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For the Greater Good

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With Australia having regressed to an embarrassing 57th in women’s political empowerment, Fabian Dattner and Cass Trumble explain how to address the balance of men and women leading without resorting to a revolution.

Women leading in vast numbers. Is this our best proposition for sustainability?


The King is dead, long live the King Queen

This famous quote is in reference to established ‘Kingdoms’ where the throne must not remain empty – prescribed by the laws of succession. A King dies and (mostly) another King is found.


Key facts:

  • Only 24.3 percent of all national parliamentarians represented at the UN were women as of February 2019, a slow increase from 11.3 per cent in 1995.[1]
  • There is established and growing evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making processes improves them.[2]
  • When women’s representation in leadership teams exceeds 30%, business gains are reported irrespective of company size.[3]


So why is it that Australia has regressed to an embarrassing 57th in women’s political empowerment according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2020 Report? Despite laws to prevent it, gendered payment for work and social inequality persists. The uncomfortable truth is that domestic violence is on the increase.

We also hear the insidious rumblings that, ‘We are focussing too much on the gender thing’ and ‘Women are getting preferential treatment these days.’ 

Incumbent power is never simply transferred because others say ’It’s not fair’. Short of an all-out revolution (which some hope for), people marching in the streets to advocate for the cause of fairness and change eventually return to their daily lives. They are likely exhausted, sad, disenfranchised, have to get on with life and so accept incremental change, no matter how slow.  In the end, the power of decision making remains primarily at ‘the top’, despite the changing faces.

Sometimes, however, circumstances are so extreme it requires a dramatic shift to support change. It’s possible that the only option is a revolution, but that creates sides, ‘them and us’. We should all be asking ourselves, over and over until we have an answer, can we address the balance of men and women leading without a revolution? Can we evolve the narrative of leadership to include (really include) women and what they bring? If we don’t do this, what will the cost be to all of us? How do we secure the future we want and not stumble into the future we fear, without a profound change?

What if the answer was simple: women leading in vast numbers? Full stop. They are not perfect, they may not have the same skills as incumbent leaders, they may have to learn on the job, but what would happen if we let women change the models of leadership we are using, evolve them for both men and women. What if men and women acknowledged that hierarchical leadership, with power vested in a tiny minority, is done. What if we gave women the space to build real collaboration, true inclusion, and a genuine legacy mindset? What if Jacinda Ardern was not a freak of nature but simply a woman doing what women do best?


The burning platform of sustainability and leadership

Doughnut Economics (Kate Raworth) provides a wake-up call to transform our obsession with growth into a more balanced, sustainable perspective that allows both humans and our planet to thrive. In our ‘best case’ future, we have worked out how to create a safe and just space for humanity, living within an ‘ecological ceiling’ that is sustainable across 9 key indicators: climate change, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, fresh water, ocean acidification, chemical pollution, atmospheric aerosol loading, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss, and land use change. Isn’t it time to nourish and elevate the leadership that will deliver on this?


[1]  Inter-Parliamentary Union. “Women in national parliaments,” as of 1 February 2019

[2]  UN Women. ‘In Brief: Women’s Leadership and Political Participation.’

[3] Dawson J, Kersley R, Natella S. The CS Gender 3000: The reward for change. September. Credit Suisse Research Institute; 2016

Vision of a shared future – Option One

What does sustainable impact look like in 2030 if we get this right?

  • 2020’s 10-year old’s are getting their first taste of work in the adult world. Men and women participate equally in the workplace and in the most influential roles in our communities – bringing better ideas and approaches in innovation and performance, making objectively better decisions from front line to the broader vantage points of leadership.
  • Leaders are accountable for delivering against inclusion and collaboration indicators (ICIs) for their organisations. They will be accountable, not just because they know that lack of diversity costs them, but because an equilibrium benefits the communities they lead. Both men and women are deeply invested in this.
  • Sustainable Development Goals are embedded in every organisation’s performance dashboard; the climate crisis is stabilising; we have changed our priorities and habits and all our species are in a healthier state.


Vision of a shared future – Option Two

What does the future look like in 2030 if nothing changes?

  • In 2020, we discovered that at the current rate of progress, it would take about 100 years to achieve Gender Equity. In 2030, we have another 90 years to go to see women in significant leadership roles; hierarchy prevails, men dominate decision making globally.
  • We are burdened with huge debt from the Pandemic of 2020.
  • Planetary climate events are common.
  • We are less optimistic about our future; we have less children.
  • We are isolated, defensive and ‘bunkered down’.
  • Air is dirty, water scarce, biodiversity dwindling at a fierce speed, and chemical and plastic pollution are ubiquitous.


Fact or Fiction?

The first option is currently fiction, the second is fact if we keep doing what we are currently doing.

The act of ensuring more women ascend to the leadership table (the throne) in public, community and private sectors is our best proposition for sustainable leadership. We need to value a chorus of women’s voices if we are to solve some of the world’s most intransigent and wicked problems.

To make change to the extent needed requires we practise social courage; the courage to put we before I, acting for the greater good.

To secure our future, we need best leadership capabilities. What do the countries who have dealt most effectively with COVID-19 have in common? They are led by women. [4]

Women have an important stake in our shared future, so how do we help them rise? That is the number one question of our times.

Ultimately, when power is shared between men and women to lead for the greater good, it will be better for everyone. More collaboration, real inclusion, all of us focussed on legacy mindset and leadership in Australia, known for their responsibility with people, resources and money.

Yes, this takes the courage of men currently in top roles to step aside in this decade, passing the sceptre for a more inclusive practice of leadership, or thinking of whole new approaches to structural leadership, with collective and collaborative leadership emerging to replace power vested in a few ‘good men’.


Right now, we have an opportunity to ensure our legacy is meaningful. What will your choice be?


Please note: For a summary of Global best practice in Gender Inclusion, please click here to receive a copy of the Dattner Group Gender White Paper.


This is an abridged version of a full article published in the Mandarin Premium on 27th July 2020: https://www.themandarin.com.au/136462-is-women-leading-in-vast-numbers-our-best-proposition-for-sustainability/

(In the original version, we made seven recommendations for change. Please email us for the full list, or take a month’s subscription of the Mandarin Premium – which we highly recommend; it’s a very good on line magazine covering what is happening in Australia with a compelling focus on the bureaucracy).


[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/avivahwittenbergcox/2020/04/13/what-do-countries-with-the-best-coronavirus-reponses-have-in-common-women-leaders/#2438f6ab3dec