Annual Champions Meeting in Geneva: ‘Leading Change from Within’

At the launch of the 2019 IGC Annual Report on 2 March 2020, Geneva Champions were given the opportunity to reflect on scientific research and leadership best practices to advance gender equal workplaces.

At the launch of the 2019 IGC Annual Report on 2 March 2020 in Geneva, Martin Chungong, Chair of the IGC Global Board, highlighted that there was much to celebrate as the network had expanded to 240 active Champions across six Hubs, but there was no place for complacency.

Both Martin Chungong and the host Ambassador Monique Van Daalen of the Netherlands, expressed the need to not only ‘push back against the push back’ as women’s rights are being politicised and threatened, but also to lead change from within.

Changing mindsets and culture can seem extremely challenging, leaving many leaders unsure about where to start. “There has been extensive literature identifying what is needed to achieve gender equal workplaces. We know what to do but we seem to be struggling with how to do it”, Martin Chungong stated. However, research and best practices do exist.

During a keynote address ‘Unleashing Potential’, Professor George Kohlrieser, Distinguished Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behaviour at the Institute for Management Development (IMD), shared insights on leading change, shifting mindsets and overcoming conflict to achieve gender equality within organisations and beyond.

A former hostage negotiator, Professor Kohlrieser explained that many people are ‘psychological hostages’ to their fears, mindsets, emotions and habits which leave them feeling powerless. To lead change, one needs to understand the power of emotions on our ‘rational brain’ and use our mind’s eye to make a choice to focus on the positive rather than negative

We also need to be aware of the impact of our own state, ‘the person effect’, which can trigger positive or negative emotions, and the use of power, control and formal authority on others which can make them metaphorical hostages.

Do people resist change?’, Professor Kohlrieser asked Champions, ‘ People do not resist change, they resist the pain of change and the fear of the unknown’.  A secure base is critical for leaders to lead change by provide caring and daring to empower others.  “It is person, place, goal or object that provides a sense of protection, gives a sense of comfort and offers a source of energy and inspiration to explore, take risks and seek change”. 

In its 'quest to build the perfect team', Google made similar findings after extensive research. Successful teams are not determined by collective higher IQ, but psychological safety, ‘‘a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’ (Edmondson, 1999).

At a time when many Champions have spoken of polarisation and breakdown of trust and respect within the multilateral system, Professor Kohlrieser explained how to connect with people who have profound differences of opinions through the bonding cycle.  

Champions reflected on the key challenges within organisations in Geneva, and themes emerging were the need for childcare support, mentoring and role modelling for women, back to work initiatives for men and women, and ways to overcome resistance by middle managers. 

In the multilateral system there is still a need more gender balance in debates, and improved statistics on participation.  There was also serious concern that sexual and reproductive rights in particular are being politicised, and that commitments to advance gender equality are not being upheld and implemented.

Building on the discussion opened during the Annual Meeting, the IGC Secretariat will launch a Gender Champions Challenge in the coming weeks to give the opportunity to the network to identify, share and implement innovative solutions and best practices to foster inclusive and enabling workplaces for all so that we can more effectively drive change from within.