Feminist Leadership: Reflections from a young woman CEO

Feminist Leadership: Reflections from a young woman CEO

Jenny Snell, the CEO of The Young Women’s Movement
By: Jenni Snell CEO
Published on:
  • Leadership
  • Top tips

As I celebrate my one-year milestone as a young woman CEO, I reflect on the journey that led me here, the challenges I’ve encountered along the way, and the work that still needs to be done to create space for more feminist leadership.  

I intended to write a blog to share my experiences, however, as has been the case throughout the past year, what seemed like a simple and not overly time-consuming task, has grown exponentially. Perhaps I had too much coffee (or maybe not enough!), but compiling what I wanted to share about my experience as a CEO into one blog post became an impossible task. So instead, this is the first blog in my new series – Feminist Leadership: reflections from a young woman CEO.  

Part 1: Foundations 

At 29, I received the exciting and life-changing news that I’d become the next CEO of the Young Women’s Movement. However, my journey into feminist leadership had already begun in 2018 when I joined the organisation’s Young Women Lead programme. Little did I know that this programme would provide me with the foundations I needed to help me on my journey to becoming a CEO.   

Through Young Women Lead 2018-19, I gained research skills, feminist knowledge, and experience in public speaking in a parliamentary committee. It was a safe and empowering space that pushed me out of my comfort zone and made me realise that leadership, and the prospect of being a CEO, wasn’t an entirely outlandish idea. To then go on to lead the organisation that paved the way for my growth is a tremendous privilege. 

This past year as a CEO has been a whirlwind of intense learning and self-discovery. I’ve experienced moments of certainty and self-doubt, learning to overcome imposter feelings along the way. In true feminist spirit, I want to share what I’ve learnt so far and help other young women embark on their own leadership journeys.  

Firstly, I’ve learned that nothing can fully prepare you for a CEO role, regardless of your age. I had previously managed budgets, programmes and staff but facing an audit within my first three months, managing a growing organisation through a rebrand and restructure, and having responsibility for developing a 5-year strategy were entirely new challenges… and at points completely overwhelming and terrifying. It is really hard work and I have never uttered the phrase ‘I can’t do this’ more than I have in the past year.  

Yet, with a combination of personal resilience, an incredible support network of family and friends, a fiercely feminist staff team and board, and a shared commitment for change, we collectively overcame every obstacle. They say it takes a village to raise a child, well it definitely took a movement to raise a CEO. 

So here are my top three feminist CEO foundations that I’ve learnt over the past year, which I would have found invaluable at the start of my role, and will continue to follow going forward: 

  1. Authenticity: I’ve realised that I don’t need to fit others’ expectations of a leader. It’s crucial that young women across Scotland see diversity in leadership and can see themselves represented. As CEO of The Young Women’s Movement, I feel a strong responsibility to challenge traditional stereotypes and barriers and create space for new and different styles of leadership to emerge. Embracing vulnerability and authenticity, although extremely challenging and uncomfortable, has allowed me to lead in a way that feels right to me. Contrary to the stereotypes of a leader, I identify more as an introvert than an extrovert. Parts of the job like networking, public speaking and a lot of social interactions can drain my energy levels. Knowing and accepting this has led me to be more conscious of my own needs and well-being, and as a result has enabled me to grow into a more effective, confident, and focused leader.  
  2. Pace & prioritisation: In my first year, I tried to do too much too fast and learned the importance of saying no and not yet. Over-ambition, external pressures and the need to prove myself took its toll. I’m learning to embrace both a slower pace and more effective prioritisation to protect both my own and my team’s wellbeing, leading by example and encouraging a culture both internally and externally in line with one of our new strategic pillars ‘Inspiring Feminist Wellbeing.’  
  3. Feminist friends: Having a strong support network has been crucial during what can sometimes be an isolating journey. I’m fortunate and grateful to be surrounded by great people, without who I would have struggled to get through the past year. Connecting with like-minded individuals in similar situations has provided a lifeline for me. Creating safe spaces for open and honest discussions about the struggles and successes of life in a leadership position has been invaluable. Finding those people, keeping them close and protecting time in my diary for that much-needed support is one thing I’ll be holding tightly onto. At the Young Women’s Movement, we prioritise shared values in our recruitment approach, building a team that aligns with our vision. This has been a game-changer for me. Skills and knowledge can be developed, however, real talent lies in a person’s values, passion and drive.   

As I enter my second year as CEO, I’m excited to implement our new five-year strategic plan alongside our fantastic team. We’re ready to grow our new and bold Young Women’s Movement brand, reaching even more young women across the country. The past year laid the foundations and raised the scaffolding, now it’s time to build a powerful movement.  

My hope for this blog series on Feminist Leadership is to challenge the preconceived gendered expectations and stereotypes of being a young woman in a leadership position. I want to encourage other young women to explore what their confidence and strength look like – as a result of embracing our vulnerabilities, not in spite of them.

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