On Having the Courage to Say Enough is Enough

The idea that we could just “add and stir” women into public life and change the world has been naïve. Not only has this not disrupted the values of the public world and what leadership should look like in politics, business, law or even education, but it has devalued the private sphere of human intimacy and care.

Dr Elizabeth Debold

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight journalist Tina Brown described the Harvey Weinstein affair as a “purifying moment”. Women are saying “Enough. Forget influence, we want power” Brown said.

Speaking to a group of women graduates of Stanford Business School in 2012, global activist and philanthropist Lynne Twist used the same words – “purifying moment” – to describe the world in the aftermath of the Financial Crisis.

Whether we face another financial crisis is a topic of debate – almost anything is possible said Martin Lowy writing for The Financial Times in June. The essential regulatory system that failed on Black Monday in 1987 and even more spectacularly in 2008 is still in place argue the authors of How Big is the Risk of Another Black Monday Equities Crash, published last week.

“The capital markets provide a vital role channelling investment into the economy to help drive growth and prosperity” but “little has changed” in the last decade suggests a recent report by think tank New Financial. This is despite the thirty new agencies set up in the EU and US alone, overseeing new supervision and regulatory frameworks. Regulator’s budgets are up 30% and headcount is up 40%.

Some things have changed: alternative assets (such as hedge funds, private equity and venture capital) have flourished; assets under management have grown in real terms of between 70% and 110%. 2016 was one of the worst years for hedge funds performance – a “year to ridicule” noted Bloomberg, with returns only bolstered by the surprise election of Donald Trump. Every cloud……

Virtually all hedge funds emphasise returns over the short term, to some extent. The universe also includes many activists who will push the board for change to ensure their investment pays off, stating that they are speaking for all shareholders. Some academics praise activists: “attacks by activists should encouraged not restrained” states one Harvard Law School professor.

Whether the numbers suggest that shareholders are “winning” as result of activist’s “leadership” is not really the point. The professor’s ratios will not capture whether the activist’s interventions destroyed a community or were bad for society in the long run. It’s a zero sum game.

The short-sighted approach to capitalism is facing an endgame and our future lies in human hands, suggests tech pioneer Tim O’Reilly. Generosity is what will create prosperity and it’s time to put consumers ahead of shareholders, O’Reilly argues in his bookWTF: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us.

Tim O’Reilly is, according to Alphabet’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt ‘a man who can really can make a whole industry happen,”, so what he has to say about technology, humans and society is probably worth paying attention to. The core of the book, is a call to action to lift our poverty of imagination and ask technology to do more: yes, it can make things more efficient, and jobs might be lost as a result, but technology can also help us realise our dreams. The role of the entrepreneur O’Reilly suggests, in an interview with The Guardian, is to find the things that were previously impossible:

Before steel girders, we couldn’t build skyscrapers. Before steel cables, we couldn’t build suspension bridges. We keep advancing, these new technologies make new things possible, and as a result we become richer. So, technology entrepreneurs, that’s your job! To find the things that were previously impossible.

O’Reilly’s is a refreshing voice in the world of doom and gloom and resignation preferred by politicians and unscrupulous business leaders that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. They would prefer that we believe “that’s just the way it is”.

“That’s just the way it is” is, according to Lynne Twist, one of the three “toxic myths of scarcity” that permeates our entire relationship with money. “There’s not enough” and “more is better” being the other two. Sufficiency, scarcity’s opposite, on the other hand is an act of generating, distinguishing and making known to ourselves the power and presence of our existing resources and our inner resources.

Twist’s bookThe Soul of Money explores how money became an icon of power, control and domination. The myth of scarcity creates a “you-or-me” world – a world where either you or I make it, where we need to compete and fight to see who wins, rather than a “you-and-me” world, where each of us have enough of the fundamental things in life for every single one of us to live fulfilling and productive lives.

In the mind-set of scarcity, our relationship with money is an expression of fear, a fear that drives us in an endless and unfulfilling chase for more, or into compromises that promise a way out of the chase – compromises that force us to grow more and more away from our core values.

Scarcity is the mindset that underpins the free market economy, which Bernard Lietaer (one of the chief architects of the Euro currency) says in his bookOf Human Wealth: New Money for a New World is about the “allocation of scarce resources through the process of individual greed”.

In business, scarcity is the mindset that allows the paradigm of shareholder value to maintain its grip: almost daily I hear the words “that’s just the way it is” from the mouths of senior people in business (directors who really should know the UK Companies Act (2006) section 172 better). A scarcity mindset is what allows us to be “wilfully blind” to the damage the businesses we lead are doing to our communities, societies, to our burnt-out employees, to our planet.

Scarcity is the mindset we hold when we take our weary selves home after a day of leaning in towards the next promotion, the next pay-rise and the lie (which I explore here) that tells us that if we could just break that glass ceiling or slay that minotaur in the labyrinth then we will hold a position in the hierarchy when at last, we will have power not just influence. Then, we tell ourselves, will lead for making a difference. For now we better keep quiet, because we risk losing the career we’ve fought so hard to build.

Scarcity is a lie says Twist: “it is an unexamined and false system of assumptions, opinions and beliefs from which we view the world as a place where we are in constant danger of having our needs unmet”.

For women in the film and television business, scarcity isn’t a lie, it’s the reality. It is the reason Harvey Weinstein was able to “barter sex for movie roles” and sexually harass actresses, assistants and other employees over decades, because the biggest problem women face is the scarcity of roles for them. Writing in The Washington Post, Stephanie Merry says:

Women make up a small percentage of the writers, directors and producers in Hollywood, and there are fewer female roles in movies, which only helps reinforce a noxious environment in which women feel they can’t speak out against abuse and have to do whatever it takes to get a job.

Film and television as a business has thrived financially on the mindset of scarcity. It is a business where even Oscar-nominated actresses, those at the height of their power (because they’re also under 35) state they are “just grateful to be getting paid at all” when a peer questions the pay gap between their Oscar winning selves and their male co-stars. The backlash against those who do speak out on inequality, tells us a lot about how we value women’s work, not only in the movies (and note it’s not just those in front of the camera that suffer, non-celebrity women do too), but in society as a whole, because it’s part of a bigger picture. It’s not just about how we value women versus men, but how we value all work that requires empathy, compassion, caring, love – qualities that support and ground human relationships.

In her blog post The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House, Dr Elizabeth Debold, a leading authority on gender development, expresses dismay at our notion of equality that has become a “tool of the status quo that plays zero sum games with men’s vs. women’s dignity, self-respect and autonomy”.

In the context of a market-driven economy, care-taking and intimacy literally have no value and so therefore those who do such “labour” are nearly voiceless and valueless. As middle- and upper-class women have vacated the home for work, the vacuum left behind has created a black market in low-paid care work: housecleaning, child care, cooking, elder care, and even sexual companionship. This work, that supports and grounds human relationship, is viewed as unskilled and left to workers, often immigrants and people of colour, living with few rights on the margins of society.

I do not believe that this is a purifying moment, because I do not believe we are addressing the very human problem of “I am not enough”.

United Nations data states 800,000 people commit suicide annually: suicide claims more lives than natural disasters and wars combined. In the UK, suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. For young women the suicide rate is the highest for 20 years. Gen X women (those born between 1965 and 1984) are in crisis, they are unhappier than ever and 1 in 5 is on anti-depressants. Young women are self-harming at alarming rates. In the UK, the number of students disclosing a mental illness has risen five-fold in a decade. One in 10 children expresses anxiety over world events: not being hedge fund owners, they found no silver lining in Trump’s election.

It is easy to blame technology: Instagram, the selfie culture, Facebook, technology that encourages us to value our worth not in the relationships we have with the people we love, but in numbers: followers, likes and comments. But as Tim O’Reilly reminds us, it’s up to us: technology only does what human beings allow it to. A crisis of leadership, built on the myth that we are not enough, is what sustains the status quo.

Until we recognise that we are all suffering and all hurting – #wetoo not just #metoo – nothing will change. Until we elevate the values of love, compassion, generosity and kindness – in business and in life – we’ll continue to believe “that’s just the way it is”. Until we consider a whole new approach to leading in business, “enough” will be just words from the mouth of a journalist on a news show. Not fake news as such, but certainly not the purifying moment the world needs. I dread to think what that moment needs to be.



Also published on Medium.

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