I asked Helen Bertelli who runs Benecomms, to be a part of the Women Who Wow series, and she sent me the following piece, which I think is so important for all of us to read given what is currently happening in our world with the coronavirus.
Thank you Helen for writing such a terrific article, I’m very happy to share it on this blog.
How Diversity of Voice May Save Us: Changing the Conversation from Consumption, Despoliation to Inclusion and Resiliency by Helen Bertelli
The women’s movement has always been about working to change the conversation. Today, on the last day of Women’s History Month, it is more important than ever for us to remember this.
The power of language to shape human experience, for better or for worse, has long fascinated me. Of course, in the case of women’s history, language has been employed for centuries in ways that have systematically minimized or erased the contributions of 50% of the Earth’s population (the word “history” just one of the many demonstratives).
This, as it turns out, was not just to the detriment of women, but the extreme detriment of the world, as we are learning today in an era when more women than ever before are earning for their work. Society has started to study the value of women’s voices, in government, in business and society as a whole, and we are beginning to comprehend value that went unrealized for so long.
At university, my senior thesis focused on women’s travel writing in the Colonial era. At the height of slavery, when bestselling works like Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad depicted heroic settlers and popularized narratives of “virgin landscapes” and the “taming” of indigenous populations, I was interested in understanding how women travel writers portrayed their experiences. Would they be different?
Needless to say, these writers were hard to find. I spent many nights buried deep in the vestibules of my university’s rare book collection. But I did manage to find some; chief among my favorites was Mary Kingsley, a complex but remarkable woman with a gift for words.
Sure enough, the voices of these women, while often self-deprecating, were also far more nuanced and inclusive than their male brethren. Most if not all were critical of establishments like slavery. Adventure was conveyed divergently. Heroism was not machismo but something entirely different.
Today, my company, Benecomms, does an increasing amount of communications work in the sustainability space for companies who are changing the conversation; people who are challenging society to rethink business as usual. As Women’s History Month 2020 draws to a close and we are collectively grappling with a pandemic that is, at least partly, of our own making, my thoughts turn to these questions:
What will we learn from this situation? How can we change the conversation to avoid future systemic shocks and build resilience?
The answer to these questions, in great part, lies in our willingness to raise diverse voices and to internalize and act on what they are saying.
At this point, virtually everyone knows the path that we are on, one of unabated consumption and consumerism is not sustainable. We know that changes coming as a result of a warming Earth will include more diseases, disasters and other systemic shocks that, like Coronavirus, will upend us. The question is, are we willing to learn from our mistakes of the past? Are we willing to set aside the fear of the unknown, fear of doing things differently, and think outside-of-the-box? Are we willing to finally hear the diverse voices around us to find solutions to the cataclysmic problems that face us?
It is imperative we continue the conversation about diversity of voice well beyond Women’s History Month. How well we do this will, in part, determine how we, collectively, come through not only this crisis but also future ones.