Archive for Women in Sustainability
A Systemic View
By Lavinia Weissman
New York, New York
“We seek only to give words
to those who cannot speak
(too may women in too many countries)
I seek only to forget
The sorrows of my grandmothers
- Anasuya Sengupta, India
Last week, I offered a post (part 1) in a private subscribed conference, Monday Circle of Prayer, Walking About Rather than Walking From. It focused on a more personal experience with respect to how women cope with the realization they have no choice but to walk away from dysfunctional employment and other related activities and what that implies.
This article is a second installment to that reflective inquiry from a more systemic view of women’s participation in the workforce.
Part 2- A Systemic View – When Walking Away is Your Only Alternative
It has been 30 years since, Gro Harlem Brundtland, M.D., launched the sustainability movement by convening the Brundtland Commission Inquiry in cooperation with the United Nations. One of the worlds most remarkable female leaders, Dr. Brundtland is the former prime minister of Norway and former Executive Director of the World Health Organization and continues her work out of the United Nations community to this day.
What is happening for women in the economic system in which the work of the Brundtland Commission dialogue was to influence change?
A company culture that embeds corporate social responsibility implies that this culture has worked or is working on issues of transparency and materiality that invite an end to secrets. To assure acceleration of the women’s agenda in the workplace, this is a solid beginning but one has to ask why with such remarkable leadership among women, is this movement so slow to accelerate?
Conditions for Women Today
A few years back, I came to recognize living a life of spirit and faith was also key and not engaging dysfunction. As the economy became more challenged, I found myself on a battlefield of toxicity for work that has brought me to a downward spiral that many health people share with me.
On an ongoing basis, I am reminded of how exceptional women have been good at retaining secrets from public view, e.g. health, marital abuse and discrimination in the workplace to a degree of complicity that underlies why there is so little progress for women in a country that has complicated the lives of so many now by the cost of education, the diminished number of jobs available and the increasing number of jobs available for a wage that no one can live on, let alone support children.
Somehow in the United States, women forgot to speak for and in support of their peers. The spiritual movement in the US grew into a focus of self-care and personal intention and the issues that trapped or harmed so many were forgotten that can compromise any woman’s health or access to education. We make people personally responsible to heal the obstruction and wounds that have been imposed on them that they did not cause.
Living and working in this kind of environment can result in the adoption of behavior that is dysfunctional when we feel all we can do I fight back on the battlefield by declaring war or simply protest. Some woman cannot free themselves for socio-economic reasons and need access to constructive options of employment, education and housing, especially if they have children. They need a form of protection that can overcome the harm they had to endure personally or to their children if they speak up or make the “secret known.”
For me this week, I can own the cost of freeing myself from walking away from systems of obstruction and not looking back to my Sodom and Gomorrah.
For many years, more than I care to think, I have found the courage to walk forward with my wisdom and my eyes to in minutes note an elephant in the room that is not right. I like many offer compassion and no remedy and keep walking or support as I can. This week, I became very clear, I will not perpetuate or enable anymore secrets and I will not engage in any conversations that bring me into a form of triangulation that perpetuates the secrete. Yet as women in this country we continue to perpetuate secrets and to me this has become as harmful as keeping the secret.
Over the past 3 decades there emerged a new set of systemic challenges at a rate of acceleration that the Earth Charter and UN Global Compact Principles have been designed to counter act all this.
These systemic challenges have form into many secrets that can become the ground of a battlefield of tension and obstruction we cannot speak about in public. For a few who experience this they have the protection of wealth, position or marriage to reduce the harm, but the wounds from these battles can be life long. I know this personally and discovered I was not alone in this experience in a very pronounced way in 2004.
The Hidden Story
In 2004, I attend a private by invitation meeting in Boston, attended by over 200 women who had MBA’s and worked successfully in the Financial Service industry. Success in this instance is equated with title and financial success. Most of these women were graduates of a top 10 MBA programs. This particular program by 2004, had over 900 female graduates working in industry.
As a journalist and business writer my invitation was extended with a strong request for non-disclosure. This group wanted my participation and I had to promise not to report any panelist personal story or report on the overall event to a public audience.
What I can say now is that the meeting focused on report from Catalyst, a non-profit established in 1962 that conducts research on the progress for women in business. The 2004 Catalyst presentation focused on the question, “Why fewer than 7% of women had advanced to C-level positions in the Fortune 2000?”
This report has popularized and been presented to a public view over and over again. What I did not expect was to listen to testimony of female leaders in the financial industry that offered “secrets.” These secrets included that 85% of the panelists suffered from chronic illness and had compromised life circumstances that led to the deterioration of their own health when they are parents, elderly caregivers, or witnessed first hand corruption.
A panelist at the time of the conference was working in venture capital investments. She reported that she had witnessed when employed by a securities firm of fame, an “indiscretion.” Her husband’s response to her was, “Resign immediately. I am glad I can support us and assure your resignation with dignity because you don’t have to work.” She also indicated her resignation was just on time to see her husband through his own health challenges while caring for her young children at home, which she was not anticipating and needed the freedom of her own company. She ended her presentation stating, “I do not know what single women did to protect themselves from this kind of association by employment?”
The most dramatic presentation was last from a woman of status and achievement in the financial service industry, who announced that she let her career destroy her life – marriage, relationship with her children and friends. This is not news. How many articles and reports have there been through the years on women who sacrificed a “life” for “career.I found comfort in recognizing and end to my ongoing feeling of an isolated experience. I had just met women like me who had lived through similar experiences.
I noticed by the end of the event that women, I respected the most was no longer employed in industry, but served industry. These women structured their businesses so they no longer had to personally absorb or perpetuate harmful corporate behavior they could not control.
Forbes journalist, Meghan Casserly wrote, Millennial Women Are Burning Out by 30, Great for Business. This is truly not news. Casserly points out more women are becoming entrepreneurs and starting their own companies as an alternative. In my experience the women succeeding are doing that with the education and knowledge of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. What does that imply to women today?
As someone, who has worked at the frontier of sustainability and csr, for nearly two decades, I have seen the freedom that these woman claimed that was across the board empowered by family and friends. It was clear to me if you did not have that kind of support, it was a long hard road with no guarantee for successful outcome.
Is Change Possible?
Elaine Cohen, a recognized authority on HR and corporate reporting in the movement of change for Corporate Social Responsibility, recently reviewed Women and the New Business Leadership by Peninah Thomson with Tom Lloyd.
Thomas and Lloyd reported that one mentee interviewed pointed out
” Women tend to want to get everything on the table, because they
believe it is only when all the sometimes painful facts are on the table
that the truth of the matter can emerge “
This fits with my view that “women rarely want to disregard the “elephant in the room.” Yet we have appeared to often organize our view of the most “difficult,” as a secret.
I believe until women find a spiritual foundation and new form of strength that has them begin to see strife as strife of many rather than getting lost in their own strife to intend a miracle of repair. This is critical as a principle of uniting and forming a credible movement of change from which to claim their power and influence the acceleration of change.
I do not see this happening as rapidly without women learning to weave networks in which they can safely claim their power and also generate solutions to generations of abuse and harm to their health and economic status and social position that no one asks to be imposed on them.
Margaret Wheatley, a leadership thought leader and change agent, points out how critical it is for any change agent (man or woman) to exercise perseverance. In her book titled Perseverance she writes:
“Perseverance is a discipline—it’s a day-by-day decision not to give up. Therefore, we have to notice the moments when we feel lost or overwhelmed or betrayed or exhausted and note how we respond to them. And we have to notice the rewarding times, when we experience the joy of working together on something hard but worthwhile, when we realize we’ve made a small difference.
A Personal Action Plan
I know many competent, leadership quality women, who did not chose the adversity that was imposed on them. Often the only solution for them was to accept roles of care giving, patient or simply walk away from a job to protect their health. They wisely recognized that to envision repair and change for a scale of outreach that goes beyond what they can know personally and it implied now walking away, but walking in a high degree of uncertainty with perseverance to form something new for which there was no guarantee of outcome or assurance of a happy ending.
My chemical and environmental sensitivity and chronic illness has pushed me to care about the impact on this to people because so many men, women and children suffer more than me. Drawing from this perspective I learned how to formulate ideas that assure lasting social impact. I did not ask to live life with this challenge and at the same time, this challenge has pushed me to integrate a spiritual practice and take on life in forms that are ordinary but not anything that anyone could teach me.
And I have created my own form of empowerment and remedy:
1. Formulating a course the redefines network so anyone person can benchmark and define their personal social network and its assets;
2. Gathering group of women and men in my life that I can interact with virtually on a daily basis to empower me to overcome the obstacles that I and many of my peers and colleagues face in challenging economy.
3. Shaping my presentations and coaching to inspire this change, for which I can speak with passion, credibility and spark engagement between women in local community.
Every person in my sustainable reflective prayer community knows a variation of challenge. The question remains in taking care for yourself and those you love, how you move from hero, heroine or victim to claim a life of repair and solution with other women to accelerate that change and claim our power?
I regret in 2004 with this alumnae group of women with Wall Street related careers, we did not follow-up with another meeting to look at these questions.
While articles like what Meghan Casserly wrote for Forbes portray a bright picture for the millennial women, we have millions of other women, who are able to step up to learn a new way that I teach that can empower and accelerate a global economic change that has not been fostered by the traditional institutions and industries where women continue to burn out or wait for a pink slip and then what?
Come to one of my programs or host one for your community through a local “green” incubator.
For More information on Lavinia’s Coaching, Workshops and Presentations or to obtain an invitation to Monday Circle or Prayer Community Conference,
Contact Adriana Hill in the US by phone 516.204.6791 or at mydestinyjourney ampersand gmail.com.
Letter from the Publisher
This next series of articles to be released into our new magazine format for thestoryofmeaningfuluse.com examine the thought leadership and new practices coming into use to build new metrics of health for the environment, economy, people and habitat.
This new format of preparing a series of articles for a cycle of publishing was a bit overwhelming this first round; it pushed me to think and organize my work differently. When I go into a learning cycle, I often have to find some real inspiration and within a few days the inspiration came to my door. This inspiration was about repair of harm, I began to learn about through 3 major media events – a live broadcast, a outstanding interview and a sneek preview of film;
- 60 Minutes Correspondent Lara Logan’s interview about her sexual assault during the Egyptian disturbance of political unrest;
- My preview of the film, ‘The Whistleblower, ” the story of UN peacekeeper cover up in Bosnia as experienced by US Peacekeeper, Kathryn Bolkovac.
Given the events, it provoked much discussion and debate in the mainstream press and social media. Yet by the end of a week, I found myself pushed by these events to rethink the sustainability practice of “transparency.” Transparency is any person’s or institution’s power to adopt. If you don’t practice transparency, you are diverting energy to “privacy, privilege and secrecy.” Yet if you practice transparency you are opening the door to the very human aspect of life that “nothing is perfect.” Transparency implies failure as lessons learned and opportunities to take those lessons and innovation change.
To me this is the essence of the world of people and communities practicing the discipline of “capacity building.” From wherever I sit and draw my perspective, I continue to see a growing need for capacity building – in terms of recognition of need, resource and investment identification and a more common understanding that there is a need for a “cycle of capacity building.
Convening a group of people, who have the intention to innovate change requires a cycle or sustained capacity building. Capacity building is about breaking down the systemic barriers that re-enforce old patterns of behavior that keep a dying system perpetuating as that system ceases to serve more and more of the people who live in that system.
The community begins its learning when a small group of people recognize they need to budget and allocate resources to beginning an investigation int new responses to unmet needs from which a healthier society can take form to serve people into perpetuity. This means authoring a method of exercising precaution that addresses systemic harm that cannot be stopped by continuing in a form of “business as usual.”
These 3 events also implied a strong position that physical and violent harm, in particular to women and children should not be part the global future.
Yet the progress for achieving the UN Millenial Goals of 2000 to end poverty by 2015 is not sufficient. And for the most part, according to the 2011 GreenBiz.com report on the State of Green Business, the world is still treading water in its progress to become a Green Society.
I am finding more and more – that what I publish, facilitate as change and build social media practice for is about “capacity building.”
Thee 3 media events inspired me to renew my faith and belief that a majority of people can convene to discern, learn and act to build a healthy sustainable economy so all species can live in health; this is the focus and context for anything I think about, work on integrate with into my work with others.
Over the next two weeks, please enjoy the roll out of articles for the May/June 2011 cycle of publication for thestoryofmeaningfuluse.com. All these articles provide a basis, a perspective, a briefing from which to learn how to engage in capacity building and monetize its development and ongoing capacity to su
|Lessons Learned||Carol Sanford||Business Can Make Life Easier|
|Research Note||Lavinia Weissman||#pharma Beyond Business as Usual|
|New Normal Brief||Dave Wann||Treasure Hunting for Clean Tech
|Ethical Markets Media||Rosalinda Sanquiche||Update from Hazel Henderson|
|Capacity Building||Lavinia Weissman||Can Sustainability Sustain?|
|Book Review||Lavinia Weissman||The Responsible Business by Carol Sanford|
Watch for a new post on CSRWiretalkback as part of the SanofiAventisStoryCapture on how CEO Chris Viehbacher is leading a mission to guide Sanofi’s mission beyond the mindset of pharmaceuticals to becoming a global health leader.
And finally learn about WorkEcology.com’s new learning community, WorkEcology’s Women in Sustainability.
The core value that aligns women to join this professional association is based on the value for sustainability. This implies you wish to discern and learn with other women how to live a healthy life in a healthy world.
Groups can form anywhere for a size of 6- 10 members.
To learn how to become a group leader or join a group already meeting click “contact,” on this page.