The world is undergoing a political revolution and is desperately in need of leadership. People who I call New Citizens are sick of waiting on deadlocked democracies to solve social and economic problems centuries in the making. From the left, right, and center, New Citizens no longer trust their political establishment to enact real change. They are taking matters into their own hands.
Leaderless networks of New Citizens circulate information and organize action on social media. From the Yellow Vest movement in France to civil rights causes in the U.S. to the post-disaster protests in Lebanon, New Citizens come from all ages, cultures, and political perspectives. What they share is the implicit demand for a new social order that can solve globalized threats, digitize civic life, and hold elected officials accountable to their constituents.
Despite their enthusiasm for change, New Citizens have accomplished surprisingly little. Most fail to advance from activism to negotiation and policymaking. What New Citizens lack is leadership in civil society—New Executives, New Presidents, and New Scientists with the courage to execute change. In my opinion, this New Leadership will come disproportionately from women.
In centuries past, men filled leadership voids by force. They waged wars, enslaved nations, and plotted against their rivals. They wrote laws to exclude women and minorities from sharing power. Only in the last 70 years did men figure out how to achieve political change without violence.
To be clear, history is filled with women warriors. From Cleopatra VII of Egypt to Israel's Golda Meir, from the women of the French Resistance in World War II to the modern-day Kurdish peshmerga, there is no shortage of badass women. Thankfully, though, democratic politics is a war of leaders and communities fighting to execute great ideas, not a competition of physical might.
These collaborative, inclusive women do not ask for permission. They do not wait for their elected leaders to grow spines.
Women thrive on this new, globalized battlefield. A meta-analysis of 500 leadership studies, conducted at King's College London, found that women bring "collaborative and inclusive leadership styles into a political environment that has more frequently been characterised by division and one-upmanship." Compared to men, say the researchers, women leaders are on average more responsive to their constituents, more likely to stand for the vulnerable in society, more likely to counteract corruption, and less likely to go to war or commit human rights abuses.
These collaborative, inclusive women do not ask for permission. They do not wait for their elected leaders to grow spines. However, they do not fight for one vision of society. Their perspectives and aims are diverse.
They lead the Women's March, Washington D.C.'s largest ever, and the March for Life. They stand up to gun violence in schools and stand up for Second Amendment rights. They fight for the conservation of wild spaces and fight for communities that extract a living from those spaces. Women founded Black Lives Matter, ignited the protests that brough down Omar Al-Bashir's dictatorship in Sudan, and stood up to Indian Prime Minister Nehrandra Modi's anti-Muslim citizenship laws.
We need women to confront and reconcile the divisions that prevent democracies from uniting behind any shared future.
It's not just social movements that have women at the top. Whole societies and governments are advancing under the leadership of revolutionary women like New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern, Taiwan's Tsai Ing-wen, Sint Maarten's Silveria Jacobs, Denmark's Mette Frederiksen, Finland's Sanna Marin, and Germany's Angela Merkel. Senator Kamala Harris's history-making run for Vice President is a step in the right direction.
To win elected office, to take the helm of a company, to give a TED Talk, to invest in women-led startups is all good. If you do that, you deserve some applause.
But gaining power is not the endgame. What matters is how or if you use that power to combat injustices, create opportunities for fellow women, remake sexist and racist institutions, and write new policies. Once the New Citizen is a New Executive, a New President, or a New Scientist, what is she willing to risk?
Being a rebel is easy when you have nothing to lose. I'm asking you to be a rebel at the top, where you have everything to lose.
Too often, women ascend the ladders of power only to look the other way or throw rocks at women on the rungs below. Their mission becomes preserving their own power, to increase their political capital, to appease fellow C-level executives who gloat about the token woman they allowed within their ranks.
New Citizens risk becoming the establishments they've fought so hard against. We don't need women in power. We need transformational women in power. We need women to confront and reconcile the divisions that prevent democracies from uniting behind any shared future. We need women willing to carry on the revolutionary legacy at the core of every great society: the sacrifice of short-term comfort and safety for long-term justice.
But gaining power is not the endgame. What matters is how or if you use that power to combat injustices, create opportunities for fellow women, remake sexist and racist institutions, and write new policies.
I don't care how high you rise unless you change the systems that tried so hard to keep you down. If the powers that be resist you, attack you, and try to silence you, then you have a responsibility to reveal the truth. When revolutionary women raise their voice on Twitter, Medium, Tik Tok, and beyond, they make the powerful squirm. Still, that is not enough. We need women leaders to demolish toxic structures and create new political, professional, and cultural environments where such abuses cannot happen in the first place.
When you are in power, what will you do? Will you sit quietly? Or will you lead?
WRITTEN BYDr. Ximena Hartsock