How do women secure more senior leadership and trustee roles in the charity sector? by Karen Satterford

Fewer women than men apply for, get and are promoted to charity senior leadership and trustee roles. Women still face more blockages than men. Often these are around differing attitudes to ambition, and self belief.

So what can women do about that? My advice is to:


Men being ambitious is often seen as ‘a good thing’. They’re “assertive, decisive, charismatic”. Ambitious women are often described negatively as “pushy, bossy, aggressive”.

Ambition is a bad thing when it’s used for power and ego. But when used for the good of your clients, it’s a good thing. That’s because leadership roles can more effectively influence improvement.


Women often think they must have every knowledge and skill required before they can pursue a new role. Many men don’t let that hold them back! Self-belief is crucial in overcoming this negative thinking; I’m talking about having the confidence and assertiveness to build any knowledge and skill you’ll need.

Leadership skills include time management, influencing, motivating, communicating. So when you’re starting out, recognise the transferable skills and abilities you already have – perhaps homeschooling or being a scout leader. They all require leadership skills. And learn by watching those leaders you admire.


Once you get the role, how will you be a good leader? Really effective leaders achieve the highest performing teams. They create a culture of respect, support, trust and challenge. They treat others as individuals in the way that gets the best from them.

They demonstrate emotional intelligence, integrity, honesty and humility, excitement and flexibility for improvement, communication, and collaboration, and they apologise for mistakes.

Most importantly, great leaders make others want to follow them.

So in summary:

  • Keep learning, and consider getting a coach: Community Impact Bucks offers that service to charities.
  • Have a go, always get feedback and learn from mistakes.
  • Above all, be ambitious, and believe in yourself.


 Further information:

  • Karen Satterford was a Chief Executive for 18 years, 14 of those at Wycombe Council. She now coaches CEs and Directors in public and private sectors, is a Technical Assessor for CE recruitments, Member of Council for Bucks New University and trustee of Community Impact Bucks since May 2020. You can find Karen on LinkedIn and at
  • Karen was part of a panel discussion in Community Impact Bucks’ Buckinghamshire Charities, Women and Leadership seminar on International Women’s Day 2021 (8th March 2021). If you missed the seminar, you can read the round up and find resources here.
  • Read two additional blogs which were published following the Buckinghamshire Charities, Women and Leadership seminar (8th March 2021) – Nova Fundraising’s  top three tips for women’s wellbeing and careers in the charity sector, and Nicola Hannam’s top five tips on how to build an inclusive charity culture.
  • For details of our training, networking events and 1:2:1 advice sessions, visit our Training and Events webpage.