Policy Study: Women CSO leaders for systemic change

Read our new policy study on Women CSO Leaders in Europe: Their challenges are not personal, they are systemic!


We need a paradigm shift on leadership and work structures

Europe’s social economy sector, a highly feminised sector which employs 13.6 million people, representing 6.4% of the workforce, is faced with increasingly impossible demands. It is expected to deliver essential services at scale in the face of rising societal challenges such as inequality, the climate crisis, and war. Moreover, it is expected to build societal cohesion while polarisation and loneliness are increasing. To respond to these demands and bring about the transformative push towards the much-needed systemic change, we need a paradigm shift on leadership and work structures that enable inclusiveness and innovative thinking.

Incredibly motivated and talented women from all over Europe have stepped up to the plate by taking on leadership positions in civil society organisations. However, these women leaders often experience outdated structures and working cultures that leave them severely overworked and overwhelmed by unreasonable demands. At the same time, they are still facing the inequality, misogyny and discrimination that continues to face diverse women in the labour market in Europe. 

Almost 50% of women leaders in Civil Society Organisations (CSO) exhibit signs of pre-burnout 

This is why the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) the EU Office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), and the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung European Union – with the support of the Green European Foundation (GEF) – have commissioned a policy study to develop concrete policy recommendations, which could support the thriving of women leaders.

Entitled “Women CSO Leaders for Systemic Change – How to Support Feminist Leadership in Europe”, the policy study represents the first-ever study of its kind: It takes stock of the last decade’s progress and identifies remaining barriers and new opportunities for women civil society organisation (CSO) leaders in achieving systemic change in Europe. One key finding: The sector is burning out women leaders at an alarming rate: Almost 50% of women leaders in Civil Society Organisations (CSO) exhibit signs of pre-burnout. This is mainly due to systemic reasons, not personal ones. More needs to be done to realise the full potential of diverse women leading our social economy sector today.

The policy study is the result of a survey of 150 women leading civil society organisations in Europe. It was conducted from March to June 2023 with focus groups in September and October 2023.


Four priority areas for action

To address the challenges many women CSO leaders face, the policy study identifies four “priority areas for action”:

  1. Radically reimagining power and leadership cultures;
  2. Centering care and shifting societal norms;
  3. Addressing structural financial insecurity within the sector;
  4. Investing in gender equality, diversity, and inclusion.



Céline Charveriat is a civil society leader with 25 years of experience in the field of sustainability and systemic change.
Joanna Maycock is an award-winning feminist organiser and campaigner, who has worked in leadership roles in civil society for decades.
Eloïse Bodin is a sustainability consultant, who has been working in the field of policy making for five years.
Angela Philp has helped high-achieving women embrace and grow their feminist leadership since 2009, supporting them in developing leadership resilience, optimism, and power from the inside out.


For more information, please reach out to Agnes Mach, Policy Officer for Gender Equality at the FES EU Office: agnes.mach(at)fes.de

Women CSO leaders for systemic change

Women CSO leaders for systemic change

How to support feminist leadership in Europe
Brussels, 2024

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