Open sourcing our Executive Director job description

A lot of people really liked the job description the Ada Initiative wrote for our recent Executive Director search and have asked to see a copy. We release this job description under the Creative Commons Zero license. You may reuse or modify it without crediting the Ada Initiative (though we always appreciate a shout-out!).

THIS JOB IS NO LONGER OPEN. Please do not apply. Thank you!

Executive Director

The Ada Initiative is looking for an Executive Director (ED). The Ada Initiative works to increase the participation and status of women in open technology and culture through an explicitly intersectional feminist approach. We are a growing and financially healthy nonprofit with 3 staff members. The three most important responsibilities of the ED will be leading the organization, fundraising, and managing people. The current ED, Valerie Aurora, is excited to immediately transition to a clearly defined role as the Director of Training Programs, reporting to the new ED.

This is a fulfilling, exciting, and challenging job. Successful candidates will need to be not only organized, financially savvy, and responsible, but also flexible, creative, inspirational, supportive, and comfortable with uncertainty. The ability to handle conflict well is particularly important, as conflict is an inevitable part of successful activism. In addition, our new ED will need to lead the organization by example in self-care and burn-out prevention.

This is a salaried position with benefits (including health insurance and a sustainable vacation policy), preferably working at least 2 days a week at our office in San Francisco, CA, USA. Taking into account what EDs of similar organizations are paid, the competitive market for the skills required for this job, and the cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, this position will pay from $120,000 to $160,000/year depending on experience. We believe that paying people market rates for their work, regardless of their gender or race, is a feminist act.

Job description

As Executive Director, you will lead the organization: setting priorities, deciding which programs to run and where, and periodically re-examining our scope and mission. You will also represent the Ada Initiative to the outside world: speaking to journalists, writing or approving blog posts and press releases, and communicating with donors and sponsors. You will need to travel and speak in public at least 3-4 times a year. Editorial writing, leading events, and teaching are not a required part of the job, but you will have the opportunity to do each of these things as your other responsibilities permit.

You will lead the Ada Initiative’s program activities: deciding where and when to hold AdaCamp conferences, overseeing our training programs, designing and approving new programs and events, working with partners, and setting priorities between programs. An important part of your job is persuading and influencing people to change their behavior by advocating for policies, creating coalitions, convincing organizations and people to use our training, giving advice on how to respond to reports of sexism, and similar activities.

The Executive Director is responsible for the financial health of the organization. You will lead the yearly fundraiser and raise corporate sponsorship for AdaCamp and other events. In collaboration with the Director of Operations and the board of directors, you will create yearly budgets and make high-level decisions about how to spend the organization’s money to best serve our mission: whether to hire staff, fund events, develop new programs, etc.

You will also manage the staff and consultants for the Ada Initiative. We currently have 3 staff members: Mary Gardiner (Deputy Executive Director, based in Sydney, Australia), Suki McCoy (Director of Operations, based in San Francisco, CA, USA), and Valerie Aurora (currently Executive Director, stepping down to Director of Training, based in San Francisco, CA, USA). We have about a dozen consultants, most of whom work remotely. You will work with the board of directors and the advisory board, which have 7 and ~25 members respectively, and continue to recruit new directors and advisors. You will probably need to grow the Ada Initiative staff to 5-6 people in 2015, and more in following years if necessary.

While this job is fulfilling and supportive in many ways, it also has some serious downsides. As the visible leader of a feminist activism organization, many people will feel entitled to your time and energy without compensation and you will need to tell them no frequently so that we can fulfill our mission. We will provide you with experienced support in handling harassment and threats, as you will almost certainly be the target of these. Sometimes partners, sponsors, donors, or community members will pressure the Ada Initiative to do things contrary to its mission and you will need to stand up to them. Listening to and responding to reports of sexual violence, intimate partner violence, and criminal harassment are a frequent part of the job.

Preventing activist burn-out requires fostering a supportive and emotionally caring working environment. This is important to the Ada Initiative, and you will be expected to lead by example. You should be comfortable with actively offering (and taking!) stress leave when someone needs to care for themselves or their family or is the target of harassment; encouraging people to work only the hours they are being paid for; paying attention to and celebrating achievements; matching employees with responsibilities that are rewarding and fulfilling; and commiserating or problem-solving as each is needed.

We are open to candidates of a variety of backgrounds and experience levels, from highly experienced career executives to people with limited formal management experience but a great deal of experience with open tech/culture communities and/or feminist activism. We are uncompromising in our mission and values, and happy to train a high-potential but less experienced candidate who has the personal skills and vision to become a great ED (including hiring executive coaches or other professional support). The current ED, Valerie Aurora, is looking forward to immediately stepping down to a clearly defined position reporting to the new ED as Director of Training Programs, in charge of the Ally Skills Workshop and Impostor Syndrome Training programs. The new ED can call on Valerie’s support and expertise as much or as little as they desire.

About the Ada Initiative

The Ada Initiative is a feminist non-profit dedicated to increasing the participation and status of women in free and open technology and culture, including free and open source software, open data, open education, fan culture, and similar areas. We take an explicitly intersectional feminist approach and are a trans-inclusive organization. We were founded 4 years ago and have 3 salaried staff members, as well as about a dozen contractors. Our major programs include fighting conference and online harassment with example policies and support for implementing them, the AdaCamp unconference for women in open tech/culture, and training programs such as the Ally Skills Workshop, which teaches men simple everyday ways to support women, and Impostor Syndrome Training, which teaches women how to overcome the feeling that they are a fraud.

In terms of funding, staff, and program work, we have been growing at a rate of about 150% a year since our founding. We are financially stable, and have a healthy and active board of directors and advisory board. We have three primary sources of revenue: a yearly online fundraiser, corporate sponsorship of our AdaCamp unconferences, and training workshop fees. The majority of our income comes from small donations from individuals, which keeps us independent of any particular large sponsor.

We are serious about changing the world, but take every opportunity we can to be funny and humorous while we do it. Keeping our employees happy and fulfilled is a priority since it is part of our strategy to prevent activist burn-out, so we explicitly discuss each week how motivated or burned out we are feeling (and how to fix it). We grant stress leave liberally, we encourage flexible hours and part-time work, and we provide a childcare benefit for employees who are traveling (as well as other childcare benefits for U.S. employees). We believe that paying people market rates for their work, regardless of their gender or race, is a feminist act.



  • Lead and inspire people to work towards our mission
  • Set direction and strategy for the organization as a whole
  • Build and maintain relationships with similar organizations
  • Work with journalists and the press to educate and raise awareness
  • Periodically examine and refine our mission and scope
  • Prevent “mission creep,” especially attempted co-option towards other goals
  • Grow our programs to meet demand, which will probably require hiring 2-5 additional staff within the next 1-2 years
  • Manage the composition of and the communications with the Board of Directors and Advisory Board, including recruiting new members
  • Attend a limited number of conferences per year (probably 3-6)


  • Manage 3 staff and about a dozen consultants (and more as we grow)
  • Oversee all program work (conferences, training, anti-harassment consulting, etc.)
  • Encourage self-care, healthy work environment, and other burn-out prevention for all staff
  • Make high-level budget decisions
  • Negotiate contracts with sponsors, clients, and consultants
  • Review existing programs and change or end them as necessary
  • Create new programs as appropriate


  • Take overall responsibility for meeting Ada Initiative’s financial goals
  • Lead yearly individual online fundraising drive (2014 total: $215,000)
  • Raise corporate sponsorship for AdaCamp unconferences


We encourage you to apply even if you don’t, in your opinion, meet 100% of these criteria. You may fulfill the requirements in unexpected or unusual ways that you may not realize. However, you must be eligible to work in the U.S. (we can’t sponsor visas at this time).


  • 2+ years participation in a community or field with highly participatory social and cultural dynamics: peer-to-peer organization, international participation, lots of online communication, shares work freely. This can include, but is not limited to: fan culture, Wikipedia and related projects, open data, open government, open geo, open hardware, hacker/maker spaces, and free and open source software.
  • History of effective advocacy for a cause (social, technical, artistic, etc.)
  • Strong interest in persuading people to change their behavior
  • Willingness to ask people and organizations for assistance (money, discounts, services, etc.)
  • Demonstrated understanding of principles of intersectional feminism, including trans-inclusiveness
  • Readiness to seek out and evaluate opinions from community and peers, without sacrificing mission or core values
  • High levels of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and self-examination skills
  • Desire to work with members of the press: give interviews, quotes, etc.
  • Willingness to admit when you and/or the organization are wrong and apologize sincerely (and publicly, if necessary)


  • Experience in interviewing, negotiating compensation, and leading a team (formally or informally, such as in volunteer community organization or conference organization)
  • Experience developing plans, setting targets and goals, and tracking performance against them
  • Experience developing budgets, monitoring spending, and containing costs in any context (work, home, volunteer activity, etc.)
  • Willingness to address performance issues and work with people to improve them
  • Comfortable with “bugging” people to get their status, finding out what is blocking them, and helping them get over roadblocks
  • Experience working with people remotely, especially in different time zones
  • Experience working across multiple cultures, researching differences and making adjustments as necessary
  • Ability to evaluate and make compromises necessary to living within a capitalist and patriarchal society
  • Experience fostering an environment of emotional support and encouragement
  • Good self-care habits that promote and support emotional resilience
  • Ability to set and enforce personal boundaries (e.g., saying “no” to requests from colleagues, family, friends, and strangers)
  • Comfortable with the use of laughter and appropriate humor with co-workers as a coping tactic for stressful situations and to prevent burn-out (e.g., sending funny cat pictures to each other)


  • History of successful online fundraising at any scale (Indiegogo, Kickstarter, etc.), including asking people directly for money, setting goals, developing fundraising messages, and designing social media campaigns to support the goals
  • Willingness to say no to sponsors and donors (corporate, individual, government, etc.)
  • Ability to represent the organization well in written communication (with or without assistance)


  • Experienced user of at least one form of social media (Twitter, Facebook, G+, etc.)
  • Excellent email management skills: uses filters, labels, flags, stars, or some other system to respond to important emails in a timely manner
  • Basic spreadsheet skills: can sort on columns, use simple formulas, and format cells (or learn this quickly)
  • Comfortable with at least one form of online chat (Gchat, IRC, FB Messenger, etc.)
  • “Power user” level of familiarity and comfort with technology: you may not know all the software we use, and you definitely don’t have to write code, but you feel confident you can learn a new piece of software using the documentation, Google, and a few questions to a friend or co-worker

Bonus qualifications

Experience in the following areas will be looked on favorably, but is not required. We are happy to work with you to learn skills in areas you would like to develop.

  • Practical experience with the effects of living with multiple intersecting oppressions, such as gender (including genderqueer or trans folks), disability, race, class, etc.
  • Managing people under California employment law
  • Working with or serving on non-profit boards
  • Growing an early-stage organization
  • Advanced social media skills
  • Long-form blogging about technical, social, or personal topics
  • Leading remote teams
  • Public or inspirational speaking
  • Writing in a variety of styles, especially a warm, funny, informal style
  • Editing or proofreading
  • Writing editorials
  • Teaching, particularly interactively in a classroom or group setting
  • Programming, writing scripts, advanced spreadsheet skills, or similar skills


Hours: This is a salaried, full-time position (40 hours/week).

Salary range: $120,000 to $160,000 per year, depending on experience. This salary range takes into account what EDs of similar organizations are paid, the competitive market for the skills required for this job, and the cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area. We believe that paying people market rates for their work, regardless of their gender or race, is a feminist act.

Work rights: You must be eligible to work in the U.S. We are unable to sponsor visas at this time, sorry!

Location: You must be regularly available to work in person at our San Francisco offices, located 0.5 miles from the 24th St. and 16th St. BART stations, but we are open to flexible arrangements.  If you have accessibility needs that we can’t meet with our current offices, we will rent new office space that does meet them. We expect that you will need to work at least 2 days/week from the office in order to collaborate in-person with other Ada Initiative employees. The remainder of the time can be worked at home, in the office, or while traveling, as you prefer. Currently, the ED travels and/or speaks at events about 1-2 times a month. With a separate Director of Training Programs, required travel will probably drop to about 3-4 times a year.

Relocation: If you need to move for this job, we will pay reasonable relocation expenses, as negotiated.

Leave: We provide paid personal leave (20 days/year), company holidays (10 days/year), and sick leave (10 days/year). We also grant stress leave as necessary.

Family Leave: We aren’t required to give leave under the Family Medical Leave Act or California Family Rights Act, but we would like to provide similar leave for similar reasons because we think it is the right thing to do. We need to formalize this policy and the new ED would have strong influence on that decision-making process. Our current policies offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child.

Dependent Care Assistance Program: We have a Dependent Care Assistance Program (DCAP), which allows employees with children under age 13 to pay up to $5,000 in childcare expenses pre-tax.

Healthcare insurance: We pay 50% of the premium for high quality healthcare insurance for employees. Family members can also be covered but the employee pays the full cost of their premiums under our current policy. We hope to improve this coverage as our funding increases.

Our health insurance plan complies with California regulations on transgender health coverage (see for details). The plan covers hormone replacement therapy, gender dysphoria psychotherapy, and medical monitoring related to hormone replacement therapy. Unfortunately, none of the plans that health insurance carriers will offer to an organization of our size will cover gender reassignment surgery without a lengthy approval process. We will support anyone who goes through this process, and we support trans health care law reform that would eliminate this barrier.

Other benefits: At this time, we don’t yet offer a retirement savings plan or additional insurance. We expect our employee benefits to grow as the organization grows.


To apply, please contact [EMAIL ADDRESS] with a short introduction and your résumé (any format, linked or attached). A representative from the ED search committee, composed of members of our Board of Directors and Advisory Board, will reply within 2 weeks.

REMINDER: This job posting is for reference purposes only and is no longer open.