Women leaders from YMCAs across the globe meet

Date: 08 July 2022

Women from YMCAs across the globe gathered at the 20th YMCA World Council’s Women’s Leadership luncheon at the Aarhus Town Hall in Denmark today, hosted by World YMCA President Patricia Pelton.
Key speakers included Emma Osmundsen, YMCA Europe President; Denise Hatton, CEO of YMCA England & Wales; Cici Rojas, YMCA of the USA and newly elected World YMCA Treasurer; and World YMCA President-elect Soheila Hayek. Each shared their leadership tips and experiences to encourage and inspire the women of the YMCA.


Patricia Pelton, outgoing President, World YMCA

“Equal gender leadership representation is necessary in organisations, and the evidence shows that companies with this leadership ratio get better results,” Patricia said.

As YMCA’s first ever female President, Patricia’s appointment to the role in 2018 marked a significant milestone for the YMCA as an organisation.

“When I stood on the Stage in 2018 and heard the applause at my election as the first female President, I was so very happy. It had been a long time coming. We serve as many females as males in our YMCAs, and good governance states that all must be represented equitably and at all levels. It didn’t take long before many young women approached me and requested that we do more to enhance that representation.

“We are certainly making strides – just look at some of current female staff leaders. And so many came before, and we stand on their shoulders,” Patricia said in an earlier address to the entire delegation.

“We must address equity everywhere”


Emma Osmundsen – President, YMCA Europe

Emma illustrated her leadership journey with three Elvis Presley songs:

All shook up “I’m a disruptor. Not in a trouble-making, negative way. I mean I’m disruptive in my thinking.

Organisations need to stay one step ahead, and be disruptive, and Vision 2030 gives us the opportunity to shake up what we’ve been doing for 178 years”.

A little less conversation, a little more action “I really value action. Leaders need to be speakers of words, and doers of deeds. We need to be Movements in action and walk the talk”.

Are you lonesome tonight! “For many women who reach a leadership position – it can be lonely. We have the opportunity to come together and support each other and open the gateway for more leadership roles for women and relate to being leaders of the future.


Ethiopia Tilahun Abebe, YMCA Ethiopia Board President

“Leadership starts from self”

“Six months ago, I was imprisoned for 44 days, due to false allegations and because I was a woman in leadership,” Ethiopia said.

“I was shocked, that an upstanding community member would find themselves in a jail cell, with 15 other prisoners.

“And for the first few days I was angry, confused, helpless and weak, as I thought about my teenage son who I was supposed to pick up from school. But the moment I convinced myself, that I had control over some things, I started to gain strength. I could read, pray, reach out to cell mates. I realised that many of the women there were in much worse situations than me, and needed my help, my leadership.

“My fragile state came from my being a mother and wife etc., but my emergent strength came as I realised my strength as a leader. Leadership starts from self.”


Denise Hatton, National General Secretary (CEO) England & Wales

Know yourself, develop yourself, and be kind to yourself.

  • Know yourself: your natural approach. Mine is servant leadership to empower others.
  • Be a reflective leader, with emotional intelligence. Look underneath other people’s behaviours with tolerance and patience to really know what’s going on.
  • You must be authentic to be trusted.
  • You need to be kind to yourself. Have fun. Make time for family and friends. Invest in a fabulous coach, reflect, and learn about yourself and how you’re leading. Be comfortable making mistakes, because other people need to know they can make mistakes and feel safe. We can all learn from them.


Cici Rojas, YMCA of the USA and newly elected World YMCA Treasurer

Say yes more than no, and take risks.

Three key tips:

  1. Put me in coach. Say yes and commit. All my opportunities started because I said yes more than no.
  2. “You need to get into the red zone” – 10 yards away from the touchdown. Learn from your failures.
  3. It takes a good team. Recruit a good team around you. Support each other and have good networks.



Soheila Hayak – incoming President

“Today I see a lot of young leaders, and I am delighted to see your enthusiasm. And I’m glad there’s no question about you being here. I want to celebrate you – young people.”

“My journey is no different to your journey – every one of us is a leader”

“There’s no such thing as failure – just try and try again…. And keep getting up (doesn’t matter how many times you fall) … Don’t be intimidated, don’t be afraid…  and don’t think you’re not up to the task. Be present. Show up. Trust yourself.