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28th January 2024

The New Paradigm of Feminist Leadership

Headshot of Aurelie Salvaire
Author Aurelie Salvaire
Illustration of diverse people in colorful outfits holding a banner that reads "feminist leadership"
Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David

Traditional leadership models perpetuate hierarchical power dynamics, reinforcing dominance and subordination. Feminist leadership, on the other hand, challenges this paradigm by advocating for shared power, inclusivity, and collaboration. As the failures of patriarchal leadership become evident, more and more organizations are embracing feminist leadership to foster a more equitable and just world.

What is patriarchal leadership?

Patriarchal leadership is rooted in militaristic thinking, emphasizing dominance, control, and competition. Leaders in this model often exhibit limited self-awareness, a strong ego, and a hierarchical approach. This leadership style tends to trivialize self-care, perpetuates biases, and contributes to non-inclusive and toxic workplaces.

If we delve a bit deeper, we can identify the following characteristics of Patriarchal Leaders:

1. Limited Self-Awareness: Patriarchal leaders often lack self-awareness, insisting on perfection and reacting defensively to criticism. They struggle with admitting mistakes, fostering an environment of overconfidence.

Illustration of a boss holding a magnifying lens over an employee

2. Trivializing Self-Care: Patriarchal leaders neglect self-care, promoting overworking and disregarding the well-being of their team. This attitude can lead to burnout and a toxic work environment.

3. Biased Behavior: Patriarchal leaders often exhibit conscious or unconscious biases based on gender, nationality, sexuality, or ethnicity, contributing to a non-inclusive workplace.

4. Centralized Power: Leaders in this model tend to micro-manage, control decision-making, and fail to share knowledge, hindering collaboration and fostering a hierarchical structure.

5. Unilateral Decision-Making: Patriarchal leaders decide unilaterally, delay communication, and lack accountability, creating confusion and frustration within the team.

6. Negative Feedback: Feedback is often given negatively, with leaders criticizing individuals’ abilities or character instead of focusing on specific actions. This approach discourages collaboration and empowerment.

7. Tolerance for Abuse: Patriarchal leaders often protect abusive colleagues, ignore microaggressions, and fail to address power abuses, creating a culture of impunity.

yellow circle with black letters "We are feminist leaders"

What is Feminist Leadership?

Feminist leadership offers a paradigm shift, focusing on collaboration, inclusivity, and shared power. Rooted in the feminist vision of a non-violent, non-discriminatory world, it is crucial for organizations committed to social and gender justice.

Feminist Leadership embodies distinctive characteristics that set it apart in the realm of leadership paradigms. First and foremost, it champions Inclusive Power-Sharing, steering away from hierarchical structures and aiming to share power with every team member, thereby fostering collaboration and recognizing the value of diverse perspectives.

Importantly, it breaks away from Gender-Specific norms, extending an open invitation for everyone to adopt feminist leadership, transcending traditional stereotypes and focusing on qualities over gender attributes. Embracing Feminist Leadership is not merely a destination but a Transformative Journey, marked by continuous personal and organizational evolution. It challenges existing power structures, advocates for intersectionality, and propels a culture of collective leadership.

Furthermore, Feminist Leadership is Intersectional and Collective in nature, meticulously addressing intersecting identities, dismantling structural inequalities, and promoting decision-making that is both diverse and collaborative. Finally, it adopts a Holistic and Long-Term approach towards social justice, interweaving external goals with internal organizational structures, while challenging and reframing hierarchical power dynamics based on egalitarian principles.

How to become a feminist leader?

Diagram of ActionAid's top ten basics of Feminist Leadership

How do you make it a reality?
To implement feminist leadership, organizations can follow ten key principles developed by ActionAid:

1. Self-Awareness and Humility: Leaders should recognize their vulnerabilities, practice humility, and actively listen, creating an environment that values everyone’s contributions.

2. Self-Care and Caring for Others: Prioritize well-being, create a supportive work environment, and actively work towards flexibility, particularly for those with caring responsibilities.

blue heart with a banner reading "self-care isn't selfish" on a pink backgroun


3. Dismantling Bias: Actively work to identify and challenge biases within the organization, fostering a workplace free from discrimination.

4. Fostering Inclusive Workplaces: Ensure marginalized voices are integral to conversations, actively address barriers to inclusion, and promote diverse and inclusive teams.

5. Sharing Power: Encourage shared leadership, trust team members, and create opportunities for individuals to contribute meaningfully.

6. Responsible and Transparent Use of Power: Communicate decisions transparently, practice accountable delegation, and align resource allocation with organizational values.

7. Collaboration and Accountability: Define clear goals, hold team members accountable, celebrate collective achievements, and address poor performance fairly.

8. Respectful Feedback: Encourage continuous feedback, resolve conflicts through non-violent communication, and value constructive criticism as opportunities for learning.

9. Demonstrating Courage: Strive for transformative change, seek new ideas, and empower teammates to overcome defeatism and cynicism.

10. Zero Tolerance for Abusive Behaviors: Create a safe environment, uphold safeguarding policies, and actively address any discrimination or abuse witnessed.

More information on feminist leadership:

The Coalition of Feminists for Social Change (COFEM) is an advocacy collective of activists, practitioners, thought leaders, researchers and academics working globally to end violence against women and girls. COFEM seeks to centre feminist-informed theory and practice on oppression and discrimination in efforts to address violence against women and girls. We aim to promote gender equity, human rights, dignity, and safety through collective action.


Shiftbalance offers a range of leadership coaching and inclusive leadership training to help leaders create inclusive workplaces. See our Services Page for more details.