Aspire to Lead: Women's Leadership Series | Sponsored by PwC


Teaching Girls to See Themselves as Leaders, with Tara Sophia Mohr

In order to guide young women to achieve their full leadership potential, life coach and author Tara Sophia Mohr explains that society as a whole needs to do three things. First, we need to acknowledge that young people hold the key to changing the world for the better. Treating adolescents like they're powerless only reinforces that harmful untruth. Second, we need to teach them to silence their unhelpful inner critic. Young people who can subvert their fearful self-doubt will be more confident in their dealings and ambitions. Finally, it's vital to reinforce to young women that the world needs them. "In fact, the world has a hole in it that is shaped exactly like them, and only by sharing their own voice and bringing their unique gifts into the world will that hole be filled."


Professional Women Shouldn't Aspire to Be "Mad Men"

ABC News correspondent Claire Shipman explains why it's important for women to maintain authenticity when communicating confidence in the workplace. To emulate male confidence is to subvert one's authenticity. Subverting one's authenticity means negating the effects of diversity in terms of leadership style. Shipman is co-author of the book "The Confidence Code."


Claire Shipman: Be Biased in Favor of Taking Action

Author and broadcaster Claire Shipman explains the positive aspects of allowing confidence to grow within yourself. The best way to do this is to erase any fears that keep you from leaping toward professional and personal challenges.

Carol Sawdye: Manage Your Career With a Sense of Urgency

Carol Sawdye, the chief financial officer of PwC, shares the story of how a startling life event pushed her to become more active in career management. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease at 25, Sawdye received a wake-up call that pushed her to lead life with a heightened sense of urgency. In this video, she offers a deeply personal case for, and case study in, risk-taking, operating outside your comfort zone, and taking the initiative to achieve your goals.


Women in Leadership Roles Brings Economic Advantages, with Jane Diplock

The former chair of the New Zealand SEC discusses the correlation between profitability and having an equal number of men and women on corporate boards. Not only is the promotion of gender diversity in leadership positions the right thing to do, says Diplock, but it's also the smart and efficient thing to do.


This is the fifth video in a series on developing women leaders presented in partnership with PwC. Watch Claire Shipman and "The Confidence Code" co-author Katty Kay in a live webcast presented by PwC on February 27th. Register here for the webcast, and follow the conversation on Twitter: #PwCAspire. Big Think has partnered with PwC to promote this event, and will feature videos and other content related to it throughout the month.

Michael Fenlon: It Takes Confidence to Instill Confidence

Michael Fenlon, global talent leader for PwC, discusses his company's Aspire to Lead initiative, which seeks to guide the next generation of women leaders. In order to be a great leader, you have to have the confidence in yourself to make others around you better.

Enlisting Men to Erase Harmful Stereotypes of Women, with Michael Fenlon

PwC Talent Manager Michael Fenlon discusses the aims of HeForShe, the solidarity movement for gender equality famously championed by actress Emma Watson in a September speech at the United Nations. He explains the importance of getting men to pledge their support for women and learn to listen in order to quash harmful stereotypes. To take the pledge for global gender equality, visit HeForShe.org.


On February 27th, PwC hosted a live webcast on developing great women leaders with ABC News's Claire Shipman and her "The Confidence Code" co-author Katty Kay. Watch the archived stream here, and follow the conversation on Twitter: #PwCAspire. Big Think will be featuring more related videos and other content throughout the month.

Aspire to Lead - a Global Webcast

Are you just starting out in your career? Are you keen to learn more about building your confidence at work? Or are you interested in becoming a better leader?


On Friday 27 February, Big Think partner PwC hosted its second global webcast focused on the question, ‘What would you do if you were not afraid?’ The webcast was part of ‘Aspire to Lead: The PwC Women’s Leadership Series’.

The event took place in PwC's London office with around 200 students attending. The panel webcast featured ‘The Confidence Code’ authors – Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, Eileen Naughton – Managing Director of Google UK and Ireland and Mike Fenlon PwC’s Global and US Talent leader, and was viewed by thousands of people across the globe.

A Look Back and Forward for Working Women

Most young women in the workforce don’t remember firsthand the battles their mothers and grandmothers fought over issues that are still relevant today. Among those who’ve read about them or learned secondhand, many women have taken pains to separate themselves from the purportedly drab, angry feminists with whom they have difficulty identifying. 


During the 1980s and 1990s, such disparaging labels as “ball-breakers,” “ice queens,” and “female mafia” were imposed on women who often only sought equal pay and a voice in the proceedings. The so-called “mommy wars” concept caught on in the media focusing on the differences between women working outside the home and those who chose to stay (and work) at home. It was more a headline grabber than an actual reality. Elitist, too, since stagnating purchasing power required most mothers to work. Nevertheless, the “mommy wars” grabbed attention, and the categories it imposed still cause harm today. Let it be said clearly and loudly: just as there are not two types of men, so there are not two types of women.

With all the manufactured anger and derision, is it any wonder that, given a choice, the next generations of women took another, quieter path? Who could blame them? Betty Friedan predicted that would be their choice when she wrote The Second Stage, which addressed the question of how to live the portion of equality that had been won. In the midst of writing The Second Stage, Friedan correctly saw that the future would not be rosy for women. “I sense other victories we thought were won yielding illusory gains,” she wrote. “I see new dimensions to problems we thought were solved.” 

There was at that time, however, the promise of young men attending college and getting MBAs alongside women. What their fathers had found unsettling, it was thought, these young men would consider natural. It seemed a reasonable expectation unless you taught (as I did) at a business school where little changed in terms of male-oriented cases, books, and articles. Female professors with tenure were quite rare. Learning, as female students noted, was one-dimensional in the incubators of future leaders.

At the same time, men became increasingly inclined toward silence about negative views of women — some because they felt under siege even if they were in favor of equality for women. Separating inadvertent and minor offenses against women from the major ones could have been done more effectively. Many men became actively involved in perpetuating the culture of excluding women; after all, it was a more comfortable and rewarding arena in which to reside — to say nothing of the fact that women were now directly competing with men for jobs. Indeed, it’s one thing to be theoretically in favor of gender equality at work and quite another to face the possible loss of your livelihood. Such were the ignition factors of backlash.

Also, women grew tired of struggling on behalf of their gender. Always having to prove commitment to the job and saying little of their children to prevent the perception of being distracted became taxing. We continue to see the effects. Helena Morrissey, chief executive of the Newton subsidiary of BNY Mellon and a leading campaigner for gender equality in the workplace, told The Financial Times, “It’s so tedious that there still seems such a problem.”

In 1979, Radcliffe’s president Matina Horner described a "crisis of confidence" facing women in the choices they encountered between family and career. This was especially true 10 years later for those women who worked full-time outside and inside the home, as described in 1989 in The Second Shift. As Gloria Steinem has said, “The truth is that women can't be equal outside the home until men are equal in it."

The confidence crisis continues today, as Katty Kay and Claire Shipman have written in The Confidence Code. Women tend to negotiate lower salaries than they deserve and to believe they must be 100 percent qualified for a job or promotion.   

Earlier this month, The Financial Times reported that more women are leaving fund-management careers. They’ve had it with sexist slights and corporate cultures that demean their value, even though research shows that female fund managers have better track records and that diverse groups in this field are more effective than those dominated by white males. Sixty-five percent of female fund managers reported regularly experiencing sexist behavior at the office. Their male colleagues also report seeing such behavior directed at women on a regular basis. Moreover, Catalyst research recently indicated a serious depletion of women in high-tech careers. They’re leaving shortly after they arrive.

It isn’t all bad news, of course. Women are succeeding as entrepreneurs. Pay equity in some sectors is almost where it should be, and young women enter the workplace more aware and with higher expectations. Increasingly, there are efforts to recruit women to the fields of science and engineering. Women are seeking graduate degrees and in larger numbers than ever before. Organizations have learned that hiring large numbers of women results in outperforming their competitors. Clearly women haven’t given up. They’re being realistic about where they’re valued and where they’re not and perhaps rightly realizing that to succeed in those areas they must leave the gender-equity fight largely to others.

How do we help women, and they help themselves, to move forward past the issues that concern them, impinge on their success, make them more tired than they need to be, and, instead, move forward in their careers while also enjoying their families? Here are a few important ways:

Reduce pressure on women to do it all — superbly. There is nothing new about this — women trying to “have it all” when we know no one can. Yet, the discussion about whether women can be all things to all people, including to themselves, is always popping up in the media. Let’s agree to stop it. The final answer to the question is: "No one can have it all." Parenting takes a considerable toll. So does being among the “sandwich generation,” trying to care for young children and aging parents. Something has to give, as Arianna Huffington wrote in Thrive. It does not mean compromising on success, but rather redefining it.

Confidence comes from doing certain things very well. Some days, as author Elizabeth Gilbert proposes, let other people be better parents, better artists, better at whatever because none of us can be wonderful all the time. Women cannot progress in the workplace if they never cut themselves any slack.

Increase work-life reconciliation policies. Since 1990, other nations with comparable resources have implemented a comprehensive agenda of “work-family reconciliation” acts. As a result, when the United States’ work-family policies are compared with those of countries at similar levels of economic and political development, the United States comes in dead last. From The NYT op ed by Stephanie Coontz, “Why Gender Equality Stalled,” comes this conclusion:  “Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences. The gender revolution is not in a stall. It has hit a wall.” 

It’s time to make issues regarding women at work nonpartisan and to put more women in office. Democratic, Republican, and Independent voters work. Equal pay and equal opportunity to succeed belong to no single political party. We need to wrench these issues free of sides and pressure all government representatives to actually represent women, whenever and from wherever they decide to work. 

Encourage organizations to notice and reward women’s contributionsRosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Change Masters, describes most organizations as having “a preference for being guided by the past rather than the future, by what is already known rather than what is not yet known.” Reward systems in such companies are what Kanter terms “payoff-centered” rather than “investment centered.” 

Women are an investment that research shows pays off. Yet, even in Silicon Valley where forward-thinking companies abound, women are not generally welcome at higher levels. As Nina Burleigh wrote in her Newsweek article, “What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women":  “In inverse ratio to the forward-looking technology the community produces, it is stunningly backward when it comes to gender relations.”  

Lessen Reliance on easy fixes. This is a call to get real. We must be somewhat critical here of the press and the blogosphere for the plethora of instant fixes that women have become especially inclined to accept as a means of learning the ropes at work. In an age of six ways to do anything, it’s easy to slip into thinking that if women were just a little more this way or that, they’d be fine. There are some advantages to such tips, but they do not adequately address, let alone fix, the larger problems of sexism, discrimination, inequitable pay, and appalling dearth of women at the highest levels of industry and government.  

Band-Aid solutions give the wrong impression of what's involved in getting ahead at work. Learning about politics, for example, is critical to functioning well in organizations. Leadership too. No one learns about these critical skills with a few tips. It’s important to study the work environment, be an avid observer, learn from others — male and female, stretch your style, and practice, practice, practice.

When we look back, it’s clear that women’s equality at work is an extremely tall order. As we move forward, the future will look very different from the past. Women are unlikely to be marching for equality in pay and promotions, but as attention turns once again to these issues, as women are feeling more empowered to expect equal treatment, more supported by other women, movement forward is likely to look like thousands upon thousands of candles in the mist.  

Each day, each woman on her own, in small groups, or “circles” will make a difference. If we refuse to forget what has been accomplished, ignore or reframe labels that hold women back, and increase our political and leadership acumen, once again we will move the stone up the hill and this time refuse to let it slip.

Kathleen Kelley Reardon, Professor Emerita at the USC Marshall School of Business and Big Think blogger, is the author of 10 books on communication and politics at work, including The Secret Handshake; the mystery thriller Shadow Campus, about one woman’s perilous struggle with workplace politics described by Forbes as “masterful”; the reprint bestseller Harvard Business Review case, “The Memo Every Woman Keeps in Her Desk”; and the book They Don't Get It, Do They? re-released now on Kindle. She also writes about workplace issues here.

 

Photo: albund/Shutterstock.com

 

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Too often the concept of a circular economy is muddled up with some kind of advanced recycling process that would mean keeping our industrial system as it is and preserving a growing consumption model.


This idea is based on a belief that recycling will take care of everything.

One of the most startling examples of this is the part of the European Union's Circular Economy Action Plan which aims to increase recycling rates: up to 70% of all packaging waste by 2030 and 65% of all municipal waste by 2035. In a properly built circular economy, one should rather focus on avoiding the recycling stage at all costs. It may sound straightforward, but preventing waste from being created in the first place is the only realistic strategy.

While we obviously need to continue recycling for quite some time, putting the emphasis on genuine circular innovations – that is, moving us away from a waste-based model – should be our sole objective.

Recycling is linear

In a linear economy, we do not account for the side-effects generated by a product once sold to an end customer. The aim is to sell a maximum number of products at minimal cost. Continuous pressure to reduce costs leads to the creation of many of these side-effects – called externalities by economists. The higher a company's rate of production and the higher its efficiency, the more successful it will be at selling its goods in a fiercely competitive environment.


What is a circular economy?

This worked well in the 20th century when resources were easily available and raw material prices kept decreasing. Waste, as an economic externality, was not the producers' responsibility. Managing waste cycles, dumping it out of sight or, at best, recycling it – but only when it was cost-effective – were under the control of our national institutions.

Visionary manufacturers, who understand the upcoming challenges of increasing their economic resilience, know better: a product that is returned for repair will cost less to fix and sell again, than manufacturing it from scratch.

In our current model, we extract resources, transform them into products, and consume or use them, prior to disposing of them. Recycling only starts at the throwing-away stage: this is a process that is not made to preserve or increase value nor to enhance materials.

We need to understand that recycling is not an effective strategy for dealing with unused resource volumes in a growth model. We will find ourselves in a never-ending pursuit of continuously generated waste, rather than seeing the avoidance of waste as a path to beneficial innovations on many levels.

Of course, it is easier to think about recycling. This avoids changing the whole of our volume-based production model. But in a world where we have to shift our consumption patterns and use less energy, recycling no longer has all the answers.

Recycling is 'business-as-usual'

Since we cannot stop the volume of waste overnight, investments in the recycling industry are needed. But truly meaningful investment in developing a circular economy takes place outside of the recycling space. Indeed, the more we recycle and the more we finance recycling factories, the more we stay 'linear'. We mistakenly believe this is the best route to solve our problems - but by staying in a recycling-based economy, we will delay the transition to an advanced circular economy.

In a circular economy, resources do not end up as recyclables since products are made to last several lifecycles. Products' lifespans are extended via maintain, repair, redistribute, refurbishment and/or re-manufacture loops, thus they never end up in the low-value, high-need-for-energy loop: recycling.

We live in a world in dire need of disruptive innovations. Closing loops next to where customers live while avoiding waste is a short and longer-term win-win for any leading re-manufacturer. Short-term because you are in direct contact with your customers, and taking back a product that needs maintenance is an opportunity to better understand their needs and help them with additional services. Long-term because you will lower your exposure to future financial risks. Any of the feedback loops that exist prior to the recycling loop are an opportunity to take back control over your stock of resources – taking control away from the raw material markets, which may become highly volatile. Increased interactions with your customers, both commercial and financial, and an in-depth understanding of their needs, would increase customer loyalty and a business' overall resilience.

Re-using, re-distributing and/or remanufacturing strategies are the preferred approaches in a circular economy, as they are based on parts durability. Caring for and preserving the value of product components increases corporate economic resilience, while diminishing external market risks. Whether you are acting in a highly advanced or a developing economy, these strategies make crystal-clear sense: they are less costly in the long-run because repairing a product made to last is always less expensive than producing it from scratch.

Leapfrogging into valued supply chains

Following this approach, we must move away from activities that devalue the material, such as recycling, and instead invest in those activities that preserve it: reuse and remanufacture. These two are especially important since they create many more secure jobs. Walter R. Stahel, the godfather of the modern circular economy, introduced the metric of labor input-per-weight ratio (man-hour-per-kg, or mh/kg) to measure job creation in relation to resource consumption. He found that the ratio of mh/kg when building a remanufactured engine from used resources compared to making the same engine from virgin materials is 270:1. The impact on employment is huge.

The re-localization and the re-sizing of activities closer to customers become critical. Production sites should migrate from a highly centralized global hub to units designed to fulfill local needs. In developed markets, a possible plan could be to develop strategic partnerships with local service providers, who can provide the infrastructure. In emerging markets, where there is often an urgent need for jobs, leapfrogging straight into a national re-manufacturing strategy is the way forward. Becoming the next 'world factory' hub is an obsolete vision today.

One way to start thinking like a leader in the next economy while creating jobs could be in order of priority:

  • Reuse by repairing (goods) through re-hiring (people), while sharing the radical benefits (awareness) of such a model
  • Redistribute by promoting access (goods) through collaboration (people), while sharing information (awareness) about this model
  • Remanufacture via the ease of disassembly (goods) by training (people), while sharing the acquired knowledge (awareness) through this model
  • Migration of recycling activities by diverting (goods) to service models, transferring skills (people) to remanufacturing processes (awareness).

All of the above make sense in a world where planetary limits have already hit most economies.

Adopting a circular strategy by avoiding reliance on recycling is the way forward.

This is about genuine innovation derived from genuine leadership.

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.

  • It's easy to stumble down a rabbit hole when we consider the action beneficial like checking emails, stock prices, or sports scores.
  • However, if these seemingly beneficial actions take the place of something else we intended to do, they're just distractions. And we've been moved to these distraction as a psychological response to discomfort.
  • The truth is that distraction comes from within, and time management is just another form of pain management.
  • The City of Venice is currently enduring the worst flooding to strike it in 50 years.
  • The mayor has declared it to be a result of climate change.
  • During a debate over next years budget, and right after rejecting environmental proposals, the main chamber of the regional council flooded.

In a twist so on the nose you couldn't make it up, the regional council room of Venice was flooded last night immediately after the council rejected budget amendments to fight climate change.

The city is currently enduring the worst flooding in 50 years. More than three-quarters of the city is underwater. In some places, the water levels are more than six feet deep. The water damaged the Crypt of St. Mark's Basilica, and a state of emergency has been declared.

The councilors for the region of Veneto were discussing next year's budget as the water began to creep in according to councilor Andrea Zanoni's Facebook post.

The main portion of it reads:

"Ironically, the chamber was flooded two minutes after the majority League, Brothers of Italy, and Forza Italia parties rejected our amendments to tackle climate change,"

In a statement to CNN, the regional president Luca Zaia rejected the notion that he and his coalition were inattentive to the environment, saying, "Beyond propaganda and deceptive reading, we are voting (for) a regional budget that spent €965 million over the past three years in the fight against air pollution, smog, which is a determining factor in climate change. To say that we do nothing is a lie."

It seems even situational irony delivered by the fates isn't enough to convince some people.

The council has moved their meetings to nearby Treviso until such a time that their council chambers are usable again.

How does this tie to Climate Change?

The risks posed by climate change to Venice are both obvious; it is literally on the water, and well known. The mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, spoke to the issue this week. After saying the flooding had brought the great city "to its knees," he declared the exceptional flooding and damages to be "the effects of climate change" in a Twitter post.

He isn't wrong. Recent studies have suggested that if climate change continues unabated, Venice will be history in 100 years.

What will become of Venice?

Venice is both a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the world's great cities with a long and glorious history. To lose it to climate change would be unthinkable.

However, it is already sinking at the rate of one-fifth of an inch per year. This, combined with rising sea levels, may mean that the great city, already drowning in tourists, may soon literally be drowning.

There is some hope though. Recently, the Italian Government launched the MOSE program, which is designed to "part the sea" and keep Venice afloat by introducing a system of flood gates. In theory, they would be able to stop high tides up to ten feet from flooding the city and could be raised or lowered at will. However, the project has been plagued by problems since the start and is currently on track to be finished 11 years behind schedule.

Italy has also passed legislation requiring the science of Climate change to be taught in schools to all students. If these steps will be enough remains to be seen.

  • The European Medicines Agency granted special approval for an Ebola vaccine called Ervebo.
  • Ervebo has proven remarkably effective in clinical trials conducted in Africa.
  • An Ebola outbreak has killed more than 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo since August 2018.


Health regulators in Europe have issued the world's first approval for a vaccine against Ebola, and it's estimated to become widely available in 2020.

The European Medicines Agency granted a conditional marketing authorization this week that allows the U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck to market the vaccine, called Ervebo. Conditional marketing authorizations help to fast-track the approval process for drugs and therapies that treat "unmet medical needs." That's important when fighting often-deadly viral diseases like Ebola.

Since August 2018, Ebola has killed more than 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Besides the 2014 West African outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people, the 2018 DRC outbreak is so far the deadliest on record. And the number of cases continues to rise. But experimental vaccination programs have helped curb infection rates. In these programs, Ervebo was strikingly effective, showing an estimated protective efficacy of 97.5 percent, as the World Health Organization reported in April.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"Finding a vaccine as soon as possible against this terrible virus has been a priority for the international community ever since Ebola hit West Africa five years ago," Vytenis Andriukaitis, commissioner in charge of Health and Food Safety at the EU's European Commission, said in a statement. "Today's decision is therefore a major step forward in saving lives in Africa and beyond."

Ervebo protects against a particularly infectious ebolavirus species called Zaire, one of four species known to infect humans. Zaire can also infect animals, like macaques. In 2005, researchers at the Public Health Agency of Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory developed an Ebola vaccine that protected macaques 100 percent of the time. But lack of funding and regulatory hurdles meant it'd take years, maybe decades, to prove the vaccine was safe and effective in humans.

Then the 2014 West African outbreak struck. With the need for an effective vaccine made clear, Merck obtained the license to Ervebo, known as rVSV-ZEBOV-GP, and soon the vaccine was being administered to people in Guinea as part of a clinical trial. The vaccination strategy there was to inoculate people who'd been in contact with others who'd been infected with Ebola. This is called ring vaccination.

But while ring vaccination was effective in preventing the spread of Zaire, it remains unclear just how long the protective effects last. That's a critical question for, say, health workers who get vaccinated to protect themselves against infection that might occur months later. There are also other ebolavirus species that other vaccines would need to address, such as the deadly Sudan species.

In addition to the conditional marketing authorization issued by the European Medicines Agency, the World Health Organization has "prequalified" the Ervebo, meaning it meets standards for safety and efficacy.

"[Prequalification] is a historic step towards ensuring the people who most need it are able to access this life-saving vaccine," WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the announcement. "Five years ago, we had no vaccine and no therapeutics for Ebola. With a prequalified vaccine and experimental therapeutics, Ebola is now preventable and treatable."

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration is expected to decide on approval in March 2020.

  • An orangutan named Sandra was granted non-human personhood rights in 2015 and has been moved from the Buenos Aires Zoo to a home in Florida.
  • Legal personhood is not synonymous with human being. A "non-human person" refers to an entity that possesses some rights for limited legal purposes.
  • Sentience might be the characteristic necessary for granting legal rights to non-human species.


After being granted legal personhood rights in 2015, a 33-year-old orangutan named Sandra has just moved into a new, spiffy central Florida home.

Sandra has joined 21 other orangutans and 31 chimpanzees to live at the Center for Great Apes where she is reportedly thriving. Born in Germany, Sandra spent 25 years at the Buenos Aires Zoo. She was released because, according to a landmark ruling in 2015, she is a legal person who was wrongly imprisoned for the majority of her life. In the ruling, Judge Elena Liberatori declared Sandra as a "non-human person" and, thus, entitled to better living conditions and some of the same legal rights as humans.

Non-human person definition

According to legal terminology, legal personhood is not exactly synonymous with human being. The law divides the world between two entities: things and persons. According to the Nonhuman Rights Project executive director, attorney Kevin Schneider, personhood is best understood as a container for rights. Things have no rights, but once an entity is defined as a person it can obtain some rights. So, a "non-human person" refers to an entity that is guaranteed some rights for limited legal purposes.

In Sandra's case, the ruling undercut species-membership as the basis for legally denying rights, freedoms, and protections. The Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights based its argument that Sandra should not be treated as an object based on the orangutan's "sufficient cognitive functions." But others have argued that it is sentience, rather than cognitive complexity, that is the essential characteristic for granting legal rights to non-human species.

The judge in Sandra's case agreed, telling the Associated Press that by giving Sandra non-human person status she wanted to shift society's view on other-than-human beings by telling them that "animals are sentient beings and that the first right they have is our obligation to respect them."

Degrees of Sentience

Photo Source: Wikimedia

Sentience is defined as the ability to perceive one's environment and translate those perceptions into various feelings, such as suffering or pleasure. This has little to do with a species' cognitive ability.

It's been argued that it is inappropriate to humanize animal behavior in this way. Yet, science can never be totally free from this anthropomorphism, and there's a solid argument as to why.

For one, humans can only ever think about animals by drawing on their own experiences, and this facilitates many of the research questions when studying other species. Yet, beyond scientific discovery, there is an ethical motivation for relating human emotions to animal experiences. Once we accept that other species might feel pain similar to what we feel, we become responsible for their suffering.

Anthropomorphism, when used responsibly, can add emotional meaning to the science of animal sentience.

But is there a distinction to be made between sentient species? After all, we are animals. Yet, humans differentiate ourselves from other types of animals. Our culture, and the taxonomies our fields of study rely on, demand categorizations of nature. But nature is not so obedient.

Research indicates that sentience extends to a wide range of animals. For example, chimps have been found to be generous, mice have exhibited empathy and honeybees have demonstrated pessimism. But because of the limits of human perception, we don't have sufficient ways to measure just how sentient non-human species are. It likely isn't a clear-cut answer of sentient or not sentient, but shades of grey.

Currently, most of the research on animal sentience has focused on vertebrate species and been mammal-centric. It is generally accepted that vertebrates (with the disputable exception of fish) are sentient, and that invertebrates are less-so. These evolving distinctions have made nonhuman personhood protections a messy legal area.

Admittedly, humans have something these other sentient beings apparently do not: The cognitive ability to create complex cultures which have allowed us to conceive of and communicate a claim of rights. But, as environmental researcher Uta Maria Juergens has argued, "If we pride ourselves on our unique intellect, we ought to also pride ourselves on assuming the responsibility that comes with it."