Throughout March, we are celebrating International Women’s Day by sharing the stories of inspiring women in leadership positions across the sectors we work in.

We’re joined by Jumara Stone, CEO of University of East Anglia Students’ Union (UEASU). Jumara started her professional life as a supervisor for a volunteering programme, moving to marketing work before finding UEASU, an organisation which aligns with her core values. Here, she learned how much she loves working with students and doing advocacy work as a project coordinator for an initiative to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Jumara bought what she learned at UEASU to the Student Services team at UEA, delivering  a range of training programmes on topics around mental health, well-being and social causes. From here, she became the Head of EDI at SOAS, the School of Oriental and African Studies, focusing on restorative justice in the institution for students and staff. She then led the University of Suffolk Students’ Union through a difficult period of change and growth as their Chief Executive Officer.

Since then, she has returned to UEASU as their Chief Executive Officer, delivering strategic direction and helping it become a sustainable organisation for its students. Jumara supports the strategic growth of LGBT+ charity Norwich Pride as a Trustee and, until very recently, was a Magistrate for Norfolk. Jumara has also used her core values of equity, diversity and inclusion to create a network called The Women of Colour, which is a space for WOC to build relationships and feel psychologically safe and valued.

How do you inspire inclusion in your work and life?

I do this in all aspects of what I do, and more importantly WHY I do anything — from creating a network for marginalised women and non-binary people, to developing a reading group to focus on underrepresented writers, to mentoring young people into positions of leadership.

I use my position as a leader to foster and facilitate spaces to empower young women and people to know the power of their voices and how they can make change for the better. I also aim to inspire inclusion by influencing policies and processes to disrupt the systems which deter becoming more inclusive.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing women in leadership positions today?

  1. There are not enough role models to look up to. We need to become the leaders that we wanted to see so that future generations have role models.
  2. The bias against women is still prevalent — especially if we are making waves.
  3. We need more mentors to champion women in the sector and identify their power so we can help them harness it and use for other young women in the future.
  4. Social norms and dynamics — there is still evidence that women don’t apply for jobs they are fully capable of, yet men will. So we fail at this hurdle immediately.

Have you faced any obstacles or resistance as a woman in a leadership position, and if so, how did you overcome them?

So many! Particularly from managers who were men who labelled me bossy, intimidating etc… and tried to belittle me because I was powerful and, therefore, a threat.

I overcame this because of the amazing women mentors and role models I had in my life at the time who would validate me and my emotions, and reaffirm the experiences I was going through.

I was also fortunate that I had the most amazing managers after this who are women, and showed me the power of having inspirational women in leadership positions and what that can do for a person.

I’ll always be grateful to my manager Claire for being that for me, and continues to be even though we don’t work together now.

What is the most noticeable change for gender equality you’ve witnessed throughout your career?

Feminism is powerful! More so now because of the voice of the younger generation, and the use of social media etc… There is also a lot of love for women from other women. We are each other’s hype gals and it’s MAGIC.

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to leadership roles in the third sector?

Don’t let their words keep you down. If they’re calling you bossy or intimidating then it means you’re doing something right.

Find the women who are your hype gals, they will hold you along the way. And be this for other women.

If you can do something amazing, bring her along with you.

And the biggest bit of advice: put your name in the hat, because if you don’t then you’ll never know.

How do you use decision-making power to foster a culture of inclusivity?

I use it collectively. Share the knowledge, share the understanding, share the space for power and leadership.

It’s truly infectious and allows people to feel valued and like they belong. Your culture is your ally and a testament to your commitment to EDI.

Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?

Don’t let anyone fool us into thinking there isn’t enough space for all of us. There is.

We are in charge of creating the space. So let’s make more and more so we feel like it’s equal, not that we are a minority.

Bill Yuksel is our Managing Consultant for not for profit and student union recruitment, with over 35 CEO appointments across England, Wales and Scotland. With a true passion for social change and a drive to match motivated candidates with organisations where they can make a difference, please email Bill or connect with him on Linkedin to find the leaders you need for your community foundation.