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Why women are the best leaders

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Ceris Aston, media volunteer at the YWCA Scotland, spoke with Jackie Scutt about why effective leadership has many traditional female qualities

Going back, I wouldn’t have identified as a feminist because I didn’t know the word, but I knew I wasn’t happy with things as they were, even as a child,” reflects Jackie Scutt, director of YWCA Scotland – The Young Women’s Movement.

It took her till she was about 24 to discover the women’s movement. Then, in the 80s, feminism was at a high point and Jackie, who had friends involved in Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid and setting up women’s centres, was teaching and focusing on getting women’s studies on the school curriculum.

The 90s however, were a different story for Jackie and many of her friends. As feminism became a dirty word, they took a step away from being involved in explicitly feminist activities.

“There was this backlash against feminism in the 90s, with this kind of weird assumption that there didn’t need to be anything like that because we had girl power now. But that wasn’t it at all – it felt very frustrating!”

Jackie Scutt

I think leadership is an organic process, rather than a machine-like system, allowing an environment for things to grow

Jackie Scutt

It was at this point that Jackie moved into the third sector – still with her feminist principles in mind, but not overtly.

“Before the Young Women’s Movement, I set up an organisation in Scotland for third sector leaders – many of whom were women, actually.

“We were redefining what we mean by leadership, so it isn’t about heroics, but something that is built more around dialogue and inclusion and the consensus way of doing things that I’d learnt way back in the women’s movement.”

Effective leadership, she argues, has many traditional female qualities.

“I think leadership is an organic process, rather than a machine-like system, allowing an environment for things to grow,” she explains.

Coming to YWCA Scotland in 2013, initially as a change consultant, Jackie was struck by the discovery of a new movement of young women putting gender equality back on the agenda.

“I really hadn’t seen that coming – I love working with this next generation, with this fantastic new wave of energy and match it up with some of my experience.

“We don’t hear the voices of women and young women enough. And I think that’s a leadership challenge – how do we help young women lead, how do we help that to happen in a facilitative way?”

YWCA is an organisation in transition; it is attempting to retain some of the values that have been there for 160 years while also to transform the way it works so that it’s relevant today.

“I love that challenge,” explains Jackie. “I think it’s about relationships; it’s about listening; it’s about holding and being able to crystalise a vision for people.”

YWCA Scotland is currently carrying out research that will lead to a Status of Young Women in Scotland report. It involves speaking to young women about their gender lightbulb moment – the moment when they realised gender inequalities exist.

What was Jackie’s gender lightbulb moment?

“One of my earliest memories, maybe from when I was nine or 10 years old, is thinking that I could never bear to get married in a church because you were “given away” and maybe it would be okay if you just went to a registry office because that seemed a more equal way to make a commitment.

“It worried me because it seemed like something you had to do, one way or another. It didn’t seem an option not to get married – spinsters were seen as sad failures who didn’t lead a full life.”

Now, Jackie believes, young women have very different prospects but they still have barriers to overcome. And she is excited by the role that YWCA can play in that.

“I think by nature I’m a very optimistic person and working with an agenda which is about the younger generation is such an important one – it really does energise you.”

Jackie will be talking about empowering women with Javita Narang of Weaving Destinations and Sylvia Douglas of Empowerment Pants at the Women Social Entrepreneurs’ Chat Show at The Melting Pot on Wednesday, 11 March.

To add your #GenderLightbulb moment to the Young Women’s Movement blog, go to