Bring Feminist Leadership to Work

Previously shared on 3 August 2019 

Dear Oxfam colleagues,  

Have you ever wondered what it means to become a leader in Oxfam? What does it mean to be a leader that believe in feminist leadership principles and work in an organization that is committed to practice feminist values and support feminist leadership? 

Both WOMEN and MEN can be feminist leaders.  
Both WOMEN and MEN can be also bad leaders. 

I believe all of you share the same opinion, that working in humanitarian and development sector can be both inspiring and frustrating.

It is okay to feel like that, roller coaster journey in our work what makes it always full of passion, adrenaline, and energy. We fill content and do meaningful work, and at times, we feel jaded with so many things that we are not happy with. First, accept this is human, this is part of growth, and part of our own self journey in finding our path in the world.  

Please be aware that many works in this sector because self-motivation to do meaningful work in life, and many also face challenges and pushed to the limit. In some cases, it ended up with tragedy.  

Oxfam has got strong reminders. Have you read the independent commission's report of our culture?

If not, let me highlight a bit some of the key findings on our culture: 

“Oxfam sang a beautiful song people believed in and has now become disconnected from the people inside.” There is a real need for Oxfam staff―particularly its leadership―to examine if and how they understand and exemplify feminist principles and Oxfam’s values of empowerment, accountability, and inclusiveness, and demonstrate how they uphold the code of conduct. The Commission has heard from multiple staff across different Oxfam offices that bullying is pervasive and that Oxfam’s values are printed on wall posters but not always understood or upheld in action―and sometimes are even contradicted.  

We are all leaders in Oxfam, in our own role and responsibility, we all have power to bring changes. Let me ask you these questions, answer them quietly, aren't you yourself a leader in Oxfam? If yes, are you reflective on the embedded power in you to make changes and contribute for connectedness in Oxfam? At some point, have you by any chance thought you're better than others, more capable of doing your work, have you exercised power in your hands with compassion? More appreciation and less criticism. Power is not only vertical, but also horizontal. 

“Policies and procedures are words, and Oxfam needs to walk the talk of governance." In an organization as complex as Oxfam, in which a confederation model is used, it is essential that the “One Oxfam” vision be put in place effectively. Although affiliates have their own approaches, it is striking how many people believe the One Oxfam vision exists on paper only and lacks the buy-in and commitment it needs to become a reality on the ground.  

Integrity is about how you find harmony between your thinking, words, heart and action. A good leader will seek alignment in all of the four areas to practice their leadership skills. Let me ask these questions. What do you understand from the saying of "One Oxfam"? Have you considered your self-motivation coming to work in development and humanitarian sector aligns with the vision and mission of the organisation? Do you see your work as ticking boxes or part of bigger efforts in Oxfam ecosystem? Have you seen beyond your job description, projects, and performance indicators when you practice One Oxfam approach? 

Leadership for me, as mentioned before and you might still remember it, is an effort to enable others. Yes, myself, and you, are to instill in others the capacity to grow, go deeper, and go bigger. What does it mean? It means our workplace is an ecosystem, where power and respect are rooted in our own best personality. 

Feminist leadership in Oxfam may strongly talk about power and relations. Then, I want to add another element of feminine characteristic that can bring the best personality of all of us.  
IT IS COMPASSION. I believe this is the first self-motivation that brings all of us working in this sector. Compassion will put the angle of power and respect in our relations, not vertically only but also horizontally. It means, we seek to always remind ourselves what power we have, how we use it effectively to create good enabling environment, and how we relate with others (yes, both your upline and downline relations).   

We can only do this, if we are compassionate with our own self. Only when we are strong in the thinking, words, heart, and action, we know how we can be part of the ecosystem. There is a saying that we can only pour if we are not empty. Treat yourself well, nurture your quality time for self, family and work; be reflective in your thinking, kind in your words, hear your heart and review your actions. Connecting with yourself is part of self-care. What personality do you want to bring to the ecosystem?  

Self-care is personal and yet it is political. Self-care is important.  It can be: having a good time, relaxing weekend, acceptance, letting go/move on, feeling good about yourself and others, clear mind, mindfulness, cup of coffee, yoga, good laugh with your colleagues, trusting relations in your network, praying, etc.

Enjoy the women's day!  
You are leaders of today and tomorrow.