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Jo Cribb talks about shaking off the ‘good girl’ image to fight for what she thinks is right

March 8th is International Women's Day #IWD2020, a day we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, while also marking a call to action for accelerating gender equality. This year, after listening to Pat Mitchell's podcast "dangerous times call for dangerous woman" [click here to listen], Our Words Matter talked to a number of women who might call themselves 'dangerous' - women who embrace risk for the sake of advancing good, even if it's dangerous.

Each of us have our own way of describing what being a dangerous woman means. What does it mean to you?

After so many years of being rewarded for being 'the good girl' who followed the rules, who sat in the front row, with perfect pigtails and followed instructions, being a dangerous woman to me is shaking all of this off. This means defining myself in my own terms (not through pats on the head from others or doing what I thought was expected of me). This makes me dangerous. It means I will stick closely to my values, work hard on things that matter to me, make my own decisions, fight for what I think is right, and not be easily be controlled by the need for external validation. I also have a daughter and son and are determined our legacy should be that they are not trapped by gender roles in the way previous generations have been.

In what way would you describe yourself as a dangerous woman?

I am of an age where what people think of me is less important to me. I am of an age where I understand myself - my strengths and weaknesses - so can work to my best self. I am of an age where I pick my battles better. I am of an age where I am not trying to prove anything to anyone anymore. I am of an age where I do not take myself seriously and can happily laugh at my short comings. I am also of an age where I distill my own gin.

Pat Mitchell talks about dutifully following her own grandmother’s words: “Falling on your face is at least falling forwards.” What are the words you have always lived by and why?

What is the worst that can happen? This is a great touch stone because usually the worst that can happen is embarrassment or disappointment. These two emotions are in our minds and we can re-frame how we think.

In her book, Pat talks about how as a global community of women, we are at an intersection where the risks are bigger but so are the opportunities to lead toward a more just world. What opportunities, and risks, do you see yourself taking that will lead to positive change for future generations?

I think one contribution I can make is to use the platforms I have available to me (such as social media, my consulting and coaching work, a monthly newspaper column and speaking events) to connect with and challenge my audiences and suggest actions they can take. So often we are faced with enormous structural issues and can feel helpless. But if we all take one step forward towards a more just world, seismic shifts will happen. For me, it is about meeting people where they are and suggesting that next step.

The word ‘power’ takes on different dimensions depending on the lens you look through. Bella Abzug predicted that in the 21st century, women will change the nature of power rather than the power changing the nature of women. Ideally, how would you see women using and sharing their power and what impact do you see this having?

Power can be such an uncomfortable word for women. I think we are taught from an early age that 'good girls' don't seek power and shouldn't use any that might come our way. But we all have power, some of us just can't see it. For example, we often think the culture of the organisations we work for as something separate from ourselves, something fixed that we are the passive recipient of. I think an organisation's culture is the sum total of how people treat each other and we can choose how we treat our colleagues. We have that power to influence our environment. We also have purchasing power, the power to vote, to influence the values of our children, and to give to those who have less than we do. We have the power to be kind to strangers. Let's not wait for those 'in power' to create the world we want, we can start now using the power we actually already have.

We currently live in a very divisive and divided world. To mend our global community, we need innovative and creative solutions to challenging issues. What issue, or issues, concern you the most and what will it take to solve it?

There are so many issues that it can feel overwhelming. The solutions seem out of our hands because the issues are too big. But I think we all have the ability to contribute. Our important individual contribution to climate change for example, like choosing not to purchase bottled water, will count and the sum total of all of us acting will matter. We can contribute to eradicating racism and exclusion by challenging our colleagues and even our relatives causal statements. Many of us are employers and have the power to remove the gender and ethnic pay gaps in our teams. If every employer did so, there would be no gaps. What it will take is all of us realising that we have the ability to create the world we want and to stop waiting for someone else to do it for us.


Jo Cribb is the previous chief executive of the Ministry for Women and now works with organisations to address diversity issues. Formerly the Deputy Children's Commissioner and leader of the Commissioner's Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, Jo is a director on a number of Government and NGO boards (including the New Zealand Media Council, Royal New Zealand Navy Leadership Board and Institute of Public Administration of New Zealand (IPANZ).  She has a Doctorate in Public Policy that investigated the contracting relationship between governments and NGOs.

To contact Jo, click here:


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