Posted on Tuesday 8 March 2022

in News

International Women’s Day: Thoughts from Rachel Kirby-Rider, Young Lives vs Cancer CEO

Today is International Women’s Day, and it led me to thinking about women who’ve inspired, helped, supported and empowered me.  A picture of Rachel Kirby-Rider, Young Lives vs Cancer CEO

How can you write about just one women when inspirational women touch our lives every day?  Whether through acts of kindness, or lifting each other up when we’ve felt small or insecure, in a number of different ways so many wonderfully role-model excellence, showing us what’s possible or just being beside us when we stumble 

In 2020 one of the greatest feminist icons of the 20th century died, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the notorious RBG! She was a hero of mine, not only because she was a liberal giant but because she was a women of firsts who never let conformity or social convention stop her from achieving what she knew she could. She had a belief in her capability that burned inside her. It wasn’t the fact she was the first female liberal Supreme Court justice, or that she finished top of her class at law school dominated by men that was incredible; it was, but she had a soaring intellect and always worked to the best of her ability. What I find so impressive was how she managed all that but never lost sight of who she was or where she came from. She had a fire in her belly, a passion, an unwavering belief that gender equality had to be fought for and we should be unapologetic about it. She balanced being tough and uncompromising on her goal of gender equality whilst remaining authentic, vulnerable and compassionate.   

Since working in the charity sector I’ve been so privileged to meet some truly extraordinary women who have not only made huge impact on beneficiaries, but have been the most inspirational leaders to work for. Some of the best CEOs I’ve worked for and with have been women, who’ve balanced success in their careers with being working mothers and carers, striving for success but never at the expense of others. What they demonstrated is the best leaders are empathetic, authentic, empowering.  

For many of us who have worked in the third sector for many years, we don’t need to look at the statistics to know instinctively that it is female dominated. The Charity Jobs report from September 2020 highlighted that two thirds of workers in UK voluntary organisations and 70% of all candidates were female. And yet Civil Society reported in September 2021 that only 36% of charity CEOs were women. This is up from 29% two years earlier, so there’s definitely a positive shift, but that still means that in a sector dominated by women, 64% of those at the highest levels of organisations are men. So why is this the case when there are so many fantastic women leaders working in charity? Is it bias of those who do the recruitment, or is it societal norms and conventions that prevent us from pushing ourselves forward? Maybe it’s both but it’s definitely not a lack of ability or passion. Surely true equality in the sector would see the number of women CEOs or directors correlating to the gender ratio of its workforce.  

So when I was thinking about the gender imbalance at the top of charities it led me back to RBG and her musings on when would there be true equality on the Supreme Court:  

“When I’m sometimes asked ‘When will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘When there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

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