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The Participants and Their Organisations
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The Participants and Their Organisations

by Patricia Marlette Black BA, MEd.

from Women’s Leadership in Community-Profit Organisations,
Doctoral Thesis , Queensland University of Technology, 1999, pp. 122-145.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

6.1 Introduction

Methodology as the perspective and assumptions that guide this research is outlined in chapter 4 of the thesis. That chapter locates the assumptions underpinning this research in a symbolic interactionist perspective which emphasises the situated aspects of the participants’ experiences, a naturalistic interaction, and empathetic role-taking. Chapter 5 of the thesis outlined a qualitative research process which centres on concurrent processes of data collection and analysis as the most appropriate research method to address the research problem and to achieve the purpose of the research which is the provision of new insights and of greater understanding with regard to the leadership interaction or relationship that is consonant with an emerging holisitc world view.

This chapter presents patterns of results describing the participants and their organisations which emerge from the immersion in the texts, the coding and categorising of the texts and memo writing. The data presented in this chapter and in Chapter 7 and Chapter 8 are presented in such a way as to ensure that the research questions are addressed in a focussed and easily accessible way while at the same time providing sufficient detail, especially in the quotations from the transcripts, to hear the voices of the participants. In a symbolic interactionist perspective the voices of the participants are the key to achieving new understandings and insights with regard to the social reality under investigation. In order to contextualise these voices, Table 6.1 names (using pseudonyms) the participants whose voices will be heard and situates them in their research sites and in terms of their leadership position. The research sites have been identified using acronyms in order to protect the anonymity of the participants. Table 6.1 also indicates the number of times the voice of each participant is heard in this and the following two chapters by giving the number of quotations used from each participant’s interview to illustrate the findings of the research.

Table 6.1 The formal participants situated in their research sites and in terms of their leadership positions

Participants’ names (pseudonyms)

Research organisation acronym

Research organisation category

Designated leader

Non-positional leader

No. of quotations used

Abbey

CR1

Culture and Recreation

x

 

2

Ada

CR1

 

x

3

Adina

CR1

x

 

1

Agatha

CR2

 

x

4

Agnes

CR2

x

 

4

Amy

CR2

 

x

2

Alexis

CR2

x

 

3

Amara

ER

Education and Research

x

 

3

Angela

ER

 

x

6

Bea

ER

x

 

3

Beth

H

Health

x

 

6

Beryl

H

x

 

8

Cara

H

 

x

8

Celia

H

 

x

4

Briana

SS

Social Services

x

 

1

Cheryl

SS

x

 

1

Tara

SS

x

 

1

Di

SS

 

x

0

Daisy

DH

Development and Housing

 

x

2

Dora

DH

 

x

3

Ella

DH

x

 

6

Eleanor

RAP

Civil Rights, Advocacy and Political

x

 

4

Erica

RAP

x

 

7

Eve

RAP

x

 

13

Fay

RAP

x

 

6

Freda

RAP

x

 

2

Gina

PIV

Philanthropic, Intermediaries and Volunteer Promotion

x

 

3

Grace

PIV

x

 

2

Participants’ names (pseudonyms)

Research organisation acronym

Research organisation category

Designated leader

Non-positional leader

No. of quotations used

Greta

PIV

x

 

1

Hana

PIV

 

x

1

Holly

INT

International

x

 

9

Ida

INT

 

x

4

Irene

INT

 

x

0

Ita

INT

 

x

5

Jade

BPAU

Business, Professional Associations and Unions

 

x

8

Jocelyn

BPAU

x

 

7

Joy

BPAU

x

 

5

Jessica

BPAU

x

 

3

June

BPAU

x

 

2

Kay

ENV

Environment

x

 

8

Kiri

ENV

x

 

5

Keely

ENV

x

 

5

Lala

RE1

Religion

 

x

6

Lea

RE1

x

 

2

Lois

RE1

 

x

2

Lara

RE1

 

x

2

Lucy

RE1

x

 

3

Margot

RE2

x

 

4

Magda

RE2

x

 

4

Mariah

RE2

 

x

4

Mia

RE2

 

x

5

Nora

RE2

x

 

4

Rhoda

NEC

Not elsewhere classified

 

x

2

Ria

NEC

 

x

6

Valerie

NEC

 

x

2

Una

NEC

x

 

5

Yetta

NEC

x

 

5

6.2 Descriptive Data about the Formal Participants

The descriptive data about the formal participants is not based on detailed biographical descriptions of the participants’ lives. It is, rather, based on the participants’ responses to questions about whether or not they see themselves as leaders, how they think other people view them as leaders, how they feel about exercising leadership and how they came to exercise leadership in community-profit organisations. It is also based on comments that were part of the research conversations between the researcher and each participant.

Employment Profile

Twenty of the 35 designated leaders in the sample who are volunteers in their community-profit organisations are also in paid full-time employment elsewhere. For example, this group includes five women who run their own businesses, three women in public service organisations, an industrial chemist, an accountant, a psychologist, three academics and a doctor. The comment of one of these leaders, Angela, about the other women who work full-time and yet hold designated leadership positions in her community-profit organisation perfectly captures the researcher’s impressions of this group of leaders:

It never ceases to amaze me, the generosity of people, that they are willing to give of their time, to come along and be so passionate about some of the issues ... it’s a leadership that’s committed and passionate and generous. (Angela)

Ten of the 22 non-positional volunteer leaders in the sample also work full-time in other organisations, bringing the number of volunteer leaders who also hold full-time jobs elsewhere to 30 out of 57, just over half of the sample. These volunteer leaders experience the challenge of juggling the commitments of a full-time job and leadership in a community-profit organisation, a challenge which is vividly described by Ada, one of the non-positional leaders:

We’ve had so many crises, it’s just terrible. We had ‘10,000’ grants due in one week and our Treasurer went to Italy! I had no idea what I was doing and I had all these grants to write up and I was going around the city at lunch time chasing up all these letters of recommendation. It’s in the time frame of a hobby, but it’s not just a hobby. You’re really passionate about it and its possibilities, but you only have the time that you would give to a hobby. There is so much to get done in the little time you have at lunch hour, after work, on the weekends. I think being in a community organisation is harder than being in a multinational corporation because when you have to contact people it’s out of work hours and it’s so hard to get them right on five o’clock! Finding the time to conduct the business of a group like ours is very hard. (Ada)

Nine of the 35 designated leaders and four of the 22 non-positional leaders in the sample are paid workers in the community-profit organisations that comprise the research sites. They hold positions such as councillors, social workers, and administrators. The attitude of these paid workers to working in women’s community-profit organisations is reflected in the following extract from the interview with Cara:

There is a myth that it’s nicer to work in women’s non-profit organisations and I carry that myth very strongly. I also think in practice it’s much nicer for me to work in a women’s organisation. At the last job I had I tried another mainstream organisation and I very quickly realised that there were a number of organisational issues that I would work on for a while but then it was tiring. I didn’t want to advocate that women had a right to equality 24 hours a day. I wanted to be in an environment that supported that so that I could do it in my work but not in my everyday interactions. I think we have different issues, but I still think as an arena in which to grow and learn about how we want to interact and want to work there is more potential here. It doesn’t mean it is going to work or going to succeed. I think also about the struggle. It’s very hard to operate in the ways that we want to and it takes a lot of energy to be always looking at what you’re doing and evaluating it ... And it’s hard to establish new organisational forms when we are always in crisis and always short of resources. (Cara)

The remaining six of the 35 designated leaders and eight of the 22 non-positional leaders in the sample are volunteers in the research organisations and are not in paid employment elsewhere. Ida, who had held voluntary designated leadership positions over a 30 year period in a world-wide community-profit organisation which had enormous political influence and who is a non-positional leader in one of the research organisations explains why she never aspired to leadership positions in paid employment:

I had no need financially to be paid for any work I was doing and it was far better that I did the sort of work that I wanted to do and that lots of others didn’t do because in the early days people didn’t want to work for peace, because peace was a dirty word at that time. There was certainly not a lot of social acceptability about it. (Ida)

Cheryl, who has run her own business and who has recently resigned from her job as a health educator specialising in oncology care and who holds a designated leadership position in a community-profit organisation describes her volunteer status this way:

I think we need more women in leadership, that’s for sure, in all walks of life, doing all things, and I hope that the day will come when we will all be recognised, and I think that even among our own sex if you’re not seen to be in paid work that you don’t get the, yeah, even your own sex will not recognise, I have, I get this from my own friends. They say, but what do you really do, you know, what are you doing it for, it’s just voluntary, you’re not getting paid for that. I don’t need to be paid for what I’m doing. Maybe I’m lucky because I don’t have to have paid work at this stage, and there are a lot of women who have to go to work so therefore haven’t got the time to do voluntary things. And maybe they’re in a job that they might hate and I really feel sorry for them because I’m doing something I love. And I think that most people, most women in a leadership role that I’ve seen in work situations or in non-profit organisations, they usually like what they’re doing, or else they wouldn’t be there and I think that’s the bottom line. That’s the heart of it - to enjoy what you’re doing. (Cheryl)

Figure 6.1 summarises the employment profiles of the formal participants.

Just over half of the sample (over half of the designated leaders and just under half of the non-positional leaders) exercise leadership in a volunteer capacity in the research organisations but are employed full-time in other organisations. The size of this group indicates that in women’s community-profit organisations on the margins community involvement has not been largely replaced by professional management and that community participation is still as significant as the provision of services. This is further supported by the fact that one quarter of the participants are volunteers who are not in paid employment elsewhere. Each of these participants brings a wealth of experience and knowledge from her background in other organisations, whether she is in paid employment or a volunteer. The fact that the participants who are paid, professional employees include both designated leaders and non-positional leaders, as do the participants in the previous two categories mentioned, prevents simplistic preconceptions of possible conflict between voluntary designated leaders and paid non-positional leaders. The relationship between designated leaders and non-positional leaders is described later in this chapter.

Leadership Path

The emphasis on community participation and the value of contributing to social capital and community well-being is reflected in the ways in which the participants became involved in exercising leadership in community-profit organisations. The participants were asked how they came to exercise leadership in their organisation and whether they had always had aspirations to be a leader. The frequency distribution of the four major ways the participants became involved in leadership in the research organisations according to an analysis of their responses to these questions is shown in Table 6.2.

Table 6.2 Frequency distribution of ways in which participants became involved in leadership in community-profit organisations

Participants’ descriptions of ways of becoming involved

Number of designated leaders (n=35)

Number of non-positional leaders (n=22)

% of total participants

Invited or elected

13

6

33

Volunteered

4

9

25

Responded to a social need

6

2

14

Chosen career path

 

5

(paid workers)

9

Except for five of the participants who are paid workers in their organisations, leadership in community-profit organisations was not deliberately chosen as a career. The majority of participants found themselves exercising leadership in the research organisations in response to the invitation of others or in response to the perception of a social need. The eight participants who describe their involvement in leadership in community-profit organisations as a response to a social need are all founding members of their organisations. They felt that other organisations were not meeting the social needs that they perceived. For example, Gina’s dream was to work with abused children, but she explains:

... when I looked into those places working with abused children I really discovered that it was too late, that it was better to step in beforehand at the prevention level and the empowerment level. (Gina)

Gina founded an organisation whose principle goal is to prevent child abuse by empowering and supporting parents.

The participants who became involved in leadership in the research organisations through invitation or election were often urged by members of the organisation to become involved because of their potential contribution to the group. Agatha’s story is typical of this invitational path to eventually becoming involved in exercising leadership in the research organisations.

I became involved - I finished work last November and I started searching around for what I would do - I knew I would do plenty ... Then when it was International Women’s Day I was on the stall for the YWCA and I spoke to a woman there from CR2 and she told me all the things they do, and it’s not just that they get together and have meetings and play games. She gave me a brochure with a lot of phone numbers, so I phoned the last number because I thought the last person would always get the least calls. So when I did she said ‘Why did you phone me?’ And I said ‘Because you’re the last person on the list and I thought I’d be nice’. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘you’ve called the busiest person’ and she said to call Sally and gave me her number. Sally said to come along to the meeting on the following Friday. I wasn’t able to make that meeting and she called me. Well, that impressed me. She said they were having an open meeting for new members and people interested and asked me to come along. Well, I thought, they’re efficient, they know what they’re about, I went along and I was hooked right there. (Agatha)

Those who volunteered their services to organisations and subsequently exercised leadership within them were often looking for some way in which they could make a contribution to society through an organisation in whose goals they believed. Joy’s story is an example of this.

I’d really only moved along in my husband’s career path, following him and all of a sudden here I was settled in a place where we wouldn’t be moving every two years, in a place where I knew this was where I was going to be so now it was time for me to make my mark, to do something for me ... We bought a small business here which initially I was going to run with my husband, but, you know, when you haven’t worked together - and living and working together wasn’t working out so I decided I’d just go down my career path. So I’ve chosen another job that gives me flexibility and I’m actually in the process of developing it now and I’ve probably done as much as I could and I’ve got to decide do I want to go further and branch out or do I want to stick to what I’m doing because it’s convenient and I can concentrate on other things because I’ve got a pay cheque if you know what I mean ... So I was looking around for something to join to get to know people I think basically, to get to meet other women, right, and a neighbour invited me along to a BPAU breakfast and, of course, I went along. That was about six, seven, maybe eight years ago. Initially I just joined it to get to know other women in the area, to see what I could be involved in, but after being in the organisation for about two years, the next thing I knew I was secretary, then vice-president, then regional president then State president. I was just impressed with its beliefs and the opportunities that it offered women to develop themselves because I’d never really tackled that side. (Joy)

Although the research participants are all exercising leadership in community-profit organisations that wield considerable political power or community influence, the majority of them have no aspirations to leadership as such. The majority of the participants volunteered to become members of the organisation or responded to invitations to do so because they were committed to the goals or philosophy of the organisation or they were looking for the opportunity to meet and work with women who had similar interests and concerns to theirs. Even the five paid workers who joined organisations as part of their career path did so more often because of the philosophy and mission of the organisation rather than any status or financial benefits that might be attached to the position. Cara states:

I came about the job - I’d been working in a number of women’s centres, in women’s services and working with women’s issues - and was attracted to women’s issues and I applied for it and got it. (Cara)

Celia was impressed by the way in which the philosophy of the organisation was reflected in the conditions of employment.

How I commenced was that the position was advertised and I was aware that funding had become available and I went to a meeting that was held talking about the setting up of the service and I saw local advertisements for the position to which I applied. It was for a full-time advertised position and I wasn’t interested in full-time because I have young children and I was returning to work after having children. So a friend of mine who was also looking for work, and we had been former colleagues, we put in a joint submission to go as job share partners and we were successful with that condition of employment. (Celia)

Self-Perception As Leaders

In response to the question ‘Do you think of yourself as a leader?’ none of the participants give an unqualified ‘yes’. The majority of participants in the sample (42 out of 57) give qualified ‘yes’ responses. Short extracts from many of these responses indicate the tentativeness of the participants to consider themselves as leaders and the pervasiveness of their hesitation to use the word leader .

I guess I do ... (Rhoda)

I suppose so ... (Agatha)

Probably a little bit ... (Daisy)

Well, it sort of depends on what a leader is. (Jessica)

I suppose so ... (Jade)

Well I suppose I am - I consider myself more as a person who provides guidance, some options that people can either choose or not. (Valerie)

I’ve often been in designated leadership positions ... (Eve)

I think I’ve always been one without putting a title on it ... if by being a leader you mean taking initiative and influencing other people which I think should be part of the story of leadership, I guess so. (Jocelyn)

It’s a funny term. When you ask that I think ‘Oh no” and yet often times I know that I initiate things. (Cara)

Typically, as with most women, I don’t think of myself routinely as a leader, I don’t go around thinking about leadership and what that entails and so I don’t have a sort of worked out position on it. (Yetta)

We never use the word. I haven’t used it in my three and a half years here ... It’s not a part of the language we use. It’s described in other ways - responsibility, coordination etc. (Beth)

Because we very much wanted the collective and consensus atmosphere to be maintained, for us to have a leader up front and away from everyone else was not a way to do things. (Eve)

I have never thought of myself in that light I guess ... I think of myself more as organising and facilitating rather than leading. It’s only if you step back from it and think of it in the terms men might think of it that you think ‘Oh, yes, I did think of that and I did move that forward and that did become a reality’ and then you recognise that as leadership. But in the day to day running of it I don’t think I’m a leader or anything like that. I’ve found that term quite alien to how I think. It’s much more what has to be done today and we just go on doing the daily things. So you don’t think of yourself as being a leader in some way. (Fay)

I see myself as an influencer. (Celia)

I don’t see myself as exercising leadership but rather encouraging everyone involved in the project, organisation etc to be leaders in some way. (Lara)

This leadership business! When you say leadership, it’s something that doesn’t belong to me; it’s a completely new concept. What I did was because I happened to be there and there was nobody else. (Ida)

Twelve out of 57 of the participants give a negative response to the question ‘Do you think of yourself as a leader?’ Ten of these 12 were designated leaders. One of those who definitely does not see herself as a leader is Magda, who holds a designated leadership position within a large (2000 members) group of religious sisters. She explains:

I suppose I would see my role more as an animating role than leadership. And this could have to do with the kind of interference that happens in one’s concepts and consciousness from older models of what leadership is about and specifically what leadership in religious congregations has been about and continues in a lot of contexts to still be about. I think some of that for me is around how easy it is to ... well maybe that’s not the way to put it ... but I still perceive some of the authoritarian models we inherited or were somehow forced into by the canon law of the era and the kind of superior/inferior thing; there is still a good bit of that around in my experience. Funnily enough, I’ve found myself from time to time in contexts where I find people relating to me in that way and I really just resist and feel terribly uncomfortable about that kind of thing. (Magda)

A similar response is made by others who respond negatively to the question of whether or not they saw themselves as leaders. For example, Alexis states:

I don’t actually, no. I suppose I always saw leaders in the old sense of being a boss and being important, but I don’t see me like that. But sometimes I see others, I see women defer to me just a little bit which I don’t like and I try not to put myself forward as a leader; I try to keep a low profile. (Alexis)

Other participants who responded negatively are uncomfortable with the emphasis on individual leadership. Their position is succinctly stated by Kay, one of the founders and designated leaders of a community organisation with considerable political influence, who claims:

I don’t see myself as a leader. I’m very much just part of a group of people, not a leader. (Kay)

It is interesting to note that only two of the non-positional leaders give a negative response to the question. Their ‘yes’ may be qualified but they see themselves as leaders even though they do not hold a designated leadership position, paid or voluntary. For example, for Ita, a non-positional leader, leadership goes beyond the boundaries of a designated role in the group. She says:

I find it very rewarding to have an influence over directions and in that way it’s a form of leadership in its own sense. I really like being at the front, but I don’t need to have control over what other people do, particularly. The other thing is, I’m not sure that’s a relevant question or a relative way of thinking about INT because what I’ve found is that we have all had very important roles and in fact sometimes the designated roles swap around in a very natural sort of way. ... So I think we share roles, very much so, and I guess that’s the thing that I find most interesting and enjoyable about this particular group. (Ita)

In spite of the fact that the participants are tentative about or uncomfortable with thinking of themselves as leaders, the majority of participants who express their feelings about exercising leadership are positive about the experience as long as it isn’t equated with the prevailing, masculine understanding of leadership. Many are enthusiastic in expressing their positive feelings as the extracts from a sample of interviews illustrates:

Oh, I thoroughly enjoy it ... I suppose it’s just my nature, I enjoy the challenge. Because with that challenge I can see growth, I can see development in others and that’s very rewarding. It’s also enjoyable to see the projects up and going, but it’s the personal growth I enjoy most. (Jade)

Well, I thoroughly enjoy women’s company anyway and as I said before, I like people. But I’ve felt my life has been so enriched since I joined this organisation and I just feel that it has given me a lot, it’s made me a lot stronger in a lot of areas. I just feel as though I’m a part, I’m accepted as part of a team. As I said before, we all seem to be on that same level as a team and, I don’t know, I think the years that I’ve experienced here no one can take from me because I’ve just enjoyed it so much, you know, and everything, I’ve just been enriched by it all, the whole lot. (Hana)

It has been a very positive experience. My experience has been a good one in that I feel I am contributing. I couldn’t stand it if I turned up once a month and thought that it was no use going because they don’t listen to what I say or they’re not interested in hearing what I’ve got to say. I’ve found that the others on the Board have been very accepting and they are willing to listen to what you have to say. They have been patient in that sometimes I have had to ask for clarification because I’m not familiar with the issues. So people are patient and I get a sense that they are grateful that you are giving up your time, that you are interested enough to attend the meetings, that you do your bit and they are grateful for the input. That’s what I’ve found anyway. It’s been a very positive experience. I quite look forward to the meetings because I find them very good. (Angela)

Also, in spite of being hesitant about considering themselves as leaders, the participants were very confident and comfortable in providing a leadership profile of themselves. The self-perception of themselves as leaders is based on questions about how they think others perceive them as leaders and about how they would describe their own leadership characteristics. Figure 6.2 summarises the participants’ perceptions of themselves as leaders.

Sixty-three per cent of the designated leaders in the sample believe that others would perceive them and they would perceive themselves as good planners who are organised and reliable. Eve’s response is typical of this group.

My ability to just get things done and organise things, and to organise people in such a way that they don’t need to be told what to do; they get a sense of what is required and do it without being directed. I’m an organiser and I’m quite good at finding things to make do and solving problems quickly. (Eve)

Figure 6.2 Participants’ perceptions of themselves as leaders

Lucy, who had great difficulty in considering herself as a leader, willingly acknowledged her organisational skills.

I’m a good organiser when I’m given a task to do. I sometimes feel that I’m better at carrying out tasks than initiating them, which goes against the leadership idea. But I think a leader does need to be a good organiser. I’m conscientious, I have a strong sense of commitment, duty, umm.... I’m prepared to participate and give an opinion and I was a teacher for a long time. I think the training you have initially as a teacher and the experience you have - well, a teacher is a leader of sorts - so that’s my experience. (Lucy)

Often the participants responded to questions about how they perceived themselves as leaders with a response in the plural. It seems as if even in a conversation focused on them personally many of the participants have a group understanding of leadership. Eleanor and Fay are two examples of this ‘response in the plural’:

I think that that is one of our strengths - that we are good planners and organisers because most of us have done those sorts of jobs. Lots of us have worked in unions as organisers and so we’re used to knowing what tasks have to be done. (Fay)

They’re like myself, I think, very task oriented, very much into planning, very much into making sure we evaluate what we do to ensure that we’re always on the right track, people who have particular content expertise in media, or fundraising or policy development, whatever. (Eleanor)

Sixty per cent of the designated leaders also perceive themselves as good communicators. The following sample of quotations from the interviews captures some of the ways in which this understanding of themselves as good communicators is particularly important to the designated leaders in the sample.

I touch base with as many people as I can. I come in in the morning, find out what they’re doing, how they’re going, what their groups are like. I also find it very difficult not to find out how their personal life is going because so much of what happens there will affect here. So that I make sure all is well, so if they have kids and they are saying to me the kids are coming down with a cold, I know that in a couple of days time they may not be able to come in because they have to look after their kids. Keeping that in balance, try to keep and touch base with everybody, don’t ask them to do something I would never do myself, be it empty a rubbish bin, be it make a commitment to something they couldn’t do, be it to tell a woman to go away we can’t help her. (Beryl)

I’m also (well, I think) a good communicator. I love listening to people and I like to take on board their ideas which is one of the things we’ve built into our campaigns ... and I’ve made notes of all the different things that women have told me. And I think that can be very empowering. (Erica)

An openness; being able to communicate with people and building that integrity with people where it’s not just that they like you, but they can see that you’re a person who gets on with a variety of people. (Angela)

Forty-five to 60 per cent of both the designated leaders and the non-positional leaders in the sample describe themselves as leaders who are relational and who are passionate or convinced about what they are doing in their organisations. Personal relationships are important to the participants in the exercise of their leadership and considerable time and energy is invested by the participants in attending to the relational aspect of their interactions. Some are particularly attentive to creating an environment that nurtures others. This is an emphasis in the leadership of Jocelyn who was named by three other participants as a wonderful mentor for them.

I also believe in nurturing people. Leadership is about influencing people. People don’t come into BPAU fully grown. No woman in her life is fully grown. And I expect people to come in at various stages of growth and I try to make it my business to observe these stages of growth and try to set up the conditions that will help that person flower. And my help may be quite different from the one who will help the next person bloom, you see. (Jocelyn)

Alexis, too, sees herself as a relational leader in terms of creating a nurturing environment for others.

I try to provide an environment, a safe, stable and secure environment where people can come forward and feel they can offer whatever they have to offer for the organisation and that it will be appreciated and accepted and needed; I suppose it’s creating that sort of environment. (Alexis)

Other participants describe themselves as relational leaders in the sense that they deliberately facilitate good group processes that promote the development of positive interpersonal relationships.

But I think also, I guess, (I don’t know how other people see me) but what I’ve had to offer the group has been an understanding that group process was incredibly important and that group process was the thing to watch and it’s the how we operate more than anything else. I think my leadership contribution has been in the area of process. I’m not a good person for keeping a lot of detail in my head and most of the time at meetings I’m not really taking in what’s being said; I’m just monitoring the process that’s going on. So it’s a sense of group cohesion and group process that I think I’ve contributed. The others contribute to it too, but in my view that’s a lot of what leadership is around and especially a kind of leadership for women’s groups which will be collaborative and participative and consensual and all of that stuff; not hierarchical. (Holly)

And words, if people start to use words that are insulting, I’ll step in and say ‘Let’s try to use different words because they are just inflammatory’. I try to do it in a way not to insult the person who is using them because they are trying to describe how they feel too. Even if I’ve got a clear view of what I’d like the outcome to be I know that unless it’s been cleared to get to that point the outcome won’t be as I want it to be anyway unless all people are comfortable and have understood each other and if everyone has got to that point, if we’ve had some people feeling bulldozed into a position there will always be problems in the future anyway. The process I feel is important to any outcome. (Una)

I think I’m a strong and fairly self-confident person and I’m good with relationships in terms of being interested in people and valuing what they have to say. And I’m a good facilitator in groups. I very much like to allow persons to speak and not be spoken over. To give everyone an opportunity to say things. To invite people into saying things. And to assist people to do some analysis. I think one of my strengths is the ability to do that. (Lala)

Respect for others and valuing their contribution is an important aspect of the relational aspect of the 45 per cent to 60 per cent of both designated and non-positional leaders who perceive themselves as relational leaders.

So for someone like myself interpersonal politics take precedence over public, formal forms of politics. I don’t really care what happens with RAP. I care about the people in RAP. I care about - what’s something I read somewhere recently? It really fitted in. It was something like the difference between being nice to people, being kind and respectful to people and being wise; there’s a vast difference. And knowing that is the beginning of wisdom. So for me, I’m a wisdom learner in training because I very much focus on interpersonal respect and I think that if you can model that behaviour in your private life and in your public dealings with people, then the rest will follow and maybe that’s what feminism has always been trying to do with varying degrees of success I think. ... If you can’t model that behaviour in your private life, of interpersonal respect for people, it’s all for nought I think. (Eleanor)

One of the characteristics that people mentioned about me was a capacity to work with others, to animate others, to empathise with other people, with a wide range of people and somehow have a sense of standing in their shoes and knowing what it’s like and somehow to just walk with people and walk together somewhere. (Magda)

But I see everyone as deserving the same respect, the same dignity. I don’t see or make any difference with people within society. People say ‘Oh, but so and so is the head or is this or is that’ but I just think there is no difference as we are all here serving people. So I think people see in me a commitment to the equality of all people and giving everyone the same rights as everyone else. (Greta)

Forty-five to 60 per cent of both designated leaders and non-positional leaders perceive themselves as passionate or committed about what they are doing in their organisations. Kiri and Mariah describe their commitment and the implications of that commitment in their lives.

People probably see my commitment. I’m called one of those passionate greenies by my friends. To me I don’t feel passionate in the sense that I’ll do this above all else. I do it as part of a lot of other things in my life, not just as my one and only commitment. I’m a committed person generally to causes and to things that I believe in and things that affect my family mostly and things that will benefit the community as a whole. (Kiri)

I held a position in a status place within a university for a number of years and I think it gave me a mandate to move anywhere else. I gave it up but I think it enabled people to see that I had an accepted power and status in a wider scene than the church or the order.

Why did you give that up?

I gave it up because I wanted to hang on to the radical gospel value things that were part of my vocation at the depth of prayer and contemplation and my own growth in a sophia sort of wisdom that I don’t understand at the moment, the god who is female, who is within me, and it was being stifled by my being put on to promotional committees and judging people’s lives and having to get more money and doing all the very materialist - in fact all the economic rationalist things about society. So I moved back into being powerless. Now, I thought that I only had to make the choice, but my goodness, over eighteen months I’ve had to stand in a powerless position. I can’t any longer write down that I’m a senior lecturer. I can’t write a letter and speak from a position of power. I have no official way of doing anything else. But when I sat with that and when I worked with that in my own story I realised I have access to all the knowledge that there is. I’m an avid reader, I can get access to libraries and research and all the rest of it. I’m articulate, I’ve got a strong self-concept which means I can speak up in any group around the world and that doesn’t worry me, so that I’m a force to be reckoned with as a woman who influences other people in some way. So I’ve had to say what are the values on which I’m working, how do I keep on sifting them and knowing they’re worthwhile because I’m questioning the leaders and I’m questioning some of the people and I’m doing leadership things in a different way. (Mariah)

Valerie’s sense of conviction brought her from her homeland in Europe to Australia where she is consciously working to transform society through her involvement in a number of community-profit organisations. She explains:

I left Europe for the reasons that I didn’t think I had a future there - the place is just too overcrowded, too contaminated and too many worries on the way things were going and are still going there. I’m still in quite close contact with a few people over in Europe and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. I like to have some kind of a future that I have to look forward to without having to compromise everything that mattered to me and in Europe that seemed to be impossible. So I suppose that is what people recognise in me - I just wasn’t going to whinge about stuff, I was going to look for any possible viable ways as to how to do it differently, because I personally believe that the current systems are bound to collapse sooner or later and we need to have some alternatives in place that are not solely reliant on money or artificial back-up but are carried by the people. And I mean, if we can educate people in that way and get them each to share out with different little tasks and responsibilities and when big changes happen outside of our private lives we have more of a chance not to panic and go crazy over it and point the finger and then just to become passive victims, but to somehow cope with it in a responsible and mature way and the end doesn’t have to be there in that regard. It’s just going to be different from now on. (Valerie)

As Figure 6.2 shows, a smaller although not insignificant number of both designated and non-positional leaders used other descriptors in presenting their leadership profiles. Of these, the understanding of both the designated leaders and the non-positional leaders of the networking aspect of leadership is particularly interesting and is discussed in Chapter 8.

6.3 Descriptive Data About the Research Organisations

The organisational context for women’s leadership in community-profit organisations is an important area to explore. In order to generate data about the organisational forms within which the participants exercise their leadership the participants were asked to describe their organisations, in particular the way decisions are made, and the purpose of their organisations.

Organisational Context and Decision Making Process

An overview of the research organisations is provided in Table 5.4 of section 5.2 of the thesis. In this section descriptive data about the research organisations is presented in such a way as to ensure that the insights and understandings of the participants are the focus of the research findings.

The participants of two of the research organisations, NEC and RE1, describe their organisations as either a co-operative (NEC) or a community structure (RE1). The participants describe the organisational structures and decision making processes of these two organisations as emerging from shared values that are reflected in a total lifestyle. For example, Lois in her description of RE1 says:

It’s very hard to describe the organisation because in becoming a member you are taking on a value system, a vision, a lifestyle ... It’s more than a network; it’s a community, a group of people that’s more like a family which has close links between members because we have all accepted the same vision of life. We have the same sense of values even though we have some members who are pushing the margins of change while some members are very conservative. RE1 is a community of women that has formed around this common vision. (Lois)

The majority of the participants struggle to find exact words to describe their organisations. Most of them describe organisations with a collective or co-operative ‘heart’ and structures which, while formal, are more collaborative, participative and democratic than hierarchical and bureaucratic.

Some of these organisations, for example, RE2, SS, and ER have in the past had structures that have been more bureaucratic than collaborative and are in the process of searching for new structures that better reflect the desire of the members for greater participation and collaboration. Nora describes RE2, a large, national organisation, as a ‘network organisation that is still carrying divisionalised bureaucracy structures’.

Another organisation, H, is coming to terms with a more formal structure after having been a collective earlier in its history. The decision to adopt more formal structures was a difficult but inevitable one, as Celia explains:

I was happiest working under the flat structure model because I felt that all staff had more input into decision making and had more opportunity to have a direct relationship with the management committee. However, I see the reason for the shift to a coordinator position and what I see has happened is, because of the expansion of the service and the greater accountability, that role had to be assumed by someone and that was a problem previously. Also, when we were operating under a flat structure, we had less staff and so it was easier to make decisions. With a large number of staff who are part time it’s necessary to have someone here full time who can take the decisions that have to be taken on a day to day basis without having to come back to the group. (Celia)

The struggle to find a balance between what participants see as necessary formal structures and collaborative, democratic and participative principles and processes dominated the responses of the majority of participants. Beth’s response reflects the responses of these participants:

We believe in ‘we are for women by women’. We are women who do the work. We don’t directly provide services to men. We value women’s experiences. Women’s experiences form a very important part of the context or the service. That is affirming women’s experiences, listening to and validating their experiences. We are not a collective but we believe very much in sharing of information, in accountability, in people being vitally involved in the organisation ... the idea that this organisation is yours, belongs to you and you have a vital role to play in it. (Beth)

The concern of the participants is that the necessary formal structures that they adopt in their organisations be transparent and collaborative. Cara points out that formal or well-defined structures need not prevent collaboration:

Our organisation definitely does have a structure now but that structure is one that still allows input; and while there is a coordinator and a management committee, the number of times where we’ve needed to address issues have shown that all the structures work together - workers and coordinator and management committee feeling that they can have equal value. The structure is there, but we can often change the decisions, so those decisions aren’t usually the final decision; they are always done in full consultation. I think it’s more about defining structures. I think flat structures still have a structure, not necessarily flat! There are people who hold power, people who use power, people who hoard power. And I think that’s common in both flat and hierarchical structures. I think for me it’s about describing those power structures and coming to some clear articulation about what the structures are and how they work. (Cara)

The majority of participants say that the decisions in their organisations are made by consensus. While the participants don’t define exactly what they mean by ‘consensus’ there seems to be general agreement among them that decisions are not taken until everyone involved agrees to the implementation of the decision after full discussion of its implications. The following extracts from the interviews with Bea, Yetta and Keely, each from a different type of organisation, give an indication of what the participants understand as consensus decision making:

We just talk it through and reach a consensus and it’s obvious there is a consensus there. If there isn’t a consensus then we ask for more information till we know what we are making the decision about. It works well, a bit slow sometimes and it does mean that you have to spend a lot more time and you may have to modify what you were going to say. There have been a couple of occasions when it has not worked well. One person was not happy with the decision made and we had to start all over again and say ‘Okay, what are you not happy about. How can we change that would make it more satisfactory for you? Is that satisfactory to everyone else?’ It means that it will take a long time and get very tiring. I can’t think of a time where not everyone was happy. The inefficiency of it irks me but I’m prepared to put up with that. Men would say ‘To hell with this; let’s reach a decision now. I’ve got another meeting to attend somewhere else.’ No one on the Board likes it when the meetings go an hour over time but everyone is willing to put up with it and all the members we’ve had so far are willing to work that way. (Bea)

Well, consensus. You would have to use the term loosely because often the whole process of achieving consensus is not gone through and lots of people really don’t even understand the concept I don’t think in co-operatives and I’m not sure that I thoroughly understand it myself, but general agreement is a better way of describing it. Well, it’s not a situation where people lobby for their point of view, have a big argument, vote, and one side wins and another side loses. It’s much more a situation where if there are differing views, people talk about it, try to compromise, try to come to a decision that everybody’s comfortable with. So that it’s more time consuming to do that, but in the end it’s probably more satisfactory because you don’t have winners and losers, you don’t have the situation where people in the losing camp feel like undermining a decision because it doesn’t represent what they want. (Yetta)

If there is anything major we always take it back to a meeting and say what has happened. Certainly we have to do that under incorporation. Certainly decisions about funding and those sorts of things. We had a bad experience some years ago where we went for child care funding and that caused a split in the group. We felt the group was taking on a charter that wasn’t our charter and that our resources were limited and we couldn’t direct it. I think we learned from that. That is one of the weaknesses when you don’t bureaucratise it and you don’t table your agenda. But in the group there had been the sort of thing about not being able to attend the meetings and asking to be rung up about what happened if it was important. But there is a point at which there is an agenda and at which you have to be present to affect decisions. A learning out of that was that given that we’re based on principles and things that matter to us if it is an important issue it is better to defer it to another meeting rather than attempt to deal with it when not everyone is there. In the key issues the whole group has to be there discussing it through to the final vote. (Keely)

A smaller number of participants described their decision making process as consultative but emphasised the participative nature of the decision making. Often in groups that operated at international and national as well as local levels distinctions are made about the kinds of decision making processes. According to the participants, most of the research organisations adopt a consensus decision making process at the local level even if decision making is consultative at national and international levels. Participants from the same organisation agree in their descriptions of the decision making process in the organisation except in the cases of RE2 and H, organisations which are in the midst of significant structural change.

Organisational Purpose

The participants’ responses to the request to describe the purpose of their organisations were grouped into three categories of similar themes by the researcher. These categories focus on addressing global or social concerns in order to bring about transformation, on personal growth and empowerment and on community development. The participants from 13 out of the 14 research organisations understand the purpose of their organisation to be addressing global and/or social concerns in order to bring about transformation. (SS is the organisation whose purposes are not included in this category). The participants from 13 of the organisations also see personal growth and empowerment as an explicit purpose  of their organisations. (ENV is the organisation whose purposes are not included in this category). Community development is understood by the participants of H, ENV, PIV and NEC to be one of the purposes of these organisations.

In discussing the purposes of BPAU Jade gives an example of the way in which addressing social concerns in order to bring about transformation is one of the purposes of many of the research organisations:

Well, if you look back through our history I suppose our biggest fight has been for equal pay and working conditions for women. And the reason that most women have equal pay these days is because back in those early days we fought really hard. I think in the courts, we put in $30 000 fighting yet again for equal pay but we still don’t really have that. When you get into the workforce and there’s overtime to be given and there’s those benefits to the wage to be given they don’t necessarily go to the women. So even though the award says it’s equal in reality it’s not necessarily. But it’s changing and we’ve done a lot of work in the last few years on Enterprise Bargaining because women will bargain for different things than men will bargain for. And when it comes to bargaining a great example is that they went to work on Enterprise Bargaining on the factory floor and there were a lot of men on the floor because it was that type of factory. There were four or five ladies up in the office. They set it up that they started a six in the morning and finished at three in the afternoon and the women said ‘We don’t want that. We’ve got school kids’. So they then had to go back and say ‘Okay, what are we going to do for the women?’ So there’s all those types of issues and that’s probably been the crux of our work in Australia. I suppose, too, it’s probably the impact we have in writing our submissions on, for example, the Sexual Discrimination Act, small business, women’s health etc. (Jade)

Addressing global concerns in order to bring about transformation as an organisational purpose is described by Kay and by Ida:

Our aims were and are to work towards a future where we have clean air, clean water and clean soil. We’ve come to realise how important it is to have the area that you’re working in small enough that you can really make a difference. Think globally, act locally is still important and we see the value of that approach. (Kay)

Internationally one of our biggest aims is the conversion of swords into ploughshares. A great deal of time and effort and money was spent by our Scandinavian group who were given the brief by us and then by the UN itself to work out strategies for converting gunboats into fishing boats and a lot of work was done on that and is still being done. Nationally, as far as Australia is concerned, we are committed to working for peace through things such as making people aware of the dangers of atomic radiation and the futility of atomic weaponry. (Ida)

Personal growth and empowerment as an organisational purpose of 13 of the 14 organisations are described by Cara and Joy in a way that expresses the understanding of this purpose by many of the participants:

Our organisation was founded in America at a time when there was very little recognition of women’s rights. They thought ‘No one is going to do it for us, so we’ve got to get in there and do it ourselves’. So BPAU is an avenue for women to either become politically aware of the environment they live in, of the country that they live in, the workplace that they work in, the issues that affect them and their daughters and their cousins and their children and claim their power and not sit back and take things as they have always been. (Joy)

Again, the basic purpose is to try to redress the information that women carry around and give them avenues to look at their own choices. What we work for all the time is making sure that women feel empowered and safe and not standing for violent and abusive situations. (Cara)

The participants’ responses show that many of the research organisations are committed to promoting the self-esteem and skills development of the women who are their members as well as the women who are their clients.

An example of community development as an organisational purpose espoused by a number of the research organisations is given by Gina in her description of the purpose of PIV:

I’d describe it as a community organisation. I think we started the very first year with asking for volunteers and training them. That was the very first aspect of the program. The idea was to get people in the community to help other people in the community. I know there are other things like the counselling and the education programs and everything else which are important but somehow the idea of people coming to volunteer to help others in the community has become a kind of outreach to the whole area. So that it becomes people coming and wanting to do something and seeing that there is something that they can do. I also see it as well as being a community centre where people are helping people as a prevention centre, certainly, and an empowerment centre because I really feel that our philosophy and our emphasis is on getting people to help themselves and then after they help themselves they can help others too. (Gina)

6.4 Conclusion

As mentioned earlier, this chapter does not attempt to present a biographical description of the research participants. It presents a description of them based on their responses to a number of questions about whether or not they see themselves as leaders, how they think other people view them as leaders, how they feel about exercising leadership and how they came to exercise leadership in community-profit organisations. Comments that were part of the research conversations between the researcher and each participant have also contributed to the description of the participants and their organisations.

The profile that emerges is of a group of women, the majority of them (70%) volunteers, who while tentative about describing themselves as leaders, commit an enormous amount of time and energy to exercising leadership in community-profit organisations. The exercise of leadership does not depend solely on position as non-positional leaders clearly perceive themselves as exercising leadership. The designated leaders in the sample have a very strong perception of themselves as good planners who are organised and reliable and as good communicators. Both the designated leaders and the non-positional leaders describe themselves as leaders who value the relational aspects of the leadership interaction and who are passionate or committed about what they are doing in their exercise of leadership. An impression of the participants in the sample is captured in one of the analytic memos written by the researcher after most of the interviews had been completed:

The energy and commitment of these women is amazing! It has been a nightmare trying to find time to interview so many of them because of their hectic schedules. Often when I first meet them my impression is that they are exhausted. After about 15 minutes of the interview conversation they seem to me to be consumed by an incredible energy, by a passion for what they are doing in their organisations and a deep sense of the importance of this for the wider community or society. I also get the impression that they are women who are committed to reflecting on what they’re doing, especially to reflecting on organisational processes and the principles that underpin them, even though this is a struggle at times. I am also aware of a lack of ego in my conversations with these women. Not only do they not talk about themselves, but they are often not comfortable talking about themselves, especially about themselves as leaders. I don’t get a sense that this is because they are mousy or incompetent or shy or lacking in confidence. It’s just that what they are doing seems to be more important to them than the fact that they are the ones doing it. The energy in their comments seems to be centred on what it is they are trying to do as a group in terms of their outreach and in terms of new organisational processes. The other impression I have is of how interesting these women are. What they have done in their lives, their experiences, their insights are all interesting and I come away from the interviews energised by my contact with the participants. I have a sense that they are a very powerful group and that their power is a great source of energy for the community as a whole. (02/02/97)

The organisations are described by the participants as committed to collaborative and participative processes and structures and to the organisational purposes of social transformation, personal growth and empowerment and /or community development. In listening to the participants describe their organisations the researcher was aware of the sense of pride that participants took in their organisations and of their belief in the values and the purposes of the organisations. The participants’ pride in and commitment to their organisations and what they were trying to achieve seemed to the researcher to be much stronger than any of the challenges that the participants faced in their leadership in the organisations.

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