As we emerge from 2020, an incredibly challenging and revealing year, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts, on the issues that have mattered, on the issues that I think will matter the most in these coming years.
By Sophie Lambin, CEO Kite Insights
When the pandemic put the planet on hold, we looked around. Suddenly, our societies didn’t seem so functional anymore. All the frustration we already felt – about gender and racial inequality, climate change and migration – was heightened as we witnessed injustice play out in real-time under these extreme societal pressures. We saw a world that is desperately broken for women, and by extension, for all of humanity. But with this moment of reckoning came a desire to reimagine what we already know, and see what we have overlooked for so long. Where do we go from here?
As the CEO of an agency focused on issues that matter, I realised that phrases like ‘building back better’, ‘the green transition’ and ‘healthy recovery’ were not just ‘issues’ that require ‘brainstorming’, prioritisation and investment; they also demand to be felt. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that lived experience is data too; and that the ways in which we are affected by a crisis – who, how and to what extent – are the real and most promising bases for an inclusive recovery.
The Women’s Forum theme this year, ‘Designing an inclusive world’, was all about tracing that journey: from an understanding of past neglect; to a rallying cry of ‘outrage and optimism’ (one of my favourite phrases and podcasts, by Christiana Figueres); to a new, imagined reality that can guide us towards a better future. So with that in mind, I thought I would recall some of this year’s central themes and messages, from the meeting and beyond, that helped me understand, internalise and re-imagine the world as we know it.
Who, and what, have we neglected?
Essential workers spring to mind. It took a global pandemic for the world to understand, in the first instance, how essential they really are; second, the extent of the burden they face when things go wrong; and third, how much societies suffer when their needs are not met. Women, especially, who comprise the majority of essential workers in some sectors, like healthcare, face the double burden of also being the main carers in their families. The result of their neglect was a massive drop-out from the workforce, and an extreme strain on women’s mental health across the board.
We have neglected women’s trauma in cases of gender-based and domestic violence, in homefront, warfront, post-war and migration contexts alike. Again, as central support systems for their families, women must be able to heal themselves if they are to help heal their communities. If their basic mental health needs aren’t met, ‘building back better’ simply won’t apply. Similar, and perhaps less talked about, is our neglect of indigenous communities around the world. By destroying their land and repeatedly violating their human rights (including their access to healthcare, which was widely denied during the pandemic), we were also shooting ourselves in the foot: harming the people whose extensive knowledge of natural resilience, sustainable agriculture and other nature-based solutions is absolutely crucial for a successful green recovery and an adherence to new climate standards.
At the digital level, we have neglected to represent certain groups in our data gathering, whose perspectives are critical to the design of an inclusive future. Those who are represented are often the object of deeply ingrained biases. Meanwhile, the 50% of the population without digital access is still unable to enter the workforce remotely– an option that could be life-saving in times of crisis. This is especially relevant to women living in remote areas who wish to enter the financial market online in any way they can; who might also be lacking the necessary skills to improve their digital presence and access technological solutions that could benefit their communities. In general, we are neglecting women in science; without whom, science should be seen as ‘failing’ (medical papers written by men, for example, are far less likely to include gender and sex-related factors in their analysis). As Alexandra Palt rightly said, “The world needs science and science needs women’ if it is to continue solving global problems.
What have we internalised, to help us heal?
We must first share the burden that has befallen women, so that they don’t crumble under the extra weight they’ve taken on either by default, or because of a need to prove themselves. Why should women be saviours? Why are women who are pushed to extremes celebrated as ‘heroines’, when we should be saying to ourselves, ‘This isn’t normal; it shouldn’t have to be this hard.’ We need to start saving the world for and with women; instead of allowing them to suffer and awarding them a badge of honour when they survive.
We need to take more risks on behalf of women, too, because the glass ceiling won’t shatter on its own. This includes exerting more pressure on governments to revolutionise their healthcare systems and medical research budgets to meet the needs of women, which are currently vastly under-represented. We need to appoint more women decision-makers to evaluate and validate projects, rather than simply contribute. Representing women isn’t enough; they must represent others and their ideas– especially those pertaining to under-represented voices. That’s why it’s essential for our societies to invest in gendered solutions. If we want to see more inclusive and scalable problem-solving, women should have access to the capital that can make it happen. Involving investors is crucial. Women leaders can design as many ambitious solutions as they want, but without a strong dialogue with investors, those solutions simply won’t scale.
As obvious as it sounds, internalising also means not falling back into old habits. Some people are saying that the pandemic has stripped away two decades of women entering the workforce– a brutal reality that was confirmed, in my eyes, when women on my own team had to leave because of childcare duties. Given that women are much slower to re-enter the workforce, the cementing of this reality would be devastating. Another habit we should kick is our tendency to ignore our co-dependence with nature. Covid-19 has humbled us all as we await the vaccine, forcing us to realise that taking human and planetary health for granted can only lead to greater disaster in the future. With biodiversity loss threatening all of our basic needs, including disease prevention, we should see human and planetary health as one of the same.
What do we imagine?
In the most general sense: a world where people’s experiences of inequality and exclusion are accounted for; where ‘lived experience’ goes beyond times of crisis, as a central component of inclusion agendas. A world where trust and transparency are part of the solution, not the problem– seen as a basis for greater risk-taking in the name of inclusion. A world whose solutions are not one-dimensional, because our societies are anything but.
There are some contexts, however, where numbers matter more than anything else. We need to stop seeing and labelling people as ‘minorities’, when the population ratio says otherwise. African Americans and Latinos in the United States, for example, are not anywhere near ‘minority’ numbers– but they are underrepresented. We want a world where women are no longer referred to as a minority group when they constitute at least 52% of the global population. We just want a world where they are given an equal amount of seats at the decision-making tables. We want more of them at the forefront of green innovation and other global initiatives, like smart cities, transforming the structures of societies.
The world already looks radically different to the way it did last year. As we mourn the people we have lost to the pandemic, as we internalise the effects of injustice and inequality that surfaced under lockdown, and as we confront ourselves with the reality of deeply flawed systems, let’s also look through the doors that have been pushed open, and push harder. With this time of reckoning came a kind of awakening: a newfound awareness of what ‘recovery’ might actually mean to different groups of people around the world. We know, now, what we’re trying to recover from; and in many ways, the direction has never been clearer.
Here’s to hitting the pause button and to reconvening together into a brighter 2021!
CEO Kite Insights