Collective Courage: A New Approach to Gender Equality


Collective Courage: A New Approach to Gender Equality

“Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid…”—Basil King

The vision comes first

When I close my eyes, I envision a global society where everyone, regardless of gender, can be themselves safely, authentically, and powerfully. Where the gift of who they are is able to be expressed fearlessly.

A world where Acceptance, Tolerance, Peace, and Success, is not something to be earned but something seen as natural as being born, a part of being human.

Close your eyes please, just for a moment, and try to envision what such a world would mean for YOU—and for those you love—your family, your mother, and sister, and daughter, for your workplace and community. How could our world change for the better?

There are questions arising in our collective thinking that were unimaginable not all that long ago.

We are beginning to ask ourselves:
  • What is gender? Is it merely biological? Environmental? Behavioral?
  • Is gender solely about expressing as masculine OR feminine?
  • Is maintaining the old “battle of the sexes”—where someone loses and others win— necessary anymore?

As the world struggles through COVID, climate change and economic recovery, could gender equality divide us further— even when the benefits of gender parity have become so clear that they can no longer be argued?

We all want to create a better, more equal, more accessible world for our children and grandchildren. Morally and ethically we “get it” but somehow we find it so difficult to find the courage to create change.

Why should we care?

Women and girls are more adversely affected by global social issues such as poverty, trafficking, climate change, and now, Covid-19 has created a “shadow pandemic.” Globally, girls and women do four times more unpaid care work than men. In the U.S., the majority of single parents are women (21 percent of children live with mother only, four percent with father only.) Police reports in China showed triple the domestic violence levels during lockdown.

The World Economic Forum predicts 135.6 years to reach gender parity and, due to the pandemic, there has also been a backwards slide in women’s equality. Women now make up 39 percent of global employment and account for 54 percent of overall job losses.

In general, women and girls experience less protection and fewer opportunities from nearly every society on the planet.

Why is this? Especially when, for years now, extensive research has highlighted:

In all organizations: diverse teams are better for innovation and decision making. Harvard Business Review has reported research findings showing how diverse teams are 58 percent more effective than homogeneous groups. Additionally, where certain errors occurred, diverse teams were more likely to resolve discrepancies more accurately and collaboratively.

In business: more women on leadership teams equals increased profits. The results of an extensive analysis of over 20,000 companies showed a positive relationship to profitability with leadership greater than 20% female, management over 30% female, and the workforce being greater than 44% female.

In government: Empowering more women in government is good for economies and communities—even demonstrating that more women in government led to systematically better outcomes related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Remember the intersections

While it is clear that more diversity is better, this is not always recognized. Before you can make a change, it’s often helpful to clearly define the ground you wish to occupy. So let’s get clear on what we really mean.

What is gender equality? Very simply, gender equality means an equal distribution of power and opportunity for all genders in society.

What is gender intersectionality? It’s where gender makes a cross-over into race, sexual orientation, disability, age, faith, neurodiversity, or any other category of beingness.

For example:
  • Woman AND black. Sexism AND racism.
  • Woman AND older. Sexism AND ageism.
  • Woman AND gay. Sexism AND homophobia.
  • Woman AND disabled. Sexism AND ableism.

Intersectionality creates a double or triple bind for women and girls who find themselves born across these lines, which society has previously kept separated. They have always existed, but have been poorly addressed. Intersectionality must be viewed as an additional challenge, and potential increase of the discrimination and stereotyping women endure.

Women’s Equality Day commemorates the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the government from denying voting rights on the basis of gender.

However, while white women of the day received the vote, racism and racist backlash caused many to abandon the Black Suffragettes who had fought by their side. Voting rights for Black, Asian and Native Americans came decades later. Even today, bias and voter suppression continues to haunt the democratic process in the United States, and many other countries around the world.

While suffrage came to the U.S. in 1920, it had already been achieved in 1893 in New Zealand.

Other countries came even later:
  • Singapore in 1947
  • Switzerland in 1971
  • Saudi Arabia in 2015!

Even today, no country has managed to attain full gender equality. While Scandinavian countries like Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden lead the world in their progress toward closing the gender gap, the UK is still woefully 23rd and the U.S. is an appalling 30th. The greatest gender gaps are still identified primarily in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.

Where does this put us in terms of reaching our goal?

The World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report for 2021 says we are 135.6 years away from global gender equality. But is it really that far away? Let’s dive a little deeper.

The report focuses on four areas: Education, Health and Survival, Political Involvement, and Economic Participation.

In the area of Education, we are a mere 14.2 years to gender equality. In Health and Survival we are seeing nearly 96 percent parity. But within the Health and Survival category, preexisting gaps have amplified the crisis. Clearly, women have been at the front lines of managing the crisis both as essential workers and as primary caregivers at home. The COVID-19 crisis has halted progress toward gender equality.

The numbers are most pathetic in the areas of Political Involvement, which hangs at 145.5 years; and Economic Participation at 267.6 years. Both of these time frames are due to a persistent shortfall of women in leadership positions in both government and business.

Western Europe has progressed the most towards gender parity (77.6%.) North America is the second-most advanced in its progress (76.4%,) followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (71.2%.)

Some good news, however, is that at our current pace, gender gaps can potentially be closed in all four areas within 52.1 years in Western Europe, 61.5 years in North America, and 68.9 years in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Maybe some of us will still be alive for that celebration.

While a woman’s empowerment is a critical aspect of achieving gender equality, which means increasing her sense of self-worth, her decision-making power, her access to opportunities and resources, her power and control over her own life inside and outside her home, and her ability to effect change…

She cannot do it alone.

She needs your help.

The ground of collective empowerment

While change starts with the individual, one person acting alone cannot bring about the kind of change we seek. The individual action inspires and provides courage for others who witness it to become inspired. This collective encouragement is a movement that builds momentum over time.

Think of how the right to vote was won by collective influence. Think of how the #MeToo Movement began online and spread to real life, and real change. Think of the Women’s March and how recent rallies and protests have proved, all genders have had enough of the disregard for equality, and the maintenance of sexism, racism, and every other form of discrimination.

There are increasingly more women pioneers in science, technology, education, and politics. And there are increasingly more men that support, advocate, and encourage a gender diverse world. There are trans and non-binary individuals helping to pioneer new ways of expression as human beings, deconstructing social and traditional definitions of what makes a person human, male or female, both at once, or neither.

But, listen carefully…

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”Fannie Lou Hamer

You can’t do it for one group and not for another. You can’t just look after your own interests and expect the world to respond. We are in this together. As we increasingly regard one another as human beings sharing the same space, those things that are currently keeping us divided are the rally to greater courage, rapid change and realization of true freedom.

What is courage, and where do you find it?

The difference between being courageous and being bold, is usually fear.

For example, children are often indifferent to fear. They leap before they look because they don’t have enough experience to be afraid. Boldness is an indifference to fear.

It is the insertion of fear into the equation that requires us to have courage. Sometimes we need to take an unpopular stand that defies social norms or unjust lawmaking. This requires great courage. It’s far too easy to get riled up, full of angst (that is often rooted in fear, if we’re honest) and react in ways that do not serve anyone, even ourselves.

So I have begun to think of courage as a raging of the heart. This fiery mixture of Anger (as the ignition) and Love (as the fuel that keeps courage alive.)

Courage is a matter of the heart. The wonderful thing is that we can actually impart courage to others. This is the very definition of what encouragement is.

Discouragement can easily rob us of our courage and deflate us. But encouragement is affirming, strengthening, giving life to our every effort to be strong and courageous. Encouragement is also self-sustaining. The more you practice it, the more powerful and real it becomes.

The most powerful avenue to expand courage, is to develop it for someone or something we LOVE! This is the way to FEARLESSNESS. When we do it collectively, and publicly, it boosts the courage of everyone else around you.

Another powerful way to develop courage is to challenge yourself to understand other people’s stories that are very different from your own.

Are you a white person who has never investigated the history of racism or the Black experience in your community?

Are you a Christian who has never tried to understand why someone would believe another way?

Are you straight and never spoken to someone else about what it means to be gay in your community?

Are you hesitant about trans or non-binary expression, but never explored what it must be like to feel alienated from your own body?

I promise, if you will authentically challenge yourself to face whatever you assume you don’t have in common with someone—no matter how uncomfortable you feel about it now—you will be rewarded with a deep, abiding love and a new courage you’ve never known before.

What is courage? Is it...
  • Feeling fear and still doing it?
  • Running into a burning building?
  • Superman or Superwoman saving the day again?
  • Shouting loudly?
  • Looking someone in the eye and asking why?
  • Being wrong?
  • Showing vulnerability?
What elevates courage? Is it...
  • Knowing who you love?
  • Hearing someone’s personal story?
  • Understanding your fears?
  • Making yourself do it?
  • Practice?
  • Having a good reason?
  • Showing vulnerability?

The word “courage” can appear deeply gendered. We might conjure up an image of a man with a giant “S” on his chest, running into a burning building to save the day. Yet, real courage in my view, is made up of all the small daily actions of anyone, anywhere that help make a difference. Often quiet and unseen, we can impart our courage to others through our words, and even just with our very presence. We can encourage people by our example. When we summon the strength to be courageous, we can in turn impart and ignite that strength and courage to those around us as they see us taking a stand.

Everyday, collectively courageous actions.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”Eleanor Roosevelt

It is not necessarily the big, audacious actions that create the most change, but smaller actions having a cumulative effect. Everyday actions, done collectively, create the most change.

Consider the long term effects of actions like:
  • Actually stopping work on time.
  • Giving yourself a proper lunch break.
  • Taking the time to meditate, to relax, to love yourself.
  • Speaking up about something you believe not to be right.
  • Being positive and optimistic in hard times.
  • Asking someone how they are really doing.
  • Advocating for someone when they are not there to speak for themselves.
  • Applying for a job you think you are not quite ready for.
  • Encouraging someone else to apply for a role you know they have the potential for.
  • Joining a program or project for equality.
  • Starting or volunteering for an initiative for poverty eradication in your community.
  • Reading, listening and educating yourself on equality and equity.

Ask yourself: What’s in it for someone or something I love?

Can you be kindly courageous, respectful, but at the same time assertive?

If you are more accepting and more kind to yourself, will it make you kinder and more accepting of others? Yes. Is it okay to focus on a ‘selfish’ action like self-care? Yes. Shouldn’t you focus on ending poverty in your local area first? Not necessarily. There is no hierarchy in actions. Everything is interlinked.

Imagine if in your company, ten people today were kinder, more accepting, and spoke up for others? The next day, twenty. The week after, a hundred. A month later, 1,000 people. And then, the tipping point…

If everyone who reads this article, or listens to my podcast, can do one thing every day that scares them, we’d create collective courage. The muscle gets stronger. The action, habit forming.

Ask yourself every day:

  1. Who and what do I care about?
  2. What is my collective courage action for them today?
  3. When will I do it?

Imagine your home, your neighborhood, your department at work, your organization, your industry, your country, our planet being more collectively courageous.

Small actions by a lot of people change the world.

Courage is contagious!


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