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…
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.
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.
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.
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.