Mayvin_Women in Leadership NGO's Increasing diversity Gender equality Katy Murray Sarah Fraser Research programme Roles

Women’s Leadership in NGOs: Top five tips for action for change

You know the business case for increasing diversity in leadership. This is all the more pertinent in international development, with gender equality and women’s empowerment dominating the change agenda. But you look around your organisation and see the mismatch between the strategy and what actually happens internally. You want to do something to make a change but what will actually work and where do you begin?

The best first step could be simply striking up a conversation. Katy Murray and Sarah Fraser, who coach talented women and consult with organisations who want to make a change around diversity, found that the place to start to bring about change is in the telling of stories, sharing experiences and building new shared ways of knowing.

By initiating debate, men and women together harness the power of the collective to catalyse positive, palpable change. Change can begin in each relationship and in each conversation and that can then start to change a team or organisational culture. These kinds of catalytic conversations don’t need to be pre-planned says Katy: “it’s about starting small fires – taking opportunities as they arise to ask a great question, raise awareness or shift expectations”.

Katy and Sarah’s latest research shows that the framing of the conversation is key to making progress in the wider context. They recently led a research programme into Women’s Leadership in International Development NGOs with a focus not on the barriers for women progressing into leadership roles, but on better understanding what we value in our leaders. Sarah says: “Shifting the focus in this way creates greater opportunity for women to recognise how their existing strengths are valued, rather than working on the assumption that it is them as women who need to change”.

From this starting point, women at all levels across an organisation can take small but intentional steps to shift understanding and enable a bigger conversation about gender and leadership.

Top five tips for action for change:

  • Get talking. What are the qualities and behaviours that are valued at a leadership level? And what are the gendered assumptions around these qualities?
  • Get personal. Women’s experiences are not all alike. Encourage your colleagues to share their own story, whether of challenge or success.
  • Piggyback. Get people together around existing meetings. Host a breakfast or lunch in the fringes of a larger meeting, or even add the item to your team meeting agenda..
  • Mix it up. Invite the unusual suspects into the conversation. Consider ‘women only’ spaces but also find ways to involve men in the conversation, only together is culture change possible.
  • Use the data. Collect data and use it to raise awareness around gender equality for change and progress.


From Katy and Sarah:
We love to support women to be the best that they can be and their organisations to bring about change. Get in touch for help to facilitate these conversations for change.

Read more in our full research report on the Mayvin website.