Don Cheadle and Mark Ruffalo: Feminine leadership can save our planet

We cannot turn away from what is happening in our nation’s capital; not the spectacle in the White House, but the radically feminine leadership on Capitol Hill. We are actors best known for playing War Machine and the Hulk, and we are men excited to see the script change not only in the Marvel Universe, but also in American culture.

Why are two guys writing about feminine leadership? We are feminists — fathers, sons and husbands, allies and castmates. We also hope to use our positions of privilege to support and learn from women leaders as they make history.  

ADVERTISEMENT

More women than ever now serve in Congress and state houses. But having a seat at the table is just the beginning. What matters more is how things change when women gain power.  

Climate change is among the most urgent crises our new leaders face. From wildfires, hurricanes and droughts to cancer and asthma, the effects of dirty energy and climate change affect us all. Unfortunately, those already vulnerable — children, the elderly and those living in poverty, are hit hardest.   

In times of crisis, McKinsey research shows, women employ more of the leadership qualities organizations need, and their organizations perform better during and after crises. Maybe that’s why Americans are electing more women, particularly women of color. We recognize that more diverse, more feminine leadership might better solve problems.     

Many indigenous cultures understand this. They see Mother Earth as nurturing, creative and resilient. She grows from the bottom up and propagates diversity. She is vulnerable and courageous, responsive and relational, and driven to protect the ecosystem — the all — rather than the ego of a few. This is what we mean by feminine leadership.

Management research confirms a difference between the way women and men lead. Men tend to rely on top-down control and corrective action. Women tend to value participation and inclusion. Startup company teams with at least one woman perform 63 percent better than all-male teams — but teams with all men are four times more likely to win venture funding. It’s also a red flag when 95 percent of the $60 billion awarded by U.S. foundations each year goes to white-led organizations, with 70 to 80 percent going to organizations led by men

We have the Paris Accord — the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement, with 195 nation signers — because of Christiana Figueres’ fearless feminine leadership as executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Rather than taking a traditional might-makes-right approach to negotiation, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change grew the Paris Agreement slowly and respectfully, engaging constituencies in every country.  

We see feminine leadership from our seats on The Solutions Project’s board. When we first advanced the vision of 100 percent clean energy five years ago, Executive Director Sarah Shanley Hope recommended against a campaign approach. Instead, she designed programs to support diverse leaders on the frontlines of the clean energy transition.  

These leaders empower from the ground up, engaging diverse voices. In New York, PUSH Buffalo’s Rahwa Ghirmatzion engaged community members to turn an abandoned school into solar-powered affordable housing. In Georgia, Nathaniel Smith and his Partnership for Southern Equity are making sure Atlanta’s 100 percent clean energy commitment has equity at its heart. The California Environmental Justice Alliance and its leader, Gladys Limon, are ensuring Sacramento’s commitment to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045 benefits every California community.

In the same way, the Green New Deal hotly debated in Washington — advocated by a notable sisterhood of congresswomen — embodies a vision and values powered from the ground up by local leaders who are creating change, rather than asking for it.  

Don’t mistake this for a diatribe against men. The problem is the systemic concentration of power. Feminine leadership creates space for all of us to lead and any of us can exhibit its qualities. To solve climate change we need all hands on deck. At The Solutions Project, we’re doubling down on our commitment to feminine leadership and the diversity it nurtures with our “100% Commitment to Justice.” By 2020, we will invest 95 percent of our resources in frontline leadership of color, with at least 80 percent invested in organizations led by women.  

ADVERTISEMENT

If just 10 percent of U.S. grant money — $6 billion — went to organizations embracing feminine leadership and led by women of color, you would see amazing results and quickly. We guarantee it. 

Given access, influence and support, women will take us a long way toward solving the world’s most wicked problems. As “The Avengers” movie series come to an end this spring, sheroes and heroes in communities all around us fight on. It’s time for funders to invest in the people with the power to save the real world. Climate change isn’t waiting, and neither should we. 

Don Cheadle recently joined the Board of The Solutions Project and serves as Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme.

Mark Ruffalo is a founder of The Solutions Project and a staunch advocate against fracking.

Both are fathers and Oscar-nominated actors.