Person working next to laundry basket: our new blended on and offline lives
“Choose to challenge” is the global theme of this International Women’s Day. It’s a powerful message for all of us. When we see inequality — sexism, for example — it’s our responsibility to find the courage to challenge it.

And there’s another thread here that’s really important for leaders in global organisations to bear in mind.

You see, when we commit to challenging inequality in the sense of opposing a certain way of being, we can inadvertently find ourselves perpetuating the very behaviours we seek to resist.

What role are you playing?

We see this played out in the drama triangle.

When we label someone as an “oppressor”, we can easily slip into the role of “victim” (if we perceive they’re oppressing us) or “rescuer” (if we see the oppression as outside of us).

Of course, there are many people in the world who are brutally victimised by systems of oppression, and many of them are women. We stand by them, and honour the injustice they have suffered.

However, tools like the drama triangle can help those of us with relative privilege to acknowledge the complexity of our relationship dynamics in day to day situations — and this reframe can have a far-reaching impact.

After all, in the drama triangle, none of the positions is empowering. Furthermore, these labels conveniently ignore our own biases. This forms the basis of intersectionality. What if you’re a woman — but you experience the privilege of whiteness in your life? Or you live in the Global North, in a context of relative economic privilege? It’s not simple.

And if we define our challenge only by what we resist, we radically undermine our capacity to create a genuinely different paradigm.

“When forced into a binary, you always choose wrong.” — Jelani Wilson

Challenging individuals – changing systems

What’s more, when we reduce our stance for social justice to the actions of individuals, we run the risk of overlooking the systems that create and permit these actions to take place.

Cultures where one group’s viewpoint is prioritised over another; where competition and conflict are established ways of interacting. Where our complexities as humans are reduced to hierarchies.

So what’s the answer? Might we suggest… love?

“To love well is the task in all meaningful relationships, not just romantic bonds” bell hooks

As our partnerships with leaders around the globe evolve, we’re beginning to notice a pattern emerging. What we’re observing is love as the foundation of the most resilient and robust organisational cultures.

If the idea of thinking about your leadership in terms of love feels inappropriate, challenging or downright weird, read on. There’s a longheld assumption that “love” must be left at the doorway as we step into our working lives. There is no space for soft and fluffy in the boardroom.

However, as psychologist John Bowlby showed us, the need to love and be loved is one of our most basic and fundamental needs. At Global Warriors, we see love as characterising our most important systems and relationships. Ones where we are able to move beyond our ‘roles’ and see each other as whole humans.

And yet sadly, at its very roots, society – including our organisations – has a gaping hole where this need is sorely unmet.

We believe it’s this absence of connection that is at the root of the inequality and injustice we see perpetuated within our cultures as organisations. When we recognise the wider context of our leadership, it becomes far clearer why this is.

It is hard to enact love to others when one is hurting desperately oneself. We – men and women – will continue to abuse other human beings as long as we carry our own unhealed traumas. Until we love ourselves and are able to experience true connection and self-compassion, it will be impossible for us to truly love those around us.

And when our attempts to redress this balance come from within that same framework, our best efforts to challenge those we see as oppressors will inevitably replicate the structures of oppression. Understandably, we will make them wrong, we will call them out for their poor behaviour, their degradation of others, shame them.

Meanwhile the systems that enable these patterns will carry on. Nothing will have changed.

Who is the victim here?

Who is the enemy?

What if there was no enemy, only love?

Creating new cultures

Our task as leaders is not only to challenge discrimination when we see it. It’s important, of course, to name it and to actively resist it when we see it. We can see this as taking action to tackle the symptoms of a deep-rooted inequality, born of the cultures in which our organisations operate.

But when it comes to long term change, the far greater challenge is to find ways of building new cultures. Ones where connection, humanity and consciousness mean that our organizational systems themselves have justice and equality at their heart.

Where representation shows up as practices of genuine inclusivity at every level. Where the questions of whose voice is heard, and whose comfort is prioritised, are ones we engage with actively and continuously. Where we challenge ourselves not only to resist injustice, but to create a context in which connection means it can never find a foothold.

We know that if we’re able to foster such cultures, the rewards in terms of innovation, creativity, resilience and adaptability are immense.

What if #choosetochallenge was synonymous with #choosetolove?

What if #choosetochallenge is a powerful call out for us to take a united stand for love in the workplace, to challenge through our own state of being, the prejudices, judgements and risks we face as women, and that may have our love-based actions misconstrued or manipulated.

What if it starts right here, right now with ourselves, #choosetochallenge our own limiting beliefs of ourselves and others. #Choosetolove

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