Are you brave enough?

“Woman is the companion of man, gifted with equal mental capacity…If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior…If non-violence is the law of our being, the future is with women…” 
– Mahatma Gandhi

“Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.” 
– UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

I have just returned from an amazing week away and feel incredibly fortunate for the life I have and for being a woman with privilege, a voice and a platform.

I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the unveiling of the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue on London.  For those of you who don’t understand the significance of this event or the statue, let me explain.  In 2017 one of the largest international banks and asset management corporations, State Street, were tired of standing by while gender inequality in finance and business continued.  They decided to do something brave.  They decided they would no longer advise clients to invest in listed companies who did not have women appointed to their boards. In addition to this, they wrote to over 1200 listed companies and advised them of their new policy.  Within a year 300 of those companies appointed women onto their boards of management and, as all the evidenced based research proved, those companies saw an increase in profits as well as improved and sustainable performance.

To symbolise their new policy and the stance the corporation were taking in their own battle against gender inequality they commissioned a female artist to design a statue which would be erected on Wall St, New York, an iconic place that represents wealth, finance and power.  This statue was unveiled on International Women’s Day 2017, almost 2 years ago to the day.

Fearless Girl rapidly became not just a symbol of gender diversity in finance and commerce, but, I suspect beyond the expectation and intention of State Street, she became a global symbol and icon. Fearless Girl represented gender diversity in its broadest sense, the women’s human rights movement and the raising of female voices. She also symbolized the taking back of feminine power in the forms of campaigns such as #MeToo and the United Nations #HeforShe movement.

This 3.5 foot statue became one of the most photographed attractions in New York and the conversations she ignited and action she inspired exceeded all expectations and hope.

State Street decided to use their influence and privileged position and act in alignment with their values and their corporation’s mission to advise investment for global good.  Realising there was more they could do to leverage Fearless Girl and the hope and inspiration that was becoming her legacy, State Street commissioned a replica statue to erect outside the London Stock Exchange. She was unveiled in London’s Paternoster Square just days before International Women’s Day 2019.

Being asked to speak at such as internationally significant event and address the Banking Hall in London, which was filled with brave, intelligent, powerful and inspirational people, was a memorable and incredible privilege.

If that wasn’t enough of a privilege I then hot footed back to Wollongong via Sydney to address over 800 wonderful women and men at one of the largest International Women’s Day events in Australia.  The stories that were shared that day of incredible local women who had impacted change on people’s lives and the community and the palpable warmth and heart in the Entertainment Centre where we gathered was humbling.

Receiving a standing ovation at both events was memorable. It was not something I interpreted as a reflection on me or my story, but more so a reflection of how my messages resonated with all that heard me.

At both events I explored the theme of fearlessness and asked my audiences if they were brave enough.  Were they truly fearless in their lives and in their leadership of others? 

For me bravery is the ability to confront the realities in our lives and world – the beautiful and the ugly truths. It is about being prepared to do the uncomfortable work of overcoming and changing those realities and in so doing, educate others, change narratives and inspire hope.

As we celebrated all that has been achieved in diversity and equality around the world,  we must also recognize how much more work needs to be done before we come close to achieving real parity of opportunity for over fifty per cent of the population.

As ever, I feel truly blessed to do what I love, believe in what I do and to help empower others to use their voice, their stories and their influence to impact the change they wish to see in their lives, communities and world around them

Postscript:  Just as I was about to finalise this newsletter I received news of the horrific terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed 50 innocent men, women and children.  Like all of you I was mortified and heartbroken, and particularly so as a member of the Muslim community who has tried so hard to break down barriers and promote tolerance. No community should ever have to suffer demonisation, oppression and violence like we, as a Muslim community,  have had to for so long. 

Since the attacks I have been asked been widely approached for media commentary.

My main message to everyone is; do not give air time, attention to the identities of those that inflict harm and pain, do not feed the evil ideologies that perpetrate fear, division and ignorance.  Please focus on the stories of the precious victims that lost their lives whilst praying – praying for their families, for their community and for peace and an end to suffering for all.

It is shining a light on these stories that we will continue to give the human perspective to that which we should all be seeking and playing our part in eradicating.

As Martin Luther King Jr said:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
Only light can do that.
Hate cannot stand drive out hate;
Only love can do that.” 

To the people of New Zealand and in particular the Muslim community of Christchurch, and all the loved ones of the victims – we mourn with you and we stand by you.

Anna Stanford