The International Women’s Day theme this year is #ChooseToChallenge. The theme urges a “Be the change you want to see in the world” approach. Choose To Challenge highlights individual responsibility for challenging gender bias and inequality: “Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions — all day, every day”. But I want to challenge (!) that theme. We should Choose To Be Challenged today instead.
I like this image as a metaphor for this theme. Lots of individual pillars, each striving upwards, like hands raised to challenge. But it also reflects lots of people benefitting more or less from choosing to challenge. Because both things are true with this IWD theme.
I believe strongly in living your values (and I’m working on a 30-day personal accountability challenge coming from Moved very soon!). But choosing to speak out about bias, inequality, or unfairness is not an easy thing. It takes courage because challenging often comes with a personal cost, from momentary interpersonal tension through to serious professional consequences. There’s a reason why we all have to be encouraged to do it by this campaign.
And it’s important to emphasise the all here. Because challenging inequality is often left to those with the most to lose and the least power to effect change. We see that in the hostile responses women of colour receive when they challenge white feminism, or in the backlash against women who refuse to be quiet about abuses in their industry, like Rose McGowan.
Greater diversity and inclusion offers a strong business case to organisations. But in the moments of challenge that help to bring greater diversity and inclusion about, it’s not the organisation who feel challenged — because organisations don’t feel — but individuals, who bring their own egos and stories of struggle to the conversation. And that’s where challenge can fail.
What shall we do instead?
So, in urging courage this IWD, let’s flip the focus and ask those in powerful positions to get comfortable with being challenged and then acting on it. Being challenged might mean moving aside and letting someone else take the floor. It might mean deleting a defensive knee-jerk email in favour of a humble, curious one. Or even prioritising equality all year round, even at times when IWD feels like a distant memory.
This is a choice, too. Being open to having our default patterns of being and working interrupted is not always comfortable, but we can choose to embrace it. It takes discipline, and courage, and hard work. But that’s okay, because the end goal is worth it.
So, let’s #ChooseToBeChallenged this International Women’s Day.