I was astonished recently by Zero Emission’s recent forum in Sydney. It was a high profile, well-organized and fantastic forum that packed out Sydney Town Hall. Yet every single speaker was male. 5 male speakers and 1 male MC. How could this happen? I should say upfront that I love Zero Emissions. They are a fantastic organisation. But if our movement’s leadership, and those that we put out to speak to the public about climate change and energy, don’t reflect the diversity of the community whose attitudes we are trying to change, how can we expect the community to relate to our movement? If a young woman wanting to make a difference on climate change looks up at a stage and sees no faces that look like hers, what message does that send her? And if young man of colour looks up and sees no faces that look like his, what message does that send him? We all know that we need a diverse movement to build the strength we need to combat the influence of the fossil fuel lobby. We’re cutting off our own legs if we don’t put that understanding into practice. I did try to get a female speaker at the Sydney Town Hall event – when I saw the line up I called the organizers and suggested several women. To the organisers’ credit, they had already invited female speakers who declined or couldn’t make it. They learnt from the experience, and they recognised that it was a problem. This is unlike another forum, the Total Environment Centre’s Green Capital breakfast, where every single speaker was male. I emailed the organizers about this, and got absolutely no response. And it’s not like I was a random member of the public who they didn’t know – at this point I was emailing in my position of Co-Director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. This kind of situation shouldn’t happen again. We need more women in leadership and “expert” positions in the climate movement. So I wrote this article for young women in the climate movement. You’re doing awesome work (thank you!), and I’d love it if you offered your suggestions below – but here are some starting thoughts: 1. Value your own style of working, even if it gets criticized as too ‘feminine’. In my experience, women are great at listening, empathising, communicating, and creating strong teams. At my workplace, Make Believe, there are a lot of strong women. Every Monday morning, we have a team meeting where we each talk about our weekend, and select a “values card” from a card deck that one of my female colleagues brought into the office. The values cards include things like compassion, service, courage, honour and gratitude. We each select a card at random and then reflect on what it may mean for us for the week ahead. While some men I have told about this ritual argued that it’s a waste of staff time, half an hour of time at the start of each week allows us to reflect on our values and create a healthy team environment meaning we work much more productively together for the rest of the week. It’s ideas like this, which your male colleagues may dismiss as a waste of time, that will in fact strengthen your organisation and your movement. Lesson: trust your own instincts and work with your teams in ways that feel right for you. Similarly, engage in partnerships and negotiations in ways that make sense to you. You might have people telling you to be aggressive, when actually a more conciliatory approach might work better. 2. Learn how to Mediate and Negotiate. When I was finishing my law degree at Cornell, I took a great class about mediation and negotiation. It taught me the basics of how to negotiate: namely, always have a ‘best alternative to a negotiated agreement’ (BATNA); practice, practice, practice; and learn how to negotiate using interests rather than positions. It has helped me enormously in my professional work since then, whether managing staff and volunteers, forging partnerships, facilitating meetings, or dealing with conflict generally. Lesson: Catch up on some great reading on negotiation skills:
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In (Fisher & Ury, 1981)
- Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People (Ury, 1991)
- Beyond Reason: Using Emotions as You Negotiate (Fisher & Shapiro, 2005)
3. Deal with Conflict Almost all young girls are brought up with a fear of conflict, because we’re taught that we have to be “nice” above all else. Politeness is revered, and making people like you is the aim of the game. When it comes to climate change campaigning (and life for that matter), we have to accept that if we’re effective at what we’re doing, we are going to make enemies. And not just enemies from the climate denier/Andrew Bolt camp. I’m talking about people within your own movement as well, who disagree with your strategy. No one has ever made great change without rocking the status quo and challenging assumptions, and that means rocking the status quo and the assumptions of our own movement as well. In addition, if you’re in a position of authority in your organisation – that is, if you manage staff and volunteers and budgets – then you will inevitably have to make decisions that create ‘casualties’. ‘Casualties’ are people who disagree with and are badly affected by your decisions. We all need to understand that we will create casualties in our work. They key is having a plan in advance about how to deal with them. The worst thing you can do is pretend there are no casualties when there actually are – this marginalises those affected people even further and means you’re turning a blind eye to the inevitable negative consequences of your work. The challenge is to remain ‘in relationship’ (that is: able to talk with each other and listen to each other) whilst in conflict over substantive issues. Suggested reading: Kahane, Adam (2004), Talking Politely (click here to download file) 4. Network What this really just means is, open yourself up to enjoying other people’s company, learning from them, being willing to help them out, and not afraid to ask for their help when you need it. You already have existing networks: your school friends, University, TAFE or workplace friends, your local community, religious communities, sporting groups, Facebook friends and more. Someone once told me that Eleanor Roosevelt used to be great at mingling in crowds because whenever the conversation ran out, she would just think through the letters of the alphabet to pick a conversation topic and if the person she was talking to wasn’t interested in say, her recent trip to Alabama, she would move on and ask them if they’d seen last night’s baseball game, or if they enjoyed cooking… etc. So, if you run out of things to say you can always try this! I know it sounds a bit 1950’s but it’s worked for me! The same person who gave me this tip also told me there are 4 “P’s” of networking: process, proactivity, persistence, and patience. For me, keeping connected with people on Facebook is the way I build networking into everyday life – how else would I be able to keep connected to my friends in the US, Europe and other countries in different time zones? And having a contact list with email addresses (not just your mobile phone) that allows you to regularly send mass emails to your network is the best thing you can do to solidify your networks. These days you can manage these lists through things like http://www.mailchimp.com 5. Be Confident. When it comes to asking donors for funding, asking someone to help out as a volunteer, asking your lecturer for an extension because you have to organize a rally, or calling a celebrity to ask them to endorse your campaign, you only need one thing: confidence that they will say yes, and that you will succeed. Sometimes your confidence is based on actual evidence; other times, in my case most of the time, it’s based on blind faith. But if you don’t believe 100% in your abilities and your projects, who will? Partly it’s about finding your own voice. I love this article by Bell Hooks. In it she quote Audre Lord’s poem “Litany for Survival” addressing fear of speaking out. Here it is: and when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed but when we are silent we are still afraid So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive. As a practical aside, one thing that sometimes helps with increasing my confidence is wearing a suit. Even though I find them uncomfortable, it makes me take myself more seriously, and definitely makes others take me more seriously. Especially if I have a meeting with a large group of men, and I’m the only woman (yes, it happens relatively often) I find it helps me a lot. 6. Self-promote “People say I’m a shameless self-promoter. And I say, ‘au contraire, mon frère…I am a PROUD self-promoter!” – Van Jones, US green jobs activist. Why is it that the majority of the climate movement – the grassroots activists, the community climate action groups, the student organizers – are women; yet the heads of every single major Australian environment organisation (with the exception of Greenpeace who recently brought in a female CEO) are men? Partly it’s because men self-promote, and therefore advance their careers – and women don’t. It comes back to the “I have to be liked by everyone” frame that we grow up with. If we put ourselves out there, we might get shot down. We’ll be called a tall poppy, a self-promoter. If our work – and ourselves – are highly visible, we’ll be criticized. Promote the work you do. Promote yourself. Learn how to use the media effectively. How else will you reach new audiences, find new volunteers, and find new donors? Teach yourself to be a great public speaker. I taught myself through watching YouTube videos of great public speakers. Unfortunately most of the best speakers are men and American (like Van Jones, Martin Luther King Jnr, Bobby Kennedy, Barack Obama) so you can’t exactly emulate their tone of voice, but you can still learn a lot from them! 7. Stand up for other women It’s a male-dominated world; it’s often a male dominated workplace, and it’s a male dominated movement – at the CEO level, anyway. The grassroots of our movement is dominated by females and mostly made up of unpaid labour. That’s not to say women can’t succeed. Find mentors. Don’t be shy to ask people! I have had some wonderful male and female mentors, and I sincerely thank them: John Connor from the Climate Institute, Susan Lenehan, former SA Environment Minister; the late Phil Clapp from the Pew Environment Centre to name a few. If we support each other, mentor each other (and call the organizers every time we see a climate change forum happening without women speakers!) we can get there. If you’ve experienced challenges or ways to succeed as a woman in the climate movement I’d love to hear your thoughts.