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Articles > Community Comment > Community Comment: Q&A with Stella Kasdagli, Founder of Women on Top (WoT)

Community Comment: Q&A with Stella Kasdagli, Founder of Women on Top (WoT)

Perspectives on the post-pandemic advancement & development landscape

ToucanTech's Community Comment series provides a view of how community management is evolving, from a range of experts around the world.

 

What is your role at Women on Top, and what does a typical day look like for you?

I am the co-founder of the organisation but I am also responsible for our fundraising and our strategic planning on research, D&I consulting for businesses and organisations and our advocacy work. I also lead our communications strategy across all of our initiatives. We are a small team and I have worked on every part of the organisation since its founding in 2012, but over the last 2 years we have been able to invest in some very talented team members who have taken on different parts of our work and have been making everything work better and better every day! Now, I can focus on what matters most to me and where I think I can make the most of my strengths and expertise. For my everyday work, I try to maintain a balance of 3 days of meetings and team work and 2 days of deep, concentrated alone time for writing and strategic thinking. The pandemic has thrown some of my best intentions around this out of the window, but I have worked for long enough to know that I cannot operate in full capacity when I am context switching all the time.

 

Why was Women on Top (WoT) founded? 

WoT started out as a Facebook group back in 2012. I worked in journalism at the time, I had just had my first daughter and I felt the need to find a mentor - someone who could help me navigate the challenges of raising a family and building a career or understand where I would like to be in 10 years' time and how to get there. But I was finding it hard to approach anyone to be my mentor, so I decided that there should be some kind of space where any woman could find the support she needed in order to make work one of the best parts of her life. So Women On Top was founded as a mentoring network first and then we started offering professional development workshops for individual women. As the discussion around equity and inclusion started growing we realised that empowering individual women was important but not nearly enough to make a real change in Greece, so we decided we should aim for broader, systemic change. That's why we started working with companies and organisations on their DEI efforts and also with the government and different institutions, in order to influence their policy making in terms of making work and power more accessible for women from all walks of life.

 

What makes a good mentor/mentee match?

That's a great question and we have been working so hard to master the answer over the last 10 years! First, you need to always remember what mentoring is and what it is not: it is not providing pro-bono services, it is not education, it is not psychological support. Then you have to assess what your mentors' strengths are and what each mentee's needs seem to be. This is not always obvious, even to the women themselves, so sometimes we are called to do some investigative work of our own. Then you have to assess the communication style of the women you want to match, because there's a delicate dance that needs to happen there and you can't do this when people cannot find some common ground in terms of shared values and the ability to provide and receive feedback. There's always an element of intuition in there, and some failures of course, but the longer you do this work and the more you get to know your people, the easier and the more effective it gets.

 

The past year

 

How has your community responded to the challenges caused by the global pandemic? 

Most of our stakeholders are women and we have been painfully aware, since the beginning of this pandemic, how much and how adversely this crisis is impacting women everywhere. From work-life balance challenges (to use the least offensive word), to mental health struggles, to job losses, to business failure, this past year and a half has been a nightmare, especially for working women. But at the same time, I can't stop thinking about how we've grown. How much resilience, inventiveness, decisiveness and skill we have built in dealing with these hurdles and how much all these new tools are going to serve us and our families for a lifetime.

 

Have you seen community members band together online, for support or other purposes?

Over the last year and a half we have moved all our real-life initiatives online and we have created a host of new virtual ones. The journey has been challenging but also extremely rewarding. it's not that we haven't been missing offline contact, it's that we have been amazed to discover all the perks of being able to do this work virtually too! First we have learned so many new tools and we have been pushed to discover and invent new ways to foster intimacy. And then we have been watching our community grow beyond the limitations of space or even time: we have been joined by breast-feeding mothers who would not be able to join us elsewhere, we have been discovered by women from other cities of Greece and even from abroad. Now we are working hard to find ways to maintain this expanded community without sacrificing on the quality of real-life contact - but I think this is a challenge for everyone these days and I am confident we are going to make some beautiful strides around inclusion if we work hard enough on this question.

 

The here and now

 

Have you seen examples of people taking the opportunity to change their ways of working? 

We have been a remote-working team for 10 years now, so our working routines are more or less what they used to be (minus our desperate need for childcare!). But it's been really striking to me a) how easily businesses who were reluctant to embrace the concept of teleworking before the pandemic have now adopted new policies and ways to do work that will benefit lots of their employees even after the pandemic is over. And then one has to acknowledge that not all people can work at their maximum capacity under the same circumstances, so for us there is an urgent need to reassess our "one size fits all" approach -no matter what size works for most people at any given time. We really need to find ways to accommodate the needs of more people, so as to be able to leverage everyone's talents.

 

In the future

 

Do you foresee any long-lasting, positive outcomes for fundraising and community engagement initiatives?

I think we'll be seeing more emphasis from funders to community initiatives - networks and support structures that have proven underestimated and extremely valuable under the pandemic. I also think that initiatives having to do with healthcare and mental healthcare, caregiving and flexible ways of living and working will attract more and more attention from funders.

 

What kind of message would you like to send to your peers and professional network in the coming months? 

We are in this together and whilst nobody can do it all, everyone can have an impact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ToucanTech is an all-in-one community software, combining data management, member engagement, and public or private online platforms. Connect your network and consolidate administration using a customisable and easy-to-use solution, built for community managers. 

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