Sustainable Culture Shift Begins with Gender Equity

By Jean Brittingham, Founder, SmartGirls Way and Brittingham Partners

There’s something new to be shocked about every day as our so-called political discourse pushes agendas, tries to pit reasonable people against each other, and casts the choices ahead of as black versus white, safe versus risky and evil versus good.

Our reality is much more complex and frightening. And deep down, where truth lives all the time, we know that. What we don’t know, and count on our leaders to help us with, is how to organize and create collaboration at the level required to address wicked, sticky problems like the ones we face today.

So while political debate pushes us to choose between two or three short-term options, we still hold out hope for a conversation that goes to the heart of the problem.

We would be well served to do two things in this election year.

The first is to open our eyes and look STRAIGHT AT the magnitude of the problems headed our direction; understand that we will be facing some pain and accept that it will mean hard choices. Paul Gilding’s dire predictions of collapse in The Great Disruption may not all come true, but many of them will—and we will have to design and create a world that works.

The second is to activate our massive collective intelligence, human potential and courage to address NOW some of the deep unspoken elements of our human (and societal character) that keep us fighting and fussing—a massive waste of energy considering the bold strokes required to create a Future We Want!

These flaws largely reside in our inability to shift the culture of modern western society that is currently dominated by a particular way of thinking and frankly a particular type of person.  I am about to wade into “how dare you” territory here, so gird yourself. I’m talking about what it will take for white males to truly acknowledge that the power structure that they have created and dominate does not work fairly, justly or sustainably and to ask these men, the bravest ones, to lead in creating the collaborative, innovative, hopeful and just structure and culture that we need now.

Now gents, before you start ranting, believe me I know that you have troubles too, that millions of white men have suffered in the current financial debacle; that you care about the women in your life and also struggle with work life balance and other day-to-day challenges; and that most of you are not bigots, misogynist or bad guys at all.

But the über alles, may the “best man” win, winner-take-all ethos that seems natural and obvious and permeates our culture, is embedded with deep flaws. It was built with stolen resources—from human labor to land; it is held in place by forestalling progress and the supporting false economic models; and most importantly, it is not smart enough or caring enough to get us out of the mess we are in.

We need the new paradigm we talk about—and we need it now!

And if men will lead, there are several very real things they (you) can do specifically related to getting the feminine principles needed for a sustainable society to emerge and work in balance with the masculine. Women are experts on these principles. So start here:

  • Push through the last 20 percent to full equal rights for women in the workplace.
  • Create equity on boards and in the c-suite.
  • Invest in the businesses women are creating at an unprecedented rate.
  • For crying out loud, equalize pay.
  • Stand for true meritocracy and consciously address the influence that “just like me” has had on you, your organizations and even family culture.
  • Do all of the above for people of color.

When I put this challenge to my male friends and colleagues, I often hear  “I completely agree with you Jean, but if I bring up gender and equity, I have to be very careful about it. The guys at the top are super sensitive about the topic.”

Of course they are. Power structures are self-protective. They don’t even know they are doing it. It’s a reflex. But the great thing is that this change is upon us anyway and the leaders who will take us into the future are going to be the ones who are smart enough and bold enough to say “enough.”

Let it be you.


Jean Brittingham, founder of SmartGirls Way and Brittingham Partners, is fueled by her creativity, intuition, and passion. Jean established the SmartGirls Way and began creating the content to help rapidly scale the women’s entrepreneurial movement that will form the critical base for the next economy. Prior to starting SmartGirls Way, Jean worked with a diverse client group that included Fortune 100 companies, innovative start-ups, local and national governments, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).


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