Kathleen Dey, Director
A few weeks ago three Rape Crisis members attended a workshop on Women’s Transformational Leadership hosted by Oxfam for Oxfam funded organisations in South Africa working to advance women’s rights. As Director I was one of them and I learned so much from this circle of diverse, challenging, inspirational women who are my peers in the development sector. I came away with a question for myself: Can I find a way to be the kind of leader that motivates others to be the very best that they can be? At the end of the workshop I said to Nazma Hendricks, our Operations Manager, “I wish I could find a way to bring our experience of this workshop back into the organisation.” Last week we had the opportunity to do so.
For some time now we’ve been aware of the toll it takes on our court supporters to do work that not only places them at the heart of the rape survivor’s distress at the difficult road to accessing justice but also directly in touch with the rape perpetrator. Our court supporters experience enormous frustration at the how flaws in the system set rapist free time and again. They also see the successes and individual empowerment of almost 1 500 rape survivors and witnesses each year. They experience a great deal of stress and often feel disempowered themselves as a result. As managers Nazma and I decided to help this group strengthen their supervision structures in order to support one another in a different way. We embarked on a series of workshops on supervision.
Supervision at Rape Crisis is done in small peer groups of four to six volunteers with a supervisor who is a more experienced court supporter, counsellor or trainer, who has built up her own experiences of the work we do and who knows the organisation. The first workshop looked at the purpose of supervision and the role of the supervisor. Essentially supervision is about three things: training, support and accountability. The role of the supervisor is to see how she can ensure that the group learn continuously in different ways, how she can be supportive or provide a supportive space for members of the group and to represent the organisation in holding members accountable for the work they do and to ask them questions about gaps in their work or the quality of their work. The supervisor does not carry the burden of holding the members of her group responsible for these things; that is the role of the full time staff member who is the overall coordinator of the court support service. We also learned about the distinction between supervision and debriefing.
The second workshop took place last week. Because of the workshop with Oxfam we asked the group of 14 supervisors and would be supervisors what they thought leadership was and what they thought about leadership. A lively discussion ensued with ideas coming thick and fast. A leader is someone who guides and controls things, she is someone to turn to, who keeps things organised and on track according to plans, some who has influence and who has to create a sphere of influence. This sphere of influence is an enabling environment where people can grow to become the best that they can be.
At this point I actually wondered if somehow my notes on the Oxfam workshop were lying open on the table and someone was reading them out but no. These women know what leadership is. They know because they are leaders in the organisation, in their homes, as parents, in their churches and in their jobs. We talked about different styles of leadership and how each one can be appropriate under different circumstances: the autocratic leader who can be scary and controlling but who sees the future racing towards the group she leads and must take decisive action, the democratic leader who consults widely with others before making a decision even though this takes time and involves a meandering route to the final decision, the feminist leader who questions power and tries to make it visible in the organisation and allows herself to be influenced by those she leads, the emotionally intelligent leader who takes it as her primary goal to instil good feeling in others and the eclectic leader who uses these different styles interchangeably.
After a short tea break (where the real workshop took place outside on the veranda over cigarettes and coffee) we looked at how to create an enabling environment for everyone to become the best they can be. Now the questions flew and the answers came more slowly. We know what we are supposed to do but how? We know we should treat everyone fairly but how do we do that when we all have our biases of race, class and belief and we all have our personal likes and dislikes? How do make ourselves approachable to everyone and yet maintain a sense of authority? How do we encourage people to share so that we can support them? How to we point out people’s mistakes without them taking it personally? How do we hold our leaders accountable without undermining them? How do we live in our leadership the values of growth, unity, purpose and healing that Rape Crisis aspires to?
In the end we chose the principles of empowerment to guide us in finding our own ways as leaders of making those we lead feel safe, of showing that we respect them, of ensuring that they are supported and that they have as much choice as possible about the things that affect them. We will each do this in our own way. I realised at the end of the workshop, with everyone full of exciting new ideas to think over and bubbling over with energy, that the experience of women’s transformational leadership was alive and well in Rape Crisis where every women truly is a leader bringing about incredible change in the world.
Thanks to Oxfam Canada for funding capacity building within Rape Crisis in order to bring about women’s transformation.