Lily Cole and Chelsea Clinton Q&A

Lily Cole and Chelsea Clinton Part II

In this exclusive Climate Hero conversation, Chelsea Clinton, activist, writer, and former First Family icon, talks with Lily Cole, supermodel-slash-entrepreneur and climate activist. It's been said that women have a strong track record for action when it comes to climate and social justice, and Chelsea and Lily are no exception. Notably, both were signers of the open letter put forth by SHEChangesClimate, a collaborative effort to bring diversity and inclusiveness, transparency and accountability to the COP26 negotiations on Climate Change. And while Chelsea's work is heavily focused on health as it relates to women, children, and the planet, Lily has long been an environmental campaigner. Lily's questions for Chelsea get to the heart of climate and social justice matters, delving into topics that range from gender equality and COVID to the Electoral College and so much in between.

This conversation took place last month on May 27th and will be released in two parts. It offers the intimate perspectives of these two very active and influential female voices. (Part I of the conversation can viewed here.)

Part II

LC: Thank you so much for signing the letter responding to the fact that there were originally no women on the UK leadership team for COP26.

Since then, three women have been added, so the leadership team is now 25% female. An improvement no doubt, but far from the parity we need. Looking at the statistics from the 2019 COP, women were also heavily under-represented internationally in different delegations.

I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on that, and how you feel the US is performing in terms of diversity and representation at this time?

CC: We have overwhelming evidence that when women are included in decision-making, negotiations, and the preceding step of agenda-setting toward negotiations -- that what is on the agenda, as well as what is discussed or debated, and what decisions are made is different. The decisions made are clearly affected by women being included. We see this through data from peace negotiations and trade negotiations -- that Parliaments, legislatures, and national and subnational regions are far more likely to allocate funds and prioritize issues that relate to health and education.

So, again, we have tremendous evidence that it matters when women are included, and that it's not only good for women, it's good for everyone.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation: Summit 2020 | In Conversation with Lily Cole - Why Key Industries Must Change How They Work, September 11, 2020.

Triodos Bank: Lily Cole | Change your bank, change the world, September 25, 2019.

As to the second part of your question about the Biden Administration -- I will say, thankfully, it's not only at the cabinet level where we see women included -- we have the most inclusive cabinet of any presidential administration, ever in American history. And we are seeing women in quite consequential roles, especially that relate to women here in the US, but also to women globally. So I think about our Trade Representative who's a woman, and Secretary John Kerry, an Official Envoy for Climate Change, who recruited a woman leader, Susan Biniaz, out of retirement after a 30-year diplomatic career, and said I want you to be my chief negotiator around Glasgow. President Biden is not only listening to so many of the most prominent people I know, but respects them and his presidency is really positively affected by their expertise, and their rootedness in not only the science of climate change, but also the science of public health and health equity of environmental justice. So many in his top coterie of advisors are women.

And we also see, again, even places where there may not be a woman at the top of the helm, like the Department of Health and Human Services. Secretary Xavier Becerra is eminently qualified and many of his top deputies are also women. The Biden Administration has taken "real inclusion" to mean we need diverse representation at every level -- at the cabinet level, secretary level, deputy level, at the various departments that often do the real labor of work, and also in the White House itself. So I am thankful that we have a president with whom inclusion is not just tokenized, and that it doesn't feel like he's doing it because he's been pressed upon. He is doing it enthusiastically.

Chelsea Clinton and Lily Cole attend a Clinton Foundation event in London, May 2012.

Hauser & Wirth: Lily Cole and Rashid Johnson | Find a Way to Build Love, April 22, 2021.

LC: Yeah, I danced for joy when he won, as you can imagine, I'm sure you did, too. And the fact that he appointed the first female, non-white, VP was hugely encouraging.

CC: You know, quite cynically, one could have thought Vice President Harris checks all these boxes of diversity and -- in the best sense -- has an overwhelming, crushing competence. But thankfully, he's not one to be comforted by singular examples, and again we see that throughout his administration.

LC: You grew up in a political family and you've been working in the political space, or at least the social development space, for a long while. Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic in terms of the progression of global gender equality? Do you feel things are slowly heading in the right direction, or do you feel frustrated that they aren't? The US hasn't had a female president yet and women haven't had equal representation in many different sectors -- what’s your feeling towards the sense of progress or lack thereof?

CC: Well, I'm an optimistic person, partly because I just have to believe, Lily, that our energies and efforts can make a difference. I think about something Jim Kim, the former president of the World Bank and one of the founders of Partners in Health, says: optimism is a moral choice. I agree and I think the more moral decision is to be optimistic. Though I'm also very concerned about the ways in which COVID has disproportionately impacted women. The net job losses here in the US have been borne entirely almost by women -- particularly Black and Brown women. And many women say that they cannot envision going back to work because schools are still not fully in session. In many parts of the country, daycares are not fully open and that care economy, which was already deeply undervalued and not given sufficient support or financial recognition, isn't close to being back to fully functioning.

Also during COVID, intimate partner violence has risen everywhere in the world. And so I am concerned that as we're thinking about moving forward out of this moment, that we're still not as focused as we really need to be to ensure women are fully included in every aspect of planning for continued recovery. Because I do think we will still be dealing with the ricochet effects of the pandemic for many months and years ahead. So that means needing to think about things like supporting women's mental health because we know that women -- especially mothers -- have had huge spikes in anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges, or ensuring women can come back into the workplace. We need to do this across the globe, but particularly here -- to support the care economy, we have a lot of work to do.

Marie Claire UK: Lily Cole | Sustainability, lockdown lessons and the power of optimism, July 28, 2020.

LC: It's a bit of an offshoot, but it connects because it's about diversity and inclusion and the importance of having diverse voices -- did you see that Dominic Cummings, a former aide to Boris Johnson, recently said that a system that offers a choice between Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn "has gone extremely, badly wrong"?

It reminded me of something I've been asking for years: is our system the best version of democracy we can offer society in the 21st Century? A system that allows us to vote for one of (usually) two likely winners, once every 4-5 years; and these individuals need to somehow have to represent all of the diverse feelings, ideas, and positions of the people they want to serve? In my book, Who Cares Wins, I explored new ideas -- often driven by digital technology -- for making democracy more participatory, from liquid democracy to embracing more citizen's assemblies.

Cummings' comment prompted an article (Financial Times), which talked about an academic who got their students to visualize "what democracies are" by getting them to think about running a democracy on Mars. The idea being that if you have a clean slate and you could do anything, what would be the ideal system?

I know that's an offshoot thought, but I wonder if you've ever questioned the electoral system yourself, or if you have any thoughts on ways it could be improved to better represent people?

CC: Well, Lily, no two democracies are the same. Even before 2016, my mother and I, and admittedly many others criticized the electoral college as being an artifact of slavery, which it is. And also for it not being reflective of a popular vote -- not equating to "one person, one vote." So I certainly do think there are specific things about our electoral system here in the US that need remedying at the national level, to put it mildly.

And in New York City where I live, we're having a mayoral election in less than a month and local elections, so we'll vote for Comptroller and City Council and Borough President and other roles. And we're going to have rank choice voting for the first time, which I very much am in favor of because I think that it ensures that we are far more likely to get someone with whom more people are more comfortable with, even if it wouldn't have been their first choice for whomever would prevail.

I think we need to be more open to trying more strategies that reflect the will of the people and that feel more authentic, relevant, and legitimate than what we have today. I am quite enthusiastic about you being able to vote in a rank choice way and I hope that my optimism for that feeling is that we'll have a result that more New Yorkers support -- not only for mayor but up and down the ballot. And to be clear, it's the Democratic primary in June. And then, obviously, we'll have our final election in November, and hopefully, more people will feel like their vote and voices were heard -- and they will be more supportive of the outcome. And I hope, if the process does achieve that, that it will then encourage more people to vote in the next election because I think one of the challenges we have here in the US, is that a lot of people don't vote, partly because they think their vote doesn't matter.

Channel 4: Lily Cole on ethical fashion, technology and bullying, March 28, 2018.

LC: That's great to hear: I didn't know they were doing ranked choice. Any steps in a more democratic participatory direction feel like progress to me. For my book, I spoke with a friend of mine who lives in Switzerland about the direct democracy system that's been in place there for over 100 years.

CC: Well, Switzerland has had pretty bigoted referendums, too. So I think, even if we're thinking about ways for more inclusive participation for the majority to feel like the process is legitimate, we have to be mindful of protecting minority rights -- not only in a rhetorical sense, but also in a participatory sense.

Lily, also Switzerland didn't allow women to vote in national elections until 1971, and the last Swiss canton [state] to allow women to vote in local elections didn't do so until 1991. I have always chafed when Switzerland claims to have had this direct democracy model for 100 years, because I'm like, "But have you?" Because women couldn't participate. So it doesn't really feel like direct democracy to me.

LC: Yes, I completely agree and it's one of those strange contradictions. I wonder if on some level, because their political system gives people more power through the regular referendums (four times a year), if that's why the men in leadership roles took so long to give up some of their power...


Part I of this conversation can be viewed here. The full recording of this Q&A will be available for listening on Who Cares Wins, Lily Cole's podcast, this coming August.