Strengthening how organisations support young women leaders was discussed by an Edge Hill academic during a research trip to Geneva with members of the World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA).

For Dr Erica Lewis, Lecturer in Management and Leadership, this is a problem that has engaged her since she was a young feminist activist. Her interest began as an activist building and contributing to the leadership of national women’s organisations, and more recently as the focus of her doctoral research.

Erica met with members of the World YWCA’s Young Women’s Engagement team in Geneva to continue the discussion about how the research findings could be used to strengthen practice within the organisation.

Strengthening young women’s leadership within the organisation and understanding what some of the barriers are is the main focus of Erica’s research. The World YWCA, which operates in more than 100 countries across the world, has very strong policy and constitutional requirements on young women’s inclusion on boards and the decision-making forums, but not all national associations meet these requirements.

“Young people are the leaders of tomorrow’ is a phrase many people will recognise. However, for many young activists and their allies this phrase only serves to highlight how young people are both excluded from leader work, and often have the leader work they do overlooked.” said Erica “And if you talk about young women rather than young people, then young women are often twice excluded by virtue of being both young and women.

“Established women leaders in communities or organisations can help by not only working to promote young women, but being will to take the next step and declare yourself a ‘follower’ of an emerging young women leader.”

The World YWCA is one of the world’s largest and oldest women’s organisations, and one with a particular commitment to ensuring young women exercise leadership not only within the organisation, but within civil society more broadly.

One of the reasons for Erica’s ongoing interest in young women’s leadership comes from her own experience of building and running national women’s organisations in her 20s, yet still being told that young people were the leaders of tomorrow. Erica continues to volunteer in the women’s movement and is currently co-Chair of the YWCA of Great Britain.