Diverse Women’s Leadership: Essential for Systemic Change
Women of all ages and backgrounds gathered in the Reinventing Leadership Tent at the Bioneers Conference in October.
By Nina Simons Bioneers Co-founder
Everywoman's Leadership Founder & Director
As I entered the theater on the first afternoon of the 2015 Bioneers
conference, my heart soared as I absorbed the quality of listening,
tenderness and open-hearted dialogue that emerged through Lifting Women’s Voices in the Media.
Women’s media champion Jodie Evans orchestrated a conversation with a
spectrum of women who free-ranged from exploring the internalized
barriers women face to speaking out, to identifying the omnipresent
structural barriers – especially the culturally ingrained fear of
technology that so many women carry.
Filling the theater were women of all colors, ages, disciplines,
orientations and classes. I saw that, whatever challenges exist in
Oakland’s inner city compared with those experienced by women of the
Congo, we in this country are deeply privileged. I felt a shared
responsibility to connect and speak out.
Many women voiced their appreciation for the WorldPulse website,
whose accessibility is a huge asset to bringing global grassroots
women’s stories, visions and voices to the big wide world. My admiration
has grown for this mighty global online platform designed to facilitate
that visibility and connection. As founder Jensine Larsen likes to say, the power of women and girls is the greatest untapped renewable resource on Earth.
For me, the capacity of women to exponentially develop each other’s
leadership capacities, skills and boldness is the greatest underutilized
leverage point for making systemic change. Thank you for your support for this kind of crucial work we highlight at Bioneers.
following night, at our awards dinner, the ancient fossil with which we
honored Jensine exemplified that eternal and archetypal connection that
exists between women and our Mother Earth. I offered Jensine my
admiration, respect and gratitude for the personal sacrifice and
perseverance that has been required of her to develop this extraordinary
space. Today over 80,000 global grassroots women worldwide participate
in its network-building capabilities.
High-voltage women were everywhere throughout the conference weekend – teaching, singing and participating. When Chipewyan Athabascan First Nations leader Eriel Deranger
spoke, (who has now joined our Bioneers Board of Directors), I felt
that familiar impulse to drop everything in order to serve her efforts
on behalf of First Peoples’ survival, cultures and sovereignty.
Fania Davis’ keynote on Restorative Justice electrified
me. I heard how elegantly restorative justice is interrupting the
school-to-prison pipeline with profound dignity and grace. I sensed how
its wider implementation into policy would act as a key lever to
transform culture. The students she mentors introduced her adoringly.
She said simply: “History is calling us all to be healers.” Enough of
the vicious circle of punishment, violence and revenge – and here’s to
ushering in a virtuous cycle of healing.
Many sessions explored interactively
how to reclaim a healthy, balanced masculine and feminine. We all have
both within us, and our legacy of imbalance has caused humanity to fly
like a bird with only one wing for way too long. With many men
attending, I was reminded that this is not only a gender equity issue,
but also extends toward reclaiming and integrating our human wholeness. Clare Dakin of TreeSisters
shared a transformative embodied map that reveals a physical way to
remember the need for a balance of our gendered capacities, which are
inherent in our human design.
As Gloria Steinem has famously noted: “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
A particular pleasure for me over the past two years has been creating Media Collections
on Women’s Leadership. I’ve sorted through our astonishing archive of
incredible talks by boldly original and innovative women from all walks
of life, across diverse cultures, ages and disciplines.
I know how much seeing and hearing these women as role models has opened
new possibilities on my own leadership path. I yearn to have their
examples accessible to women and girls of all colors and backgrounds, to
inspire and ignite their leadership potential. I hope you will relish
these inspiring talks and role models as much as I’ve loved curating
them. I invite you to help us distribute them into libraries, schools,
prisons and community centers to ignite and inspire girls’ dreams and
leadership from all fronts.
As I scan back over the past 26 years of Bioneers programs, I’m grateful
for how much my initial vision has evolved and grown. In 1996, I first
started creating programs about women’s leadership and the legacy of
gender bias. In 1997, I produced a keynote program entitled “Restoring
the Feminine.” Central to that vision was that multicultural and
multigenerational women were essential.
I learned it was not enough to support women’s leadership and gender
equity. As young people today so clearly know, gender is a fluid
spectrum. For true systemic change and cultural healing to occur, it’s
essential that we each cultivate our own internal balance, integration
and celebration of the sacred union of our feminine and masculine
qualities that together make us whole.
The data are now undeniable that supporting the leadership and equity of
women improves everything, from human to ecological health, a
sustainable economy and even world peace. Today, thankfully, we’re
seeing these memes arise and spread far more widely. Yet we have a long
way to go. The obstacles are both systemic and internal. Now more than
ever, we need to be spreading these ideas, models and practices.
This year we produced profound Cultivating Women’s Leadership intensives,
where the women left truly transformed. They ignited and refined their
purposes. They expanded their visions and sense of capacities. They
embraced new definitions of leadership. We all linked tenderly and
fiercely in mutual support. Many are coaching each other and
collaborating, and some are meeting monthly, ongoing.
A high point included hosting Melannie Lovercheck,
a veteran who served as an officer in Afghanistan, whose world-view was
turned upside down by the experience. Between CWL and the Bioneers
conference, her understanding of leadership transformed from a strictly
male-oriented, hierarchical model to one capable of encompassing all of
her humanity, including her passion for service.
I cannot begin to thank you sufficiently for supporting our work. I
thank you in advance for doubling down and supporting it even further at
this moment of epic change in the world when so many more women and
girls are reaching out to express their leadership.