culture change, equity diversity and inclusion, leadership, organisational culture

Choose to challenge? Choose to BE challenged!

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The International Women’s Day theme this year is Choose To Challenge. The theme urges a “Be the change you want to see in the world” approach. Choose To Challenge highlights individual responsibility for challenging gender bias and inequality: “Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions — all day, every day”. But I want to challenge (!) that theme. We should Choose To Be Challenged today instead.

Photo credit Alex Nicopolous via Unsplash

I like this image as a metaphor for this theme. Lots of individual pillars, each striving upwards, like hands raised to challenge. But it also reflects lots of people benefitting more or less from choosing to challenge. Because both things are true with this IWD theme.

Why challenge?

I believe strongly in living your values (and I’m working on a 30-day personal accountability challenge coming very soon to complement our coaching work!). But choosing to speak out about bias, inequality, or unfairness is not an easy thing. It takes courage because challenging often comes with a personal cost, from momentary interpersonal tension through to serious professional consequences. There’s a reason why we all need encouragement to do it through this campaign. 

And it’s important to emphasise the all here. Often, those with the most to lose and the least power to effect change end up carrying the burden of challenging the status quo. We see that in the hostile responses women of colour receive when they challenge white feminism, or in the backlash against women who refuse to be quiet about abuses in their industry, like Rose McGowan.

Greater diversity and inclusion offers a strong business case to organisations. But in the moments of challenge that help to bring greater diversity and inclusion about, it’s not the organisation but individuals who feel challenged. And that’s where challenge can fail.

What shall we do instead?

So, in urging courage this IWD, let’s flip the focus. Ask those in powerful positions to get comfortable with challenges, and acting on them. Being challenged might mean moving aside and letting someone else take the floor. It might mean deleting a defensive knee-jerk email in favour of a humble, curious one. Or even prioritising equality all year round, even at times when IWD feels like a distant memory.

This is a choice, too. Being open to having our default patterns of being and working interrupted is not always comfortable, but we can choose to embrace it. It takes discipline, and courage, and hard work. But that’s okay, because the end goal is worth it.

So, Choose To Be Challenged this International Women’s Day.