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Being a Leader Not a Boss - What Feminist Leadership Looks Like

Be a leader not a boss. It’s a phrase we’ve all heard time and time again. But what does it mean? These words are often used interchangeably and if we’re being honest, we’ve all seen far too many motivational speakers try to differentiate between them. 

Leaders can come from anywhere, and sometimes the most unexpected situations call for leaders to arise. Leadership roles hold a lot of importance. They’re very often seen as the glue that holds the group together, regardless of what sector they may be in. Leaders are meant to motivate, to take charge without dominating the situation and to make sure everyone’s voices are heard. But concerns have risen over representation in leadership. Political and economic leadership across the world is seen as unrepresentative of the diversity of the groups they lead. As traditional leadership roles come into question and workspaces and teams take new shapes - questions arise about what will replace these existing norms. 

Feminist leadership is being called to as a solution to the long-standing norms that promote gender and class divides, and privilege what are seen as more ‘masculine’ ways of leading. Leaders in workplaces, businesses, politics - you name it - are often confronted by strictly gendered roles. Men are liked when they’re dominant, take charge and know what they want. A woman doing the same is seen as being bossy and out of line. Women feel forced to adopt certain more “masculine” characteristics or give up certain things in order to reach higher positions but it is the adoption of these same characteristics that not only leads to further criticism but may limit other women in getting to the same positions. 

It's important to remember that gender parity is a step in the direction of feminist leadership, not its entire goal. Within gender groups, race and class restrictions provide further obstacles in the rise to the top. Brushing over these differences leads to a similar bottlenecking that creates an elite based leadership and keeps power out of the hands of the most disadvantaged. While representation at all levels is important, we seem to forget that issues such as women’s rights are not the same for everyone. Dr. Roopa Dhatt, the executive director and co-founder of Women in Global Health suggests that feminist leadership would lead to senior leadership being representative of the global population with gender parity just at the start. 

A woman being in an executive or leadership role does not automatically signify feminist leadership within that workspace. Here at home, we’ve seen a rise in the success of countless female fashion designers who have grown their brands and gained national popularity. While the rise of working women in the population is commendable, we also need to take a look at the factors that may have been the reason behind their successes. Not everyone in the industry comes from the same background but quite a few come from privileged backgrounds where they can afford experimentation, losses and the opportunity to play around without worrying about the impact on their household expenses. To make such a small percentage of women the face of such an issue marginalises the masses of women who struggle to rise out of poverty and whose needs and demands are brushed over because of the over-representation of a select few. 

So what does feminist leadership really entail. Most importantly it is about representing and catering to the needs of those you represent. One of the most essential aspects of good leadership involves listening. Listening to the needs of the people you are leading, not what you think they should be like. Leadership doesn’t always have to be in official state-based positions. In fact, around us we can see how in the face of lacking political leadership countless people have taken matters into their own hands, whether it be for provision of shelter, food or education. In Pakistan’s case, it also raises the important question of minority representation. Minority communities need to have the same access to resources and opportunities without being hindered by their personal religious beliefs. 

Because of the changing needs of different communities, there isn’t a set formula that can define the specifics of what feminist leadership would look like. However, what is essential is the need for a leader to truly understand the people they are representing. It is only by connecting with them that they can really make people feel their voice is truly represented.

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