Pedro Conceição, director of the UNDP’s human development report office commented, “What our report shows is a pattern that repeats itself again and again. Big progress in more basic areas of participation and empowerment. But when we get to more empowering areas, we seem to be hitting a wall.”
Why we are hitting a wall and how we can knock it down.
First, we need to define the actual problem. The problem isn’t that women aren’t leading. The problem is a lack of diversity at the leadership table. A small group of people with similar life experiences are making decisions that affect a much more diverse group of people and experience. This creates a system that works for one group (at least in the short term) but not for everyone else. It’s not about blaming the privileged group. However, lack of diversity at the leadership table leads to ineffective decisions. Globally we are facing the unprecedented challenge of climate change bought about by our global values and approach. The system is now broken for everyone and it is time for change.
Secondly, let’s get the solution right. If the system is made by and for one group, its no surprise that people who aren’t part of that group will struggle to progress within it. There is a tendency to blame women for the failure to progress; women need to be more confident and more assertive. It’s their fault they’re not leading and the quickest way to sort it out is for them to change themselves. There are even books dedicated to all the things women do wrong. Surely this is the values and approach of the current system in action, even as we attempt to pursue change? Society tells us its women’s fault they get raped, it’s women’s fault they get harassed and now it’s their fault they’re not leading. Enough is enough.
The truth is that there are many fantastic female leaders out there. Their leadership just doesn’t always look like traditional leadership so its often not recognised or rewarded by the current system. Plus, for every woman stepping out and genuinely leading there’s another focused on changing herself rather than changing the system that is holding her back.
The solution to our leadership crisis is women leading social change and using their experience of disadvantage to create a more equal system for everyone. As long as we are trying to push women up the current ladder, we will make limited progress. Women, its time redefine the rules of game for everyone, forever.
Finally, let’s know where we’re heading. Diversity and inclusion often feel like an add on because as long as we’re expecting the status quo to continue, it is. We need to recognise women’s leadership as the answer to the urgent need for change and expect it to be transformational. When women leaders don’t fit the mould, this is their power rather than their Achilles heel. If the end game is to change status quo for everyone then difference becomes a glimmer of hope rather than a harbinger of failure. As humanity faces a bleak future there is a desperate scramble for innovation, but humankind’s next big step forward will not be in technological or product innovation it needs to be the realisation of diverse and inclusive leadership- this will transform our future in ways we can't even imagine.
Emily has been working full time as CEO of Irise since she was 25, growing it from a grassroots group with a £10,000 grant into an international NGO with 16 staff across two continents, working in partnership with governments and universities to realise period equality for everyone. In 2019 she received the Power Together Award from the Global Women Political Leaders Forum in recognition of Irise's contribution to creating a global movement to end period poverty and shame. She is also a co-convener on the UK government's Period Poverty Task Force. Emily believes that when young women lead they can transform the world.