New LGBT Sector Women’s Network Blog

LGBT+ Sector Women’s Network: Showcasing our Sector’s Women CEO’s

By Vicky Worthington, Consortium’s Membership and Engagement Manager


This is the second blog in my LGBT+ sectors Women’s Network leadership series and I am finding interviewing women CEOs from the LGBT+ sector really interesting! If only I could persuade our CEO to let me do this full time I would be very happy! With the chances of that being wafer thin to none, and sadly there not being enough women CEOs to keep me in full time employment even if it were possible, I will just have to be content to do this once a month instead.

This month I had the pleasure of speaking with Tor Docherty, CEO of New Family Social, the UK’s only national LGBT+ adoption and fostering charity.

Tor first started working in the sector through volunteering. After moving to London from Yorkshire to study law (and after giving a lot of thought to how boring she felt being a solicitor might be) Tor started volunteering with the Terrence Higgins Trust. Through volunteering she was able to gain some great experience including managing teams and from there got a job in the voluntary sector fresh out of uni.

After several jobs working for various helplines and social inclusion organisations, Tor’s first role in the LGBT+ sector was with Stonewall Housing, working with the then CEO – Julia Shelly.

Tor’s first CEO role was at Galop (she also did a spell of 9 months at Consortium… yes another one!) before taking the job of Chief Exec with New Family Social.

I asked Tor what inspired her to start working in the LGBT+ sector.

I joined the sector at the same time I was coming out. I was 21 and working at Stonewall Housing and although I was out, I was faking how confident I felt about being out. Back then Stonewall Housing was run by Julia Shelly and seeing a woman who was a CEO, a lesbian, and super confident was great for me, inspirational really, both personally and professional. Professionally, it gave me a model for leadership and personally, at a time when I wasn’t feeling confident, it gave me confidence and that got me quite fired up for working in the sector.

I was interested in finding out a little more about what some of the challenges in leading can be, so I asked Tor what her biggest challenge had been so far.

It’s been a big learning curve in my current organisation. We are a dispersed team (remote) and so you have to be way more conscious of the contact you are having with your staff and you have to make it meaningful. The ‘coffee break chat’ doesn’t happen so you have to find new ways to support and bond as a team.

A challenge for me has been having Multiple Sclerosis, in the last few years I have lost proper use of both hands which has had an impact on my life in many ways but a big one is how I lead.
At first, I found it odd to be asking for help when I was meant to be leading. I now have a support worker which to start with was quite weird – having to share your thought processes with another person and having to learn a new way of working is definitely challenging. It has turned out very positively though, but interestingly it has been quite an outing experience, having to go into a meeting and explain my support worker’s presence.

Most of us aren’t very good at shouting about our great work, so I force Tor to talk to me about what achievements she is most proud of.  

I am very proud of ensuring that organisations that I have led have ended up more inclusive through the work I have done. There have been two organisations that I worked with, that when I started were lesbian and gay organisations and by the time I left they were LGBT+ organisations.

At New Family Social I am very proud to have worked with colleagues to train 1000 social workers around LGBT+ issues, that’s 1000 more Social workers who have appropriate and relevant knowledge of LGBT+ people and communities because of our work!

I know that being a CEO can bring challenges for everyone regardless of who they are, but this is a Women’s Network blog so I am keen to dig down to learn about specific challenges faced by woman leaders in the LGBT+ sector.  

Something that I think is challenging is that there seems to be a broader external recognition of some of the male leaders of the sector, more so that there is with women CEOs, although of course there aren’t that many of us.

I think also, parenting can present challenges for women in leadership positions, you need to have flexibility in the workplace but you also need to run on time. Its tricky because you can’t just hang on if meetings over run, I found that challenging in previous roles, but not now I work for an organisation that is all about families!

I lead a mixed gender team, my board is mainly made up of men and I don’t feel that my being a woman in leadership is an issue here at all, but I have experienced sexism in the sector e.g. the use of emotionally based terms to describe my decisions or point of view.

One of the things that the LGBT+ sector Women’s Network aims to do is support and encourage more women into leadership positions; I asked Tor how she thinks we as a sector can do that.

I see loads of women in the sector that are brilliant that I think could be amazing leaders and CEOs, we need to push ourselves and each other to reach for those positions more.

I think mentoring can really help with that, a lot of it is about having confidence.

I think getting experience is the key. In my 20s, the organisation that is now London Councils paid for a bunch of voluntary sector workers to go on a professional leadership course. I went in thinking that leadership was all about charisma but it isn’t really, if you have it great, but others find their own way of leading and you don’t have to be Alan Sugar! Most people can be inspiring and solid without having to be the loudest person in the room.

I asked Tor if she could end the interview by give us aspiring leaders a golden nugget of advice.

I think you have to believe that you can do it. You have to recognise that those of us who are doing it are not perfect, or 100% confident but we push ourselves and go for it and we do it.  You can push yourself forward to leadership positions and that will give the sector more diversity in every area of work.

We all have an image of what charity leaders look like – men in suits in London offices, delivering great key note speeches – and that’s ok, some of them are great leaders but I am leading from a rural village with 3 children and I have MS and New Family Social has doubled its size on my watch!

Find our own leadership style and have the confidence to give that a go – if it goes wrong, get up and do it again.

Big Thanks to Tor for taking time out of her busy schedule to chat!
Join me next month for a new blog where I will be chatting to Helen Jones from Mind Out.

If you would like to join the LGBT+ Sectors Women’s Network drop me a line.

Vicky Worthington is Consortium’s Membership & Engagement Manager and leads on Member Networks. 

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