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Female leaders

Safia Minney MBE, founder of Fashion Declares and REAL Sustainability, on why female leadership is essential for a just transition
Safia Minney

Main image: Safia Minney, credit Dvora Photography

This article first appeared in our International Women’s Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published on 08 March 2023. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Snapping at our heels, the dysfunctional, growth-driven, fossil-fuel dependent, misogynistic economy goes round and round like a scratched record.

Little wonder that female leadership’s full potential is yet to be set free for the benefit of humanity and all species.

We need an urgent shift from our fossil fuel-driven economy to ‘ecological economics’.

This means promoting degrowth and redesigning every industry to fit within planetary boundaries, and redistributing wealth to meet everyone’s needs in a flourishing society.

It means doing the opposite to what we do in our current economy.

The new economy will pay to reduce inequality, protect and restore nature and strengthen communities – and it will radically benefit.

Feminine qualities

Ecological economics means redistributing voice and power, too. The so called feminine attributes of communication, collaboration, caring, creativity and systems thinking are key to raising the wellbeing, quality of life and economic empowerment of women, girls, ethnic minorities and Indigenous people around the world.

‘Feminine’ attributes are present in men, too; coaching male leaders, I’ve come to appreciate just how difficult it is for men to express themselves with authenticity.

Many hold back from showing those ‘feminine’ qualities of expressing themselves emotionally and showing how deeply they care.

Men can hold back from championing collaborative partnership, fearing ridicule in a system that admires and rewards toxic masculinity and ostentatious materialism.

Women on boards

We urgently need to liberate female and male leaders if we are to ensure we have the best chance of pulling ourselves back from the brink of climate, ecological and social collapse – or at least mitigating the worst of it.

Women make up 40% of today’s board positions, but why aren’t things changing faster?

Is it because there are still too few women in significant decision-making roles like CEO and chair?

Are companies trying to meet their targets but not willing to create a process to encourage new thinking or better practices and attitudes?

Is the undercurrent of misogyny through social media, porn, advertising and cultural bias, despite running under a supposedly woke society, just too strong?

We need to build a new culture that makes bullying and toxic behaviours unacceptable; Claire Braund of Women On Boards has put together eight superb tips for boards, but I’m concerned that very real invisible hands are dragging female leaders down, exhausting them and sapping their energy away from transforming their organisations – just when we need them most.

Sharing power and privilege

For women, now is our time to lead change. We must raise our voices with courage.

For women in every sector, now is the time for truth, for new models of production and consumption.

It’s time for new terms of trade that empower rather than exploit workers in supply chains; partnerships with suppliers that can bring about decarbonisation and regeneration of their environment and communities and the financial systems that strengthen that ecosystem.

We must imagine organisations and societies designed to regenerate natural systems, re-distribute wealth and support those who champion these ideas and have the expertise in each sector. Our ideas and lived experience deserve investment.

We must bring marginalised and less privileged people forward with us, and give them voice and power.

We must demand that the entitled elite share their power and privilege – that they are accountable and pay their taxes.

A just transition in fashion

In the fashion industry, where we need to cut production and consumption by 75%, paying living wages to all workers helps by slowing down the extraction of natural resources as prices rise.

Garments workers reportedly earn half what they need to cover their living costs.

In addition, about two-thirds of our clothing comes from fossil fuel-derived synthetics.

Prices need to go up; then, with legislation and greenwash accountability, cheap clothing would become untenable and low-impact materials would replace polluting synthetics. Click here to read more about these issues in a great article, published in Nature.

We must buy more secondhand and less new, but more value-added handcrafted products, if we are to see the birth of a just transition in the fashion industry.

We need a universal income, functioning government and new legislation; each industry will develop its own pathway, but in each sector women’s leadership will be essential.

This International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate all the amazing women, everywhere, using their skills to bring about the positive change we desperately need.

Safia Minney MBE is an award-winning social entrepreneur, founder and executive director of Fashion Declares, REAL Sustainability and People Tree. Safia is also a speaker, author and executive coach. Click here for more.

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