In 1989, in a journal article called Green Girls and Ecological Housewives: women, feminism and the conservation movement, I wrote that:
“With some exceptions, (Tasmanian Christine Milne and Queenslander Aila Keto spring to mind) the majority of those conservationists with a significant public profile are men. More women appear as spokespeople at the state level and their numbers increase further at the local level.
So where are the women, because they’re certainly part of the movement numerically? The vast majority of ACF staff are women. Just under 50% of ACF membership is female, but women’s representation [in leadership positions] is less than 30%.”
In 2011 a quick analysis of the higher management and leadership positions within five major national environmental organisations finds that not a lot has changed in terms of women’s representation in their most senior positions.
|Australian Conservation Foundation||CEO||Senior managers including CEO||Board||Elected Council|
|Male||33% female||42% female||36% female|
|WorldWide Fund for Nature||CEO||Directors||Scientific Advisory Committee|
|Male||25% female||18% female|
|The Wilderness Society||CEO or equivalent||Committee members prior to 30/6/10||Committee members after 30/6/10|
|Male until 30/6/10||Approx. 50% female||25% female|
|Greenpeace||CEO or equivalent||Management Team||Campaigners|
|Female||25% female||60% female|
|Landcare Australia Ltd||CEO||Board||Advisory Council||National Landcare Facilitator|
||25% female||38% female||Male (but has been female for many years before this recent appointment)*|
Information obtained from website of these organisations accessed 21 March 2011. I’m very happy to be corrected if any of this information is wrong.
*Information from Matthew Reddy International River Foundation
A new project has given me the chance to look more deeply at women’s leadership in the environment and consumer movements. The project is called:
Women and Leadership in a century of Australian Democracy
This ARC-funded research project is being led by Professor Patricia Grimshaw of the School of Historical Studies at The University of Melbourne. The project aims to identify the extent of women’s leadership within movements for social and political change in Australia, from the neighbourhood to the international level, and to make this record of active citizenship available through national cultural institutions and linked e-resources and through outreach to schools.
The Chief Investigators are from four different universities and are joined by professional researchers from six industry partners:
- The National Library of Australia,
- The National Foundation for Australian Women,
- The National Archives of Australia,
- The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House,
- The National Film and Sound Archive,
- The Australian Nursing Federation (Victorian Branch)
Professor Marian Sawer of the Australian National University is leading that part of the Women and Leadership project that encompasses women and leadership in movements for social change. Working with her are Research Associates Dr Jane Elix, Dr Susan Harris Rimmer, Dr Merrindahl Andrew and Kate Moore, all of whom are engaged in different aspects of the research and in the identification and interviewing of women leaders.
More info about the project can be found at http://www.womenaustralia.info/awal/
This project has given me the opportunity to ask women in the environment and consumer movements how and why they have (and have not) undertaken leadership roles.
Confession: And this questioning has a level of resonance for me, which I need to confess at the beginning (after all, social history isn’t written by automatons, but rather by unreliable, emotionally involved, ordinary people with axes to grind).
In 1989 I managed some 12 staff and the whole Natural Resource Management program within the Australian Conservation Foundation. I left ACF and became director of the Australian Federation of Consumer Organizations – another relatively high profile, leadership role, with lots of lobbying and media action.
And then in 1992, I fell in love, moved in with the (somewhat surprised) object of my affections, quit being an activist and became a consultant.
Since then I’ve worked for industry, government and the community sector in a range of roles behind the scenes. I’ve facilitated meetings that help others to take on their leadership functions, helped to develop strategic plans that others will implement, written reports that governments ignore, and resolved conflicts so that others can take on the task of bringing about social change.
And along the way I’ve mothered 2 kids, and been on the P&C at school, got a PhD, had some long periods off with illness, and done a few other things as well.
But I feel like I left my leadership aspirations behind me 18 years ago. I like to tell myself it was because the sort of leadership I was doing in social change movements was incompatible with having a healthy relationship and happy secure children – too much travel, out of hours work, and non-controllable crises.
But perhaps I was really responding to an unacknowledged fear of failure. Or maybe it was frustration with the constantly adversarial political processes. Perhaps it was just boredom with the endless meetings.
Perhaps I was just incapable of maintaining the level of commitment necessary to be a leader in social change – I might just be too lazy and introverted to have been a real leader. End of confession.
However, I’m not Robinson Crusoe here. There’s quite a few of us who travelled a similar path – women who would have been (or were) leaders in social change movements but who left their employment in various movements, or consciously stepped back from voluntary leadership positions.
Quite a few went into government, with a regular pay cheque and all sorts of good family leave provisions. Others went consulting – in all its different forms of freedom from organizational structure. Some went onto Boards of Directors and did leadership in a different way. Some of us even went into Local Government, and many of us decided to put our efforts into regional and local community activities – again, leadership in a different arena.
So this project has given me the opportunity to talk to women leaders in environment and consumer movements, and ask them about what led to their leadership, how they deal with its pressures, how they manage their families and friendships, and how they trial and refine different ways of leading.
One thing that I’m already noticing is women’s modesty and down-playing of their leadership contributions. I’m not sure I can rely solely on their self reporting. So, I’ll be putting profiles of women up on this blog and inviting comments about the leadership of these women. How do you see their leadership styles? Are there stories that demonstrate their leadership qualities? How did they overcome difficulties and challenges? Are women leaders different from men?
Please contribute to this project by commenting on the profiles – it will help build up a picture of how women leaders helped bring about social change in Australia through the non-government sector, and hopefully be used to help women leaders in the future.