported.

However, we don’t hear a lot about the process of leaving or closing – whether that’s a community member phasing out, having to close a project, or leaving a community role.  

It can be hard to leave something that is familiar. It’s especially difficult to leave a team that you care about, or an organisation that aligns with your personal values. On the other hand it can be equally tough to make a decision if you’re feeling unhappy, stressed, or lack confidence. But sometimes we can’t shake the feeling that it’s time to leave. 

How do I know this? At the end of January, I left my role as online community lead for a large UK charity. For a while I’d been feeling that it was time to move on, but I wasn’t sure how I could realistically assess if it was the right decision to leave. I started to research the topic, and found the reflection process incredibly helpful. In this blog, I’ll share what I discovered.

man with suitcase walking toward a path with a sunset in front of him
Is it time to head off into the professional sunset?

Five reasons you may be ready to leave your community role

1. There is no room to progress 

It can feel comfortable to be in a job where you are confident in getting most things done, but after a while this comfort zone can start to feel frustrating. You may be ready for more responsibility but have no opportunity to do so. You may want to develop new skills but find that there is no time for you to learn or you can’t get resources to attend events or receive training. 

If you find that you’ve outgrown the job or that you’ve delivered above and beyond its requirements, it may be time for a new role. The benefits? You’ll gain new skills, stretch your professional experience, and hopefully receive better pay to reflect your skillset.

Building with painted graffiti of a sunflower with white writing saying 'always room to grow'
Sometimes we need to leave in order to grow

2. There are too many demands

We live in a fast-paced and busy world, but that doesn’t mean we can handle 100 things at once or work endless hours for long periods of time. If you’re unable to keep up with the regular tasks and know that you have the right skills, it may be a sign that your team needs more capacity. 

If you are being asked to meet targets that aren’t possible and too quickly, it could be a sign that the leadership doesn’t understand or respect the benefits of longer-term relationship building. 

If you realise that you’re skipping breaks and routinely working a lot of extra hours, the job may already be negatively impacting your work-life balance. If you’re not able to put boundaries back in place or get additional resources or support, it may be time to leave. 

Hand outstretched from the waves in the sea, as if crying out for help
If the job is overwhelming, it may be time to go

3. The job is hurting you

Sometimes a job can become harmful to your health and safety. If you’re handling a lot of conflict, complaints or supporting vulnerable people, the job can become emotionally heavy. You may find yourself on the receiving end of harassment or find you are constantly fire-fighting. In some cases, this can be sustainable if you are given the right levels of support and resources. 

However, take caution if you’re noticing the job is impacting on your mood, your sleep, or your ability to relax. If you’re becoming unwell or experiencing burnout due to the demands of the role, I’d urge you to seek medical support. But if this continues, it may be safer to leave. 

Man in hoody is sat down with hands across his face as if he is exhausted or upset
When the role starts to impact on your wellbeing, it could be a warning sign

4. It’s not for you 

Sometimes we discover that a job isn’t for us. Perhaps you’re not happy in your role, or you don’t feel your skills are the right fit. This can happen if you’ve taken a job that sounded like community building but is actually much more about marketing or sales. 

On the other hand, you may realise that your experience is best suited to other communications disciplines like marketing, media relations or social media management where the focus is more on audience, campaign, or brand management.

Black box mounted to a wall with a red exit sign inside
Sometimes a job isn’t right for us, and it’s time to find something that is…

5. You want something new 

What if the other reasons don’t apply and you still feel ready to leave? Sometimes you can simply feel like your role is no longer fresh. You may feel it’s time for a change of focus, to move into a different type of job, or to specialise in another area of community management. 

You may feel inspired to try out a new vertical, for example a move from software support to developer relations. You might want to try a different type of community building, moving from event based communities to online communities of practice. Or you may have developed a lot of experience and have become a ‘go-to’ person in your niche, inspiring you to go freelance!

Alarm clock with a gold case and gold bells at the top, a white face, and black numbers and clock hands
Sometimes, it is simply time for something new

What if you’re not sure?

You’re conflicted – unsure if you’re unhappy or ready to leave 

Speak to some trusted friends or peers, or reflect with a coach or counsellor. Or get out of your own way! Head to a neutral location, take time to relax and start to think through each reason as if you were observing the role at a distance.

These tactics can help you to remove your immediate personal feelings from the problem and get some additional feedback to help you make an informed decision.

You’re unhappy about some aspects of the role, but not ready to leave 

It may be time to negotiate with your manager. The best way to prepare for the discussion is to consider the impact and likely solutions for the key issues. You could also benchmark what other community teams have in place (as evidence for your proposed changes). Going into the discussion with a constructive set of options will give you the best chance of success. 

If you find that your ideas aren’t taken on board and there’s no good reason for that, it could be a sign that you’re ready to join an organisation where your ideas will be heard.

A path heading in multiple directions
We can feel conflicted when we need to make a big decision

You’re ready to leave but…

Concerned about how to leave a toxic or stressful role? 

Firstly, it’s okay for you to step away from a role that is impacting on your mental or physical health – in fact I’d urge you to do so. Even if the job may pay well or provide status, you can keep the status you’ve earned and most likely find a similar salary elsewhere.

Secondly, reflect on what was stressful and unhealthy about the role or the organisation. This will help you to identify and avoid ‘red flags’ in the future. Thirdly, whatever you may feel about the role, if you leave well and remain professional throughout, you will depart with no regrets. 

Worried about leaving a great team and an inspiring organisation? 

Firstly, reflect on what was so great about this role and identify what matters to you at work. Secondly, use what you have experienced and learned to help you to spot the ‘green flags’ in new opportunities.

Thirdly, know that other great teams and organisations are out there. Take time to network and research opportunities, and speak to your contacts to find out more. 

Brick wall with neon sign that says 'this is the sign you've been looking for'
When you know, you know…

You’ve got this. 

If you’re considering whether the time is right to leave your role, I hope this helps. You have every right to be safe and respected at work, to have opportunities to grow, and to be able to learn new skills.

If you’re raising a cynical brow at my reassurances, remember where you were a couple of years ago and how much you’ve learned since then. You can do it again. 

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