Thursday, 2 August 2012

Gendering and Diversifying Trade Union Leadership


A fitting last item to be posted before the start of my holiday with my family in Morroco.

Later this year my colleague Sue Ledwith (who created the MA in international labour and trade union studies that I run at Ruskin) is to launch a new book, co-edited by Lise Lote Hansen. The book builds on the significant scholarship and published work of Sue as a leading expert in the field of gender and labour movements. This new book, Gendering and Diversifying Trade Union Leadership, builds significantly on this output and, as the publisher states:

Women; In the majority of trade union membership
Examining the experiences of leadership among trade unionists in a range of unions and labor movements around the world, this volume addresses perspectives of women and men from a range of identities such as race/ethnicity, sexuality, and age. It analyses existing models of leadership in various political organizational forms, especially trade unions, but also including business and management approaches, leadership forms which arise from fields such as community, pedagogy, and the third sector.
This book analyzes and critiques concepts, expectations, and experiences of union leaders and leadership in labor organizations, while comparing gender and cultural perspectives. Contributors to the volume draw on empirical research to identify key ideas, beliefs and experiences which are critical to achieving change, setting up resistance, and transforming the inertia of traditionalism.

More book details are here ( and if you email me I will happily invite you to the book's launch event at Ruskin College in October.

I am also pleased to report that my colleague Jo Cain, who heads the Learning and Organising Services department of UNISON (and who teaches on the MA) has contributed a chapter based on her combined background/exerience of teaching and researching around leadership and two-year period where, on a part-time basis, she ran the Webb Institute for Leadership and Democracy (, which was based at Ruskin aimed at providing education around leadership to young men and women from civil society institutions across middle and eastern Europe. Jo's chapter is Emerging from ‘Deep, Dark Forests’ – Women Leaders as Learners in Eastern and Western European Trade Unions.

Both in the UK, and globally, the majority of members of trade unions are women yet women remain excluded from positions of leadership. This book, and Sue's others have helped shape, explore and extend our understanding of this, but critical change within trade unions remains elusive.

Frances O'Grady
It is of note that this book is published in the same year that the UK TUC has elected its first woman, Frances O'Grady into the post of General Secretary, and this is reflective of some change. Quite critically however, what appears resistant to change are cultural attitudes and organisational structures. These are issues explored by Helen Nolan who completes the MA at Ruskin  this year having completed her dissertation on issues around attitudes towards gender and leadership amongst male and female trade unionists in the UK and Spain.
The issues underlined by the new book are central to the future of trade unions globally, much like the debate around trade unionism and young workers, this analysis is not simply necessary, it is vital. Buy the book!

In Solidarity