For this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, I was joined by Julia Lynch who is the Founding Director of Global Girl Project. Julia spoke with me about feminist organisations, power and privilege in the workplace and the need to redefine leadership to be more inclusive.
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Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
Toby Mildon: Hey there. Thank you ever so much for tuning in to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Podcast. I'm Toby Mildon. And today I'm joined by Julia Lynch. Julia is the founder and co-director of Global Girl Project, and we're gonna be talking with Julia today about why she founded this organization, what we mean by feminist organizations, we'll be having an interesting conversation around power and privilege within the workplace and the need to re-define leadership in order to be more inclusive and to learn from Julia's experience and expertise. So, Julia, it's lovely to meet you. Thanks for joining us.
Julia: Thank you, Toby. Yeah, it's great to be here. That's like, we've got a good amount to cover today, a nice plethora of different topics to talk about. So, looking forward to it.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, we don't do things by half on this podcast, we dive straight in and then we have some pretty interesting conversations and tackle some really difficult topics at times. So, before we get into the the thick of the conversation, I mean, I gave a really brief introduction, but could you just share with us a bit more about who you are, what you do, your background, why you do what you do, that kind of thing?
Julia: That's a very big question. Who am I? Like the never-ending question of life. In the simplest form, I am a Canadian woman who grew up... I grew up in a small suburban town in Southern Ontario, Canada, an all-white town. And for those who are listening, I am mixed heritage. And grew up feeling quite different most of my life, and I think that really, that's something that has guided me in the work that I've done throughout my career, and certainly in the founding of Global Girl Project. I live on a boat, and in the UK right now, so I'm now a boat woman, I teach and train Capoeira, which is a a Afro-Brazilian martial art. And I like to live my life outside the box, find different ways of being, and the work with Global Girl Project is also an expression of that, of trying to find different ways to do international development. I'm a social worker by training. So my work has always been with young people with teenagers. I love teenagers, they're very interesting characters that are quite pliable, but also have great ideas and passion and energy. So I worked at Canada, in the US, and here with teenagers as a community worker, as a behavior therapist, as a family therapist, and then founded Global Girl Project nine years ago now, and it's been sort of a gradual process towards us becoming an organization that is something that I'm able to live my life doing.
Toby Mildon: That's really great. So why did you set up Global Girl Project nine years ago? And what do you do now?
Julia: So, as I said, I have always worked with teenagers, always worked within communities, and I had also had done quite a bit of, I would say, exploring throughout the different countries within the global south. And I was really looking for the next challenge. The next thing I wanted to do, as I said, I had worked in local communities, my entire career, in those three countries, and wanted to take my experience and my knowledge and be able to offer it on a much larger platform. And so I really just started by looking at what wasn't being done, what wasn't out there, trying to understand international development in the way that it function at the time and still unfortunately does quite a bit today, which is from a colonial patriarchal point of view, and really saw a space to try to do things differently, to try to work with people. So we work with teenage girls who wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to learn about leadership. And then also to use cross-cultural learning and experience for our girls to be able to see themselves in a different light, but also to form connections globally, that I believe are really important for us to work together.
Julia: In my travels around the world and my living in different parts of the world, what I was very clear on is that we're all the same really, we all want the same thing, is to be loved, to be of use, and to be safe. And so to think that we're so different is very damaging and it only serves those in power really for us to be so separate. And so I wanted to do something that was a reflection of connection and network and bringing people together through different experiences. So we originally were an exchange program and we've transformed since that point of view. So now we are registered in the US as a charity since 2014, we became registered here as a charity here in the UK in 2019. I'm the Founding Director. So I think you said co-director. Unfortunately, there's no co-director, so it's just me. [laughter] and a...
Toby Mildon: So I got that wrong, apologies for that. [chuckle]
Julia: No. That's okay, it's just me and our program manager, and I run the day-to-day operations of Global Girl Project, and I can talk more about what that is that we do if that's the best place to go next.
Toby Mildon: One of the things that you talk about is running a feminist organization, and I was really interested in talking to you about this because one of my other clients is Plan in the UK, so they're part of Plan International, they're Global F. Maybe if the person listening to us right now hasn't heard of Plan, they are a global NGO specializing in women and girls rights, and they also talk about feminist leadership principles, which I'm guessing is similar to what you're talking about in terms of feminist organizations. From your perspective, what do you mean by running a feminist organization, and what does that kind of organization look like?
Julia: Yeah. It's a great question because it's constantly evolving and we're constantly learning about what that looks like, which in and of itself is an expression of feminism, is that as a feminist, we should always be questioning our own power, we should always be questioning what we're doing and why we're doing it and how it impacts others. That's part in my perspective of being a feminist and running a feminist organization. So we're constantly learning where we... I'd say it's been the last couple of years that we've really been focusing on it more so, and looking at it from different points of view. So one of the big, big pieces that we do is that we work in collaboration, that feminist principles will value collaboration over-competition. Competition is sets things up for us to fight against each other, it's based in the idea of scarcity, it's based on an idea of urgency, and we really don't believe that to be true, and that we have much more power when we collaborate. So we work in partnership, all of our work is done with partners, so we don't go into any country and set up shop. We find organizations who are in those countries who do amazing work, who have all of the knowledge and the expertise to be able to implement our own programming.
Julia: And we work 100% in collaboration. So it's not like... What happens a lot in development, there's the Western organization that has more power for many reasons, which we can't go into today, but many reasons people will know. And so we really try to come at it as that both sides and bringing equal resources, equal ideas, both sides are able to voice within the programming that's offered. So that's one of the big things we do, which is really important. We try to find different ways for everybody in the organization to have power, everybody in the organization to be a leader. So when sometimes you say in organizations, the leadership, I would argue that everybody should be the leadership. If you're doing it right, everybody in the organization should be in a leadership position, and there's a lot of different ways to try and facilitate that and we're learning as we go. But then also just very logistical things, like our policies of like, I was just talking to you before we started, we have a 32-hour work week that we implemented just over a year ago.
Julia: As a small charity that has already not enough resources really, it was really difficult in the beginning, but it was really important because part of what running a feminist organization is to support our team and having a balanced life, I want our team to come to the table, including me, full of energy and passion and ready to go, and that means that I also want them to have a life outside of Global Girl Project that they have time to foster and enjoy. And so we have a 32-hour work week. We work flexibly, I really work from a place of trust, and that each of our team members have agency over their own work, and there's a lot of different pieces that we do in that sort of way. We're working on the pay side, but we're a small charity, so that's a challenge, but the charity sector people are hugely underpaid. So my goal is not to get our team to a market rate, because the market rate is wrong, do you know what I mean? [chuckle] It's just because it's a field that is dominated by women. So the charitable sector is usually underpaid except for the people at the top who typically are men. So, we wanna get past that, but again, we've got a little ways to go in terms of fundraising for that, but still.
Toby Mildon: You've covered a lot there. I think there's some really great principles. So, I heard things like leadership at all levels, empowering people to have their own agency, collaboration over competition, these are really great principles, and typically the people that listen to this podcast work in HR, they are heads of HR, chief people officers, Diversity and Inclusion leaders, like that kind of role, if the person listening to us right now wants to take some of the principles that you've just talked about and apply it within their own organization, which could be within the corporate or the commercial sector, what do you think their starting point should be?
Julia: Starting point has to be the people with the perceived power. And I say perceived because it is all a matter of perception. But it has to come, if you're gonna use a hierarchical point of view, it has to come from the top down, it cannot be something that comes from just the women, or just the people of color. It has to come from everybody. And that's not easy. But I think one of the things, like say when we look at the 32-hour work week, do your research, all research shows that having a 32-hour work week proves that teams are far more productive, businesses make much more money, staff teams are much, much happier, they feel much more connected to their work, to the organize... Like all of the research shows. So do some of your research, I would say, talk to organizations that are doing some of these things, but it's difficult because what we're doing is we're challenging an environment that we exist within, it's very difficult to do something different when you're in the environment that's wanting you to do something else, and that's what... And we are doing this also because our girls were asking the girls that we work with, they're all wanting to lead, they're wanting to...
Julia: They're essentially wanting to fill roles that their societies have told them are not for them. And so if our girls are going to be sort of living their lives differently within a certain environment, then we need to be doing the same sort of thing. I guess what I'd say is, I was doing a talk recently about feminist leadership, and I was saying, to me, feminist leadership has nothing to do... Or not nothing. It doesn't just have to do with being a woman. Firstly, anybody can be a feminist, this isn't about gender, but being a feminist is having a belief that everybody is equal because women are everything except for men. So women are of color, have differently able bodies, are different ages, different sexual orientations, different socio-economic status, women are all those things. So if you're fighting as a feminist, you are fighting for equality for everybody. And if you're a man, you may not be a woman, but you're probably a bunch of those other things. So if you can redefine what it means to be a feminist, what feminist leadership means, then you'd probably be hard-pressed to find somebody who's like, "Actually, I don't believe in equality," do you know what I mean? [laughter] I mean, there was a few people, but they wouldn't say it out loud anyways. So I think that's also the piece to reframe that, that this isn't about being a woman at all, if that makes sense.
Toby Mildon: It does, it does.
Speaker 4: If your company has a great diversity and inclusion strategy, if your organization has an amazing work culture where productivity is peaking, if the best talents in your industry are working for you, if all your employees are happy and feel included, then feel free to skip this message for about 30 seconds and continue listening to the podcast interview with Toby, but if you feel that your company is lacking in any one of these areas, your employer reputation is taking a hit. Toby Mildon is one of the UK's leading diversity and inclusion experts, who has helped top companies like Deloitte, The BBC, Sony Pictures and Centrica, as well as numerous scale of businesses who want an outstanding inclusive culture. To go further in your diversity and inclusion journey, log on to Toby's webinar at www.mildon.co.uk/free-webinar to accelerate your company's diversity and inclusion strategy in 40 minutes. Thanks for listening. And now back to the podcast interview with Toby.
Toby Mildon: You've already mentioned the dynamics of power, and something I wanted to talk to you about today is privilege as well, because this is something that I talk about in some of the training that I do, and I don't know about you, but sometimes I met with some defensiveness when we talk about privilege. So people will say, "Well, I had to work really hard to get to university and get a good job," and so on and so forth. And I often explain to them, well it was explained to me actually, and I've just passed it on, and I find it quite useful that this kind of difference between privileges that we're born into and privileges that we've earned. So I often say to people in the training that one of the privileges that I was born into was the fact that I was born in the UK, and as a result, that meant that I'd got free access to healthcare because of the NHS, and the NHS has saved my life on more than one occasion. And it does a good job of sustaining my life, and obviously, you can't see on the podcast, but I'm a wheelchair user. So the NHS has played quite an important role in my life.
Toby Mildon: I often compare that to the experiences that some of my friends who've got the same disability as me, living in other parts of the world. So Louis on my team has got the same disability as me, he grew up in South Africa, and he just didn't have the same type of access to healthcare that I've had. But I'm just kind of setting that out as a bit of a back drop to this, but how do you discuss privilege with people in your line of work?
Julia: It's interesting for us because we work... Our target service users, to use that term, are what you would consider to be the most marginalised girls in the global south, and the global south is, for those who don't know, would be what we used to call developing countries, and so we're working in the poorest countries with the poorest girls. So, people might perceive them as not having privilege. And the work that we do with our girls is to help... I believe that we all have privilege, and it's not a bad thing. That's not a bad thing. And if you had to work for it, that's not a bad thing. But the question is, what are you gonna do with it? And so we work with our girls to be like, "The privilege that you have is you've been chosen to do this program, perhaps. The privilege that you have is that you have a father that's gonna let you come to this class every week." We all have some sort of privilege, and it's just, for me, is always like then, "So how are you gonna use it to help other people?" That's the conversation that we have about privilege.
Julia: And I think the other thing to say is that, you're right, people get defensive, and I think that's based in the scarcity mindset, that again, it's based [chuckle] on this idea of not enough. There's not enough. We're talking about your privilege and then you're afraid that something is gonna be taken away from you if we try to give other people privilege. And what I would argue is that there's more than enough to go around, and only people who tell us that there isn't are the people who are in power, who feel they stand to lose something by people all having privilege and people all being supported to live their best lives. And I think the other piece around that is around competition. If we change the mindset away from competition and towards collaboration, then it's great that you have privilege. That's wonderful. It's not a competition. And then what are you gonna do with it? That's the piece. And I think that sometimes when people have had to work really, really hard for stuff, which I certainly have in my life, and there's a feeling of... A fear of losing it, if we start to talk about that there's a privilege that I have because I have something, and I think that's just fear-based, and I think it's having those conversations so people understand that it's not... There's enough for everybody.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, I really like that. It's almost like the person listening to us right now could almost do like an exercise where they do a bit of a stock check on what their privileges are and then think about how they can use those to empower people in their organisation, perhaps. What do you think of that idea?
Julia: Yeah, yeah, I believe, and I... I don't know, I grew up with a mom who worked in charity. I think it's also part of my personality just as a person, but I believe we're all here to be of service to each other. And if you're not, then what are you doing? Right? [chuckle] Like, what are you doing if you're not here helping other people?
Julia: And I know not everybody has that perspective, but again, it's based in a very patriarchal view of things, is that like, "What's mine is mine [chuckle] and that's it." And so I think that it is really about, "Yeah, take a look. Take a look at the pieces that you have, be grateful for them and then ask how you can use them and share them with other people." And there will be things that you don't have that somebody else can share with you, and I think if you approach things from that mindset, everything shifts. Everything changes. It's like they say... With money, they always say like, "If you have a little bit of money, spend it. Don't hold on to it. If you hold on to your money, then the energy is like, you're not gonna get... More is not coming," right? [chuckle] And I'm not saying be reckless and just spend, but sometimes, because I know I do, I get scared and like, "I don't have enough money and I just... " And then I'm like, "You know what? No." So when the homeless man asks me for a pound, I give him a pound. Maybe I really wanted that pound, but you know what, it's okay. Look, and I think it's that idea of like we have to be a little less fearful.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So obviously you've got lots of experience in setting up Global Girl Project and your other experience around leadership. How would you like to redefine leadership, and why do you think leadership has to be redefined?
Julia: Well, again, I'll talk about sort of with our girls, and that's the work that we do with our girls, because if you ask many of our girls, who's a leader, who's an example of a leader? They're gonna, first of all, say a man, and then they might say for... Including in the UK, if we talk about our leadership, it's just a bunch of corrupt politicians, isn't it? So the work that we do is trying to really look at, say, those position, who you think are leaders. Let's talk about the actual characteristics that you think a leader should have and then let's look at who actually has those characteristics. And where we get to is that each of our girls are already leaders. That's the work that we do, because a lot of the time what happens, especially in the Western world, is like, "If you take this five-year course, then you too can be a leader. If you just take... You spend this money, you just do this, you too can also be a leader. You can... " Whatever it is. And if we said that to our girls, then they don't have that opportunity, and so they would never see themselves as leaders. And so for us it's like, "Well, what actually is a leader?" If a leader is somebody who comes from behind, who lifts people up, who lives by example, who shares what they have with others, who listens, who advocates, then you already are a leader, and your job is just to teach that to other people. That's how you lead.
Julia: And so I think a lot of it is, I think we really need to redefine what we think leadership is, and I would argue to use a feminist perspective when we do that, and that it's, again, those principles that we've talked about already. And if somebody is embodying those principles, they're much more likely to be a leader than what we currently look at, which is people who are out for themselves, who value competition over collaboration, who tell us that there's not enough and constantly make decisions that are only good for a few, and I would argue that none of those traits would be what I would use to define somebody that's a leader.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. What's one of the best leaders you've worked with? And how did they make you feel?
Julia: For me, it's my girls. For me, it's the girls. They blow me away all the time, because they live in situations where they're not supposed to be in these roles. But they fight and they push and they fight, and they stand up and they find their voice and then they use their voice. For me, it's the girls, it's not any famous person or anything like that. Right now we're working... Where are we working? In Peru, Bolivia, Haiti. Haiti is a really amazing country to work in. We've got girls who've just are living in a situation that seems quite desperate, but still are able to step up and lead. And we work in India, and Cambodia, and South Africa, and Jordan. And we're gonna be in Iraq and Zimbabwe, Uganda and all these places where you might think that a girl, a teenage girl, doesn't have any sort of power agency, but by the end of our program, they have found some of that. They've started on their journey. So it's definitely my girls.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. And if one of the girls that you worked with was to spend a day with a chief executive in the UK and could teach that chief executive one crucial leadership skill or competency, what would you hope she would teach them?
Julia: Ooh, that's a good question. I would say be the most determined person in every room. Never ever, ever give up. Never give up. It's not an option.
Toby Mildon: Excellent.
Toby Mildon: So if the person listening to us right now wants to learn more about the work that you do at Global Girl Project, maybe they wanna get involved or support you somehow, what should they do?
Julia: Yeah, absolutely, we are all over the place, so you can go to our website, which I'm sure you'll share in a link. There's tons of great information there in terms of how you might get involved. We're on instagram and LinkedIn. The easiest way for you to get involved is to follow us. We're a small charity, and so we really need to increase our network, we need to increase the number of people who know about us, which is one of the reasons I'm talking to you today, right Toby? Is that we need more people to know about our work. It's important work, and people need to know about it. And we're not Plan International, we're the opposite. We're tiny and we... So that's one way you can help. We also are very... We don't have any government grants. We have a couple of small foundation grants, and the rest of it is dependent on amazing listeners, like the ones you have, who sign up to be monthly donors. So we have a Global Change Maker Program, it's called, and that's our only sustainable funding. So if you feel inspired, go sign up. Even £5 a month makes a huge difference because then it's something I know every month is coming in. Yeah, those are the main ways, really. So yeah, hopefully we hear from some of you, for sure.
Toby Mildon: Great. Well, Julia, thanks ever so much for joining me today. It's been really great to sit down and chat with you today.
Julia: Yes, thank you, Toby. Yeah, it's been a lot of fun! Definitely, I love sort of just getting down to the nitty-gritty of stuff. So thank you for having me.
Toby Mildon: You're very welcome. Well, and thank you for tuning in and listening to my conversation with Julia today. We've covered loads. We've talked about what it means to be a feminist organisation and how you can take some of those principles and use them in your own organisation. We've talked about power and privilege and how we can use our privileges to empower people around us, and we've talked about the need to redefine leadership and what great leadership looks like. If you do want to support the work that Julia and her team does, then go over to the Global Girl Project website, which is globalgirlproject.org, where you can get lots of information. And as Julia says, follow them and engage with them on social media channels as well. Until the next time, thanks ever so much for tuning into this episode, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of this Inclusive Growth Podcast, which will be coming up very soon. Until then, take good care of yourself.
Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to the Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website, at mildon.co.uk.