Women as Agents of Change18th March 2011
On Monday I attended the Observance Service for Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. The theme of the service was ‘women as agents of change’. We were treated to ‘reflections’ from economists such as Dr Dambisa Moyo (who wrote Aid: why aid is not working ), while the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy read her newly-written Commonwealth Blessing for Girls. Annie Lennox OBE also addressed the congregation about the importance of empowering women to effect change and bring about progress.
But what struck me was the very stark juxtaposition between the topic we were contemplating and the very male environment in which we were doing so. I sat next to a memorial of Benjamin Disraeli and Sir Isaac Newton. And all the stained glass windows celebrated past bishops – all men. There are hundreds of historically important Britons either buried or commemorated at Westminster Abbey (in addition to 17 monarchs) and there are only a handful of women recognised – Jane Austen being one of the few.
Encouraging greater opportunity for women is as topical a theme as ever. This service follows the recent publication of The Davies Report, which examined the lack of diversity in Britain’s plc boards. Commonwealth governments are not much better – only 3 out of 54 heads of government are women, although Rwanda, the newest Commonwealth country, has more women in Parliament than any country in the world.
As a consultancy we are focusing on the power of persuasive conversations to effect behaviour change and I wondered if many of those men celebrated in Westminster Abbey in the past were more familiar with using status and force to effect change rather than using persuasion and dialogue.
Women do not, by and large, tend to use force – nor are they often very good at the self-promotion that helps achieve high office. If women are to be agents of change how will this manifest itself? Will it be through building trust, having something compelling to say, creating connections and ultimately having conversations that prompt people to change?
I left the event thinking that women have a great opportunity to use persuasive conversations to progress their cause and improve the lives of their families, communities and countries and I wish them well.