Published by the Faculty of Business, Government and Law, University of Canberra


Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

We need women’s leadership based on power, love

Aug 25, 2023 | Climate Change, Activism, Environment, Diversity, Commentary, Leadership, Power, First Person, Culture, Feature

Written by Polina Avilova

As a kid I was fortunate to travel widely, and I saw the devastation of the natural beauty of the world across many countries. Now, a little older, I am a student in environmental management, and I want my voice to make a difference. Questions I ask myself every day include: How do we make sure that we do not repeat harmful patterns of the past and become good ancestors for the future generations? How do we work with communities, and organisations, across sectors and with nature? How do we truly listen to what nature is trying to tell us and reconnect with it?

I believe that women’s voices must be heard if we are to keep our planet alive for myself and for future generations. That is why I joined the Women’s Climate Congress (WCC), a not-for-profit organisation run by passionate women, dedicated to making the changes needed to  bring about climate security and ongoing care for life on Earth for current and future generations, which are expressed in the inspiring WCC Charter for Change. And that is why I wanted to share some insights from the WCC’s recent Women’s Climate Conversation online – ‘The old world and the new: Women’s leadership journeys in a changing climate’.

The conversation explored Action 1 of the Charter: ‘Embrace gender-balanced inclusive governance’, and was moderated by climate emergency strategist and WCC Steering Circle member Cheryl Durrant. The guest speakers brought diverse experiences of women’s leadership and climate action – Dr Gabrielle Kuiper, energy sustainability and climate change professional and former adviser to Julia Gillard, and Willow Berzin, Chief Assembler, the Coalition of Everyone.

Are our notions of leadership incomplete?

As highlighted by the speakers, leadership, as we know it, has been associated with competitive, commanding and controlling ‘masculine’ behavior. Yet if we talk about ‘women’s ‘leadership, it is often described as more inclusive, collaborative, compassionate and intuitive. Therefore, most of what we think of as leadership is incomplete. As a society, we have to unlearn things that no longer serve us and relearn, remembering our true nature of curiosity, creativity and leaning into the unknown.

As Willow Berzin beautifully articulated, there is a need for balance between “the Sacred Feminine and the Sacred Masculine…”.

It’s rare to hear discussion of Spirit, but I believe it is important to include love and compassion in any discussion of leadership.

Willow added  “Women’s leadership is about being together and working together, and part of it is showing up to conversations [like WCC’s circle conversations], empowering and connecting with one another”.

Is ‘women’s leadership’ a cure-all?

In her discussion Dr Gabrielle Kuiper noted that “Empathy is important, but not without strategy” – in today’s challenging times, it is essential to develop a unique leadership style that combines the best of both worlds and serves for the greater good of all. This idea was reinforced by Willow Berzin, who reminded us that we have all the tools at hand to tackle the climate crisis and it is vital to combine hope and action to make the change we are seeking. Questions to ponder on include:

What are your unique talents and strengths? How can you amplify them and bring them to the world?

What are your values?

Who can be on your personal board of directors to support your success?

How can you maximize your time for greater impact?

How can you be of service to this time? How are you useful? How do you find your role in this?

Why inclusive leadership is so important in these challenging times

Dr Kuiper said that in her view it is possible to observe a pattern of fear and greed in politics, with power and money becoming addictive to the people in power, regardless of their political persuasion. Those notions aren’t serving us anymore, and we have to have systems in place to make space for new emerging leaders, but we also need systems in place to promote inclusive governance and to protect them from power addiction.  She suggested several steps:

  • Embrace diversity: Actively promote and encourage diversity in leadership roles by ensuring representation from different backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, and areas of expertise. This will promote fresh perspectives and a more inclusive decision-making process.
  • Create opportunities for mentorship and training: Establish mentorship programs to support aspiring leaders from underrepresented communities. Provide them with the necessary training, resources, and guidance to develop their skills and confidence.
  • Foster an inclusive culture: Cultivate an environment that values and respects diverse opinions, experiences, and ideas. Encourage open dialogue, active listening, and collaboration among team members to create a sense of belonging for everyone.
  • Implement merit-based selection: Evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, skills, and potential rather than relying solely on traditional networks or affiliations. This approach ensures that deserving individuals are given opportunities to lead, regardless of their background.
  • Engage in outreach initiatives: Actively seek out potential leaders from various communities through targeted outreach efforts. Collaborate with local organizations, educational institutions, and grassroots movements to identify talent and provide platforms for them to showcase their abilities.
  • Encourage participation: Create platforms for citizen engagement and participation in decision-making processes. Utilize technology to gather public opinions, feedback, and suggestions on policies and initiatives, allowing diverse voices to be heard.

By following this approach we can create a more inclusive governance structure that embraces diversity, fosters new leadership, and allows for fresh perspectives and ideas to thrive.

Listening to this, I agreed with the WCC proposal that to achieve inclusion and diversity, women’s leadership is urgently needed to redress the historical and systemic imbalance and lead change to promote these new approaches.

I am inspired that the WCC Charter for Change calls for immediate actions, including quotas, co-chairs and women’s caucuses to support gender-balance and support access to the policy agenda.

Building on ideas of unlearning, inclusion and what we are afraid of, Willow Berzin noted that “we need a better game” and she referred to the concept of ‘Game B’ as the new normal which we are bringing into being as we live through the dying remains of how things were (‘Game A’). The WCC Charter for Change feels like one expression of Game B.

The need for power and love

Gabrielle told us a quote from Martin Luther King Jnr, which eloquently describes my main takeaways from this thought-provoking conversation:

 “Power, properly understood, is the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, or economic changes. In this sense power is not only desirable but necessary in order to implement the demands of love and justice. One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive and that love without power is sentimental and anaemic.

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love”.

You can watch or listen to the recording of the whole online conversation here.

  • Please note feature image is a stock photo.
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Polina Avilova is an Environmental Management and Sustainable Business student at Griffith University. She is passionate about climate change action and deeply committed to justice, equality, diversity and inclusion. My spare time is usually spent outdoors and in nature, teaching yoga, learning about health, mindfulness and self-actualisation.

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