Updated: Aug 24
Leeds Women’s Aid (LWA) is an independent charity, formed in 1972, providing services to women and children affected by domestic, sexual &honour-based violence and abuse; forced marriage; trafficking; stalking and harassment; and to women and girls with complex and multiple needs, along with being a voice and leader in women’s centered work.
Since 2017 LWA has trebled in size, merged with another organisation and been successful in winning large contracts and securing additional funding, becoming the largest women’s charitable organisation in Leeds. This resulted in many staff going through a TUPE process and included people moving from a small organisation to a larger, and vice versa. Following this, significant work was undertaken to set out the 3–5-year strategic outlook, including reviewing and co-producing the new organisation’s values, and rebranding.
LWA were presented with a number of challenges:
1) New project implementation.
As the external demand for services and information grew, new practices and functions were developed, eg online live chat, to help meet service user requirements and a move towards more electronic ways of working. In addition, with funders refocusing their priorities, access to funding also changed.
The impact of the pandemic increased demand meaning the capacity within the organisation was stretched and extra staff were required to manage the additional workload. With some staff on furlough, some working from home and others on site in the refuges, pressures, perceptions and assumptions impacted on staff wellbeing and motivation.
3) People and culture.
With several different workplace cultures coming together, managing people’s differing expectations and alignment with essential ways of working, created a challenge of how to successfully embed new practices and bring everyone on board, including those who had preferred previous, less formal ways of operating.
The Association of Chief Executives in Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) also set out clear expectations in their statement that there was “an absolute requirement for charity leaders to put in place robust and effective systems for internal leadership and management to identify, report, investigate and deal with misconduct, and to remove wrongdoers”.
With this in mind, and the challenges being presented, LWA recognised that they needed to take a proactive approach to prevent friction and conflict arising which could have led to behavioural and conduct concerns.
Working with Conduct Change
As a people centric organisation, both in terms of staffing and the ‘service users’ they serve in the community, LWA required objective and expert insight to help align their organisational goals and objectives, values, policies and processes with their actual behaviours and conduct. On that basis, Conduct Change were engaged to support LWA develop and access the most appropriate conduct frameworks and interventions for the context of their organisation. It was recognised that this was a multi-disciplinary approach and there was a need to engage all levels of the organisation for it to succeed which is where LWA needed greatest support.
Following an audit, Conduct Change commenced a consultancy programme with LWA which has included recommendation and implementation of initiatives, policy review, tailored training to raise awareness and close skills gaps, as well as launching a pioneering Conduct Agreement across the entire business.
Audit to establish organisational context
Action planning and review sessions
Conduct Agreement (Charter) drafted and implemented linking values, behaviours and activities
Senior leadership team embarked on EQ development and coaching
Psychological Safety awareness and training rolled out across organisation with survey and measurement to follow
Values embedded into supervisions and appraisals
Launched Leadership ‘Behaviour of the month’ with the permission to challenge expected at all levels
Benefits to LWA so far
Positively impacted wider strategic plan, improved engagement, inclusion, and teamwork.
Prioritised the development of a psychologically safe environment as the foundation for cultural change.
Improved EQ awareness of Senior Leadership Team. Recognition that leadership behaviours have changed and given staff permission to hold them to account.
Improved collaboration between trustees, managers and staff in considering how to relate values and behaviours in determining organisational goals and objectives
Despite presuming a positive culture was already present, staff feel more able to express themselves freely. Staff are more considerate in their interactions with each other and with service users; they are more confident in challenging wider injustices outside of the organisation and are more confident advocates.
Provided a ‘spark’ of excitement and a sense of togetherness throughout the whole organisation.
CEO shortlisted for Charity Leader of the Year in the Charity Times UK Awards https://www.charitytimes.com/awards/shortlist21.php