Photo credit: Erol Savcı
An Example of Good Practice for Women in Sectoral Leadership

Aslı E. Mert[1]

In October 2019, 82 young professional women from 10 different sectors successfully completed the 24-month project entitled “Enhancing Women’s Leadership Trajectories via Female Role Models”[2] funded by the Consulate of the Kingdom of the Netherlands’ MATRA Human Rights Programme. It has been the first multisectoral leadership project in Türkiye to provide future role model leader women general and sectoral training modules as well as peer support, networking opportunities, roundtable discussions, seminars, workshops, sectoral meetings, and mentoring sessions for both groups and individuals. The most prominent gains of the project can be listed through the concepts of “sisterhood”, “peer support”, networking”, “role models”, and “mentorship”. The element of sustainability has also been a priority: at the end of the project, “Role Model Leader Women Network”[3] was founded to maintain the relations established throughout the project.

Sectoral leadership

A distinctive feature of this leadership project is its sectoral organization. The project consisted of 10 sectoral classes: Academia, Art, Science & Technology, Communication & Media, Health, Entrepreneurship, Business & Management, Architecture & Sustainable Women-Friendly Urban Planning, Retail & Sustainable Textile Production, and NGO & Social Services. Sectoral leadership is significant for many reasons. Although women in decision-making positions encounter shared obstacles, women’s leadership appears in many different forms—not just in managerial or CEO positions. For women attempting to move up the career ladder, every sector has its own dynamics and barriers. While some sectors included in the project (such as the Communication sector) are female-dominated areas, vertical segregation, as represented in the glass escalator theory (Williams, 1992), is still an issue. This theory posits that even in sectors where female employees prevail, men tend to be promoted faster and easier (mainly in traditional work organizations where intersectionality is not a major issue (Williams, 2013)). For male-dominated sectors, intersectional inequality comes into play as the state of being a woman in an area of work dominated by men. Therefore, sectoral solidarity among working women is crucial. While bringing women from different sectors together as a broader community creates a strong basis for empowerment, it is equally important to provide training, mentorship, and other networking practices for women within different sectoral groups. In doing so, women can share similar experiences and establish deeper support mechanisms

The impact of the project

While men’s contribution to the process of having more women in decision-making positions is vital, the overpowering metaphor of the “men’s club” can only be diminished by strengthening the notion of “sisterhood”, at least until more equality is achieved — both in the boardroom and in the job market overall. Sisterhood, however, should not be imposed in a top-down manner. Rather, it needs to be organically produced and reproduced, as it occurred during this project.

The overall aim of this all-female civic action initiation was to empower women through the guidance of female role models, as well as female peers struggling with similar or identical issues in the workplace including the glass ceiling, segregation by occupation, and the gender pay gap. The significance of learning from peers as well as role models has been demonstrated in many different academic and non-academic studies. A research by KPMG[4], for example, has shown that strong female networks and encouragement provided by female role models can increase women’s confidence levels. According to the same research, nine in ten working women stated that while their personal efforts may help them obtain leadership positions, female role models and peer support, as well as a strong professional network play a significant role in women’s leadership trajectories.

Statistical indicators (derived from the results of pre-, during, and post-project questionnaires) demonstrate the project’s impact and level of success. In September 2018, just before the program began, only 31.5% of participants indicated that, in practice, they consider themselves competent leaders. After the final mentoring session was completed, this rate increased to 81.4%. While this is a remarkable outcome for a civic action project, a more important and explanatory feature of its impact concerns the specific components from which participants benefitted the most. At the end of the project, participants noted that its most influential components were the mentoring sessions and seminars/workshops, respectively. This shows that female support mechanisms are a means for women to feel more competent, confident, and encouraged, which can be associated with transformational leadership, a concept developed by Burns (1978) (as “transforming leadership”).

Transformational leadership

Transformational leaders stimulate and inspire followers to develop their own leadership capacity while reaching successful results: they do so via mentoring and coaching processes, and both through providing challenge and support (Bass and Riggio, 2006). They cater guidance and encouragement, and women tend to be considered as transformational leaders (Harwarth, 2010). St. Clair and Deluga (2001) present the “Four I’s” of transformational leadership as: individualized consideration, idealized influence (personal charisma), inspirational motivation, and intellectual stimulation. They also argue that traditional models of mentoring underscore career success in terms of moving up in the organizational hierarchy. Yet for mentorship targeting the development of transformational leaders, referring to “transformational mentoring”, St. Clair and Deluga (2001) indicate that mentors need to act as role models who encourage current mentees (or future leaders) to take risks and make self-sacrifices.

The components of transformational leadership can be linked to this project, particularly in terms of the inherent transformational mentoring patterns that emerged during mentoring sessions, in which failures, risk-taking, and leaving one’s comfort zone were frequently discussed matters. Regarding the above-mentioned “Four I’s” of transformational leadership, the project’s mentorship processes tick all four boxes: individualized consideration achieved via one-on-one mentoring sessions, idealized influence through the contribution of established mentors, inspirational motivation during group mentoring meetings, and intellectual stimulation triggered by sectoral insights through trainings, sectoral meetings and mentor know-how.

Moving forward with sisterhood and sustainable support mechanisms

This project highlighted the importance of the impact of role models and an unimposed sisterhood morale in increasing numbers of decision-maker women. While men’s role in efforts to create more room for women in leadership and decision-making positions is ineffable, the concept of sisterhood is a much-needed stance against the issues of “men’s club” as well as “queen bee syndrome”, the latter referring to women becoming distant towards their female colleagues after being promoted to leadership positions—hence becoming a part of the non-egalitarian organizational culture, and legitimizing as well as reproducing the existing gender hierarchy and inequalities at work (Derks et al., 2016).

It is important to raise awareness among women regarding the shared problems they encounter. Once these problems are identified, it is easier to counter them, and thus work towards gender equality in the workplace—both for ourselves and others. Whilst training is vital in extending knowledge on women and leadership, long-term peer support and networking opportunities for sustainability, seminars and workshops, and mentoring programs also need to be a part of the process. Exposure to transformational mentoring and working with transformational leaders can increase the number of women as leading role models and mentors in accordance with the motive of this type of leadership (Burns, 1978).

For further information on the project, please visit our website (both in Turkish and English):


Bass, B. M., & Riggio, R. E. (2006). Transformational leadership. Psychology Press.

Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.

Derks, B., Van Laar, C., & Ellemers, N. (2016). The queen bee phenomenon: Why women leaders distance themselves from junior women. The Leadership Quarterly, 27(3), 456-469.

Downton, J. V. (1973). Rebel leadership: Commitment and charisma in the revolutionary process. New York: Free Press.

Harwarth, I. (2010). Women as leaders in women’s colleges In K. O’Connor (Ed.), Gender and women’s leadership: A reference handbook (Vol. 1), 565-573. Sage.

St Clair, L., & Deluga, R. J. (2001). Transformational leadership and mentoring: Theoretical links and practical implications. Bryant College Faculty Working Paper Series.

Williams, C. L. (1992). The glass escalator: Hidden advantages for men in the “female” professions. Social Problems, 39(3), 253-267.

Williams, C. L. (2013). The glass escalator, revisited: Gender inequality in neoliberal times, SWS feminist lecturer. Gender & Society, 27(5), 609-629.

[1] Designer and Principle Investigator of the project

[2] The title of the project in Turkish is “Gelecegin Rol Model Lider Kadinlari”.

[3] (Role Model Leader Women Network: Membership requests welc ome)

[4] (Last visited on 23 November 2019)