We begin this holiday season with the convergence of multiple massive global crises and technologies unlike anything any country or people have faced before in history. Because women are the front lines of their communities – and because their abuse has become a weapon of war – it is important that women have had to make the tough calls with thousands, even millions, of lives at risk.
The former Minister of Foreign Affairs HILarry Rodham Clinton told a crowd at the Georgetown Women’s Center for Peace and Security last month that, “TThe biggest challenge for women is that men start wars. When men fight for a long time, that’s what they know how to do.” She was giving awards in her name to four courageous women working for peace.
Women are at far greater risk in war “simply because of their gender.”
Global Citizen reports that women are at greatest risk in war and violent conflict. “Simply because of their gender, women and girls caught in the middle of war experience sexual violence, physical and verbal abuse, and barriers to accessing resources and respecting their human rights. This is of course in addition to being directly exposed to frontline conflict and facing life-threatening conditions.”
UN Women reports the same and that data on the impact of war on women is inaccurate: “Attacks against women human rights defenders are extremely underreported and anonymously in official United Nations statistics’.
That’s why women need to be at the table creating answers and solutions today.
How should business leaders respond?
Here are insights into global crisis management from five influential women who sat at those tables and made the tough choices to solve them:
· To take a stand: “Companies aren’t just being more strategic about corporate social impact, they’re taking on the role of activists themselves.” Susan McPherson, CEO of communications and social impact firm McPherson Strategies summarized McPherson in a memo. “Consumers and workers now expect companies to stand tall and protect the rights of our people and our planet. CEOs are the voices of companies and can no longer remain neutral and silent as our world faces serious challenges.” That includes defense of democracyaccording to Natalie Jaresko, former finance minister of Ukraine.
· Research and listen to the first line: Deborah Lee James, b 23rd Secretary of the Air Force, she uses her five-point plan for dealing with crisis, starting with “investigation,” which means getting the hard facts. It also means listening to the people on the front lines, wherever that may be. For example, three weeks into her tenure as Secretary, James faced the threat of an imminent nuclear disaster at one of the nation’s nuclear facilities. He went there immediately, and after touring the facility and meeting the top brass, he met privately with the facility’s front-line staff – without their bosses, on purpose. That’s where she got the most valuable, unvarnished information, she said, that allowed her to get to the bottom of the crisis and resolve it quickly.
· Build the infrastructure: Infrastructure that serves people is critical and helps prevent violent conflict, such as Brookings Institutions 2021 study found. He reported that, “The built environment (or natural conditions) of a neighborhood is strongly associated with rates of violence.” But it’s hard work. As Secretary Clinton explained to the Georgetown crowd, “Governing is really hard. Making decisions about how you’re going to feed people, push agriculture, provide health care, open schools, that takes a lot of work.” It is also where women’s voices are of particular value.
· Use your resources creatively: In exclusive interview on the Electric Ladies Podcast, Jaresko also explained how IT talent in Ukraine formed a sort of IT army to fight Russia. “They are, to be perfectly honest, conducting cyber-attacks against Russian entities, whether they are governmental or non-governmental. They interfere with the (Russian) press so that they can show and expose the images of true atrocities to the people of Russia who do not have access to freedom of the press,” he added. Their strong crypto community has also raised significant donations, he said, adding that WhatsApp’s founder is from Ukraine.
· You engage women: Listen to women, because they are on the front lines in their communities and leading families – and because their abuse has become a weapon of war. Tell women’s stories, bring women’s perspectives, and collect and reveal accurate data about women. Secretary Clinton said the women’s stories reflect “what is actually happening in real people’s lives.” The women honored by the Georgetown Institute demonstrate the power of women to heal their communities.
· “Be honest, not neutral”: In telling these stories, CNN’s Christianne Amanpour, one of four GIWPS honorees, emphasized, “We need to be honest, not neutral. What happens on one side of an aisle, wherever it is to, say, destroy democracy, is not exactly what is happening and is not equal to those who are trying to defend it.”
Business leaders are being pressured by their stakeholders to be more vocal in this unprecedented time. They risk losing key talent, customers, suppliers and investors, as well as regulatory compliance, if they don’t. “Because they will be chosen by people, by employees, as you said, by investors, by partners, by customers. This is happening right now.” Isabelle Grosmaitresaid the founder and CEO of global business consultancy Goodness & Co on the Electric Ladies Podcast.
“The question is no longer why, the question has become how.”