How women will lead us

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In Our Hands. How Women Will Lead Us into The Future We Seek. I firmly believe that it will be women who lead us into the future we so desperately need and want. It will be women who push for equality, equity, justice, and human rights for all. Women who advocate for real solutions to climate crisis. Women who decide they will no longer be quiet and keep filling in the gaps of broken social systems, income disparity, the undervaluing of care work and domestic labour, or leadership pipelines that continue to float the usual suspects to the top. The more women I work with, the more that belief is strengthened. 

This is just one of many stories I could tell you about women leaders working for positive change.

A friend and colleague of mine, we both work in the DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) space, are both entrepreneurs and honestly, we bonded out of shared annoyance. We met at this event that was billed as “women’s leadership training” but was more of the same old, same old, meaning intolerable droning on, lack of meaningful participation and reinforcing old models of what leaders do.

Essentially it was that age-old strategy of telling women that if we want to be leaders, we need to behave more like men. We were not impressed, and we were annoyed enough to speak up. We became fast friends.

She recently stepped back from her consulting work and took a leadership role at a big corporation because she felt she wasn’t having enough impact or creating enough real change as a consultant. She figured she’d give it a few years and see if she could make a tangible difference in this organisation’s culture. It’s only been three months and she’s already changing practices and challenging leaders to create more inclusive systems. She is using her voice and her position of leadership to have a huge impact in a short time.

She is taking risks and speaking truth to power; all the things we need and want women in leadership to be doing. And yet, the morning after our call, she messaged to say she woke up wondering if she was changing the culture or if it was changing her. To have impact was she in fact emulating some of the old patriarchal leadership approaches that she’s working so hard to eliminate?  

Good question, and it stopped me in my tracks. Can we actually do the work of dismantling patriarchy, and be conscious enough to notice when it creeps back into our own approach? This got me wondering in what ways the hold of status quo continues to have us in its grips, even as we’re doing the work of changing it.

The reason these questions are so important is not about having all the answers, it’s about asking the right questions. My friend is peeling the onion of “the way we do things around here”, and getting down to deeper and deeper layers of what needs to be questioned and changed in order for us to truly create new and more equitable organisations, cultures, systems, and communities.

What is the onion we’re peeling? The dominant culture, patriarchal culture, binary, white centric, heteronormative, etc. culture, that we’ve been living in for so long we consider it “normal”. It operates in the background is such an insidious way that we can’t always see it. That’s why transparency and good data are so important. When we are told that women are equal in the workplace but we still don’t feel like we are, the data can help us describe our experiences.

For instance, we still have gender pay gaps, $0.89 for every dollar a man earns in Canada where I live, 85p for every pound in the UK and globally women get paid about 13% less than men. These pay gaps are worse for Indigenous, Black, and other women of colour. And that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how feminised industries like food services, retail, caregiving and domestic work are some of the lowest paying jobs anywhere. Add in the reality that women continue to carry out at least two and half times more unpaid household and care work than men (1) Or the shocking numbers of women who report having been verbally, physically, or sexually harassed in the workplace and we can see clearly that not all genders are having the same experiences at work.

We do not have equality or equity; we know it and feel it. 

So, for women looking to lead positive change, what are the tools that will help us do it? First, the data. We live in a time where it’s easier than ever to review the research, look at the numbers and make sure we’re getting a clear picture of where we actually stand. The data helps us zoom out from our individual experiences and add in the bigger social context.

Second, question everything. Like my friend, just when we think we’ve solved a problem or shifted the status quo, chances are we are about to hit a deeper layer of the onion, and that will require even more questioning and reflection. These are complex issues and to understand them we need to have the space to reflect, think, and discuss. And that brings me to my last recommendation.

Don’t do this work alone. This journey of leading change can be a lonely road at times. Find your friends and colleagues who are walking it alongside you. Find the people who will have your back when you put yourself out there, and will understand and be there for you when you take a hit along the way.  

Because there’s no way to be a leader of change without taking a hit from time to time. It can be difficult and often thankless work, but day by day I feel and hear the groundswell of women who are standing up to take it on, for ourselves and the next generations. If anyone can get this done, it will be women, leading as ourselves and standing together to create the world we want to see.

Footnote

  1. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/in-focus/csw61/redistribute-unpaid-work