Six characteristics you need to change the world
Updated: Aug 10
To be a change maker of tomorrow, we need to be change makers today. However ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’. The Falling Walls Female Science Talents programme is taking this challenge on in creative and exciting ways, and it has been brilliant to be a part of their International Spring Gathering of their intensive track science talents. The meeting brought together science leaders of today and the future from a broad range of disciplines and backgrounds. During our time together we had opportunities to reflect, challenge, engage and grow a network of science talents who are working to change the world today, and who will be leading the charge in the future. I had the honour of moderating two days of fascinating conversation, hearing from an incredible line up of speakers from academia, industry and multinational corporations. I am not only inspired, I am also even more optimistic as I look forward.
Our theme for our two days together was gendered research and innovation. Here are six reflections from those conversations of what it takes to be an inspirational change maker:
1. Grit is a hallmark of changemakers:
In the panel discussions, I spoke with eight highly accomplished international speakers. Each of them has been incredibly successful in their careers to date, and it struck me that the thing that they all have in common was vision, and what I’ve come to know as ‘grit’. Whether they were forging their careers in academic or industry settings, each of them had, at one time or another, identified a challenge and gone after it. In many cases they were lone voices to start with, but they had stuck to their vision, and forged collaborations that had led to movements. Those movements had got the issue, whether it was gendered research or critical thinking in the boardroom, on the table and part of the conversation that had led to change.
To change the world, you need to go after what you believe to be important, even when the context looks unpromising, or where there is initially little or no support. You also need to be in it for the long haul – real authentic change takes time.
2. You need creativity to change the world:
We explored a wide range of topics that covered gendered innovation in academia, industry and multinational corporations. A core theme that came through was that while there are often many different ways to achieve our goals, all of them involve creativity; creative thinking, creative problem solving, creative collaboration and creative delivery.
Putting yourself in the shoes of another, whether that is stakeholders or collaborators, and thinking around a challenge or an issue is crucial if you want to get to know and understand what they care about, and what they need. Only then can you craft the narrative that will connect with them and make it possible for decision makers to get on board with your vision, and even get to the point where those key people advocate for the issue themselves because it is in their interest to do so.
3. Humility is powerful:
To achieve change that benefits society, there is power in humility. If we seek to listen and engage with those that are not on board (yet) with our vision, we create a space where there can be respect and dignity. That kind of space can nurture trust, and the possibility of moving forward together.
4. Foster collaborations:
One person can make a difference. At the same time the deep changes that we seek generally happen with movements of people who have come together with a common purpose. The power of collaboration was really evident in the story of each of the speakers. Every speaker shared insights of their collaborations that had resulted from a willingness to share ideas and speak out about key issues in a whole range of different settings (from a small team setting, to more global platforms). The Gender Summits pioneered by the leadership of Elizabeth Pollitzer are a great example of this. These collaborations had arisen between members of a particular community or team, and many had been formed across traditional disciplinary boundaries and between different established groups and institutions. But the hallmark of every inspirational story was that great things were being achieved with both vision and collaboration.
5. Go after excellence:
It is not contentious to advocate for excellence – it is a core value and foundational to progress across the board. However, there are many attributes of excellence in science. One core question that underpinned much of the conversations was the role of gendered research (a consideration of sex and gender issues with respect to the way research itself is designed, implemented, reported and applied; for more see LERU 2015) , and its importance for excellent research and innovation that has impact in society. Research and innovation that does not consider the full diversity of our societies, is not going to be able offer outcomes that are accessible and relevant to every part of society. In our conversations it was articulated that gendered research should not be primarily or solely seen to be about gender equality (although equality is a foundational challenge). Rather, it is about doing creative innovative excellent science that will have traction in the real world. As such gendered research is not ‘a women’s issue, it’s a science issue’. If we are committed to excellent science, and outcomes that have impact in ways that improve the state of the world at every scale, gendered research is critical.
6. Have a systems thinking approach:
When it comes to the importance of gendered research and a thriving culture of innovation and engagement that can change the world for the better, Londa Schiebinger’s work has articulated three key areas that need to be addressed. Fixing the numbers (in terms of women in science), fixing the institutions (in terms of promoting equality in careers through infrastructural changes) and fixing the knowledge (in terms of ensuring excellence in science in terms of its quality, applicability and deployment by integrating sex and gender into how we think about and do research). This type of systems level thinking was clear in the work of each of the speakers and was a powerful reminder that we need to think strategically and at a range of scales that encompasses the short, medium and long term.
After these two days, I am more convinced than ever that as we build trust and community, and as we listen and engage with different positions, backgrounds, industries and points of view, we can look to a bright tomorrow. Critical thinking is going to be key, in combination with encouraging each other to trust our instincts and to have big vision as we work together with and for our societies. We will need to keep asking questions, and bringing humility and an open mind, but if we do, we can be optimistic. Thank you to the Falling Walls Female Science Talents team and the sponsors who made the meeting possible, thank you to the speakers who shared their stories, and thank you to the Female Science Talents who are taking us forward.
This piece was originally published by Falling Walls Female Science Talents and is available here.
For those interested in joining the Intensive Track in 2023, the Call for Applications opens October 1st.