Defying Normal To Achieve Greatness


Our normal is a world where no matter their circumstances, girls and women face a wall of resistance in their struggle to define their futures, exercise their power, and lead boldly.

But I also believe that we have the power to stand in defiance of this normal, this system that persistently tells women and girls they are not equal. And I don’t mean just parts of the system -- we cannot stop until every construct of this normal, every bias, every discriminatory law, and harmful norm is replaced with equality for all. Until every obstacle is leveled, and every ceiling is smashed.

We all have the power to stand up against the status quo and push back against what we’ve come to accept as normal.

1)  Unlearn What “Ideal” Leadership Looks Like.
Normal is men and boys leading and women and girls following. It’s entrenched and outdated policies and practices that systematically exclude women and girls from leadership roles. Normal is unspoken and unconscious barriers that prevent women and girls’ access to the skills or experience needed to access seats of leadership.

Over generations, the normalizing of exclusionary structures has only served to reiterate the prevailing and innate bias toward male leadership.

We need to redefine and reimagine leadership. As it exists now, it is a product of the exclusionary system that created it. We need to stop trying to make women fit into molds made for and by others and start re-shaping the system to better elevate women of all diversities and backgrounds. Trailblazers like Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister who recently gave birth while serving in office, or Michelle Phan, the first woman to build a $500 million company from a web series, are helping defy the norms of what leadership looks like.

Despite what gender stereotypes may tell us, women just like men, can excel at leadership. They do it every day at home, in their personal lives, and at work.  They are not afraid to ask for help when needed and surround themselves with people that can support them.

Leadership under women may look different than leadership under men. We need to stop seeing different as bad.  

The fact is that dismantling traditional norms of leadership is beneficial to everyone, including men. All too often men are pressured to prioritize work and career ambitions over their families. Male leaders should also be empowered to strive for work-life balance, to express empathy, and to invest in their families.

2) Set Up a Youth Advisory Council at Your Organization.
Normal is the powerful few shaping the future for those who follow them. Normal is youth, especially young women and girls, shut out of the decisions that define their world. It’s older generations underestimating younger generations, believing they are the leaders of the future but not the leaders of now.

In the coming years the population under the age of 30 in the most fragile and unstable countries is going to spike. Adolescent girls in particular are in an incredibly important yet fragile position. They are deeply impacted by the decisions leaders make, yet too often normal for them means being disregarded in important discussions.

But young people, and especially young girl activists, are defying this normal. One of the most important truths I have learned as CEO & President of Plan International Canada is the awesome and unstoppable power of youth to change our world.  They are also the leaders of today.

They’ve got this. What they need from us is our support, belief and hope.

Does your workplace have a youth advisory council? If the answer is no – here are three reasons why you’re missing out:

  • Youth are better able to resist one of the most toxic and unproductive forces of the 21st century: cynicism. Driven by optimism and hope they can cut through the noise and shape conversations in meaningful and authentic ways.
  • Youth are more willing to challenge systems that aren’t working for everyone and create something new where everyone has the opportunity to unleash their human potential. Something deeply rooted in equality, openness and optimism.
  • Youth are redefining the future every day. You and your company don’t have to watch these shifts from the sidelines, you can play a role in redefining normal by supporting and engaging youth.

To all the business and civic leaders reading this, I call on you to commit to supporting youth, whether in your community or in a community half way around the world.

3) Don’t Accumulate Power, Give It Away.
Normal is the powerful only having a voice, while  those without power often watch from the sidelines. Normal is the when vulnerable voices aren’t given a platform. But if the #MeToo movement has taught us anything, it is the power of breaking silence with stories.

We need to stop thinking of vulnerable and excluded women and girls simply as beneficiaries of change, but instead as change agents with stories and solutions to share.

Wherever possible, my organization is committed to building agency and helping to unleash the potential and power of women and girls. I believe in creating platforms for telling and promoting the stories of those who have not traditionally had a platform from which to speak.

It’s time for us to help raise up new voices, new narratives and new visions of our shared future, and our normal. The best way to do this is by sharing your power.

This goes beyond simply empowering people. It is means truly shifting long-held power dynamics and imbalances, so everyone can thrive, not just a few. I promise you that you will see remarkable results, as these individuals will undoubtedly offer up new and innovative solutions and ideas to some of your organization’s biggest challenges.  This will ultimately mean a better world and more equality for everyone.

I believe in creating platforms for telling and promoting the stories of those who have not traditionally had a platform from which to speak.

My goal is to inspire Canadians to build a future where we can all enjoy power with each other, rather than power over each other, and where everyone can draw strength from the power within themselves.

When we reach this goal, there is no limit to what our organizations, Canada, and even the world can accomplish.

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