When my dog Lucy was young we volunteered as a therapy dog team in a seniors’ home, visiting people with Alzheimer’s. Some people didn't respond but others perked right up when we came into the room.

I always brought a dog brush because many of the seniors loved to groom Lucy even though their hands were very weak. For people who were totally dependent on others, it was a rare opportunity for them to offer care to another being.

Humans need connection—it’s what brings meaning to our lives. But it only works when it’s a two-way street.

A sense of connection often starts with a shared experience, which is why it can feel so comfortable to be around old friends. Sometimes connections are forged over a shared desire to create a certain kind of change, like ending sexism.

But creating true connection also requires us to embrace our differences.

As a woman, I experience sexism. But since I’m white, I can’t assume that I experience sexism in the same way as a racialized woman. Too often, women who face multiple forms of oppression—racism, homophobia, and discrimination based on age, ability, religion, or other factors—feel forced to downplay these experiences.

If I want to strengthen my connection with women whose lives are different from my own, I cannot act like sexism is the only problem or assume I have all the answers.

I need to listen and learn.

When we start to connect these kinds of dots, we also come up with different—and stronger—solutions to social problems. For example, you can’t support a woman to move out of poverty until you recognize that her experience of poverty is different from a man’s. That’s why gender-specific programs are so important. One-size-fits-all usually doesn’t fit at all.

Sexism, racism and all of the other ‘isms’ are rooted in a mindset that assigns different degrees of worth to different groups of people. To challenge this mindset, we must start to work with others who believe in equality, in a way that honours equality.

That’s when real change can finally begin.

Read inspiring stories about people who support and are supported by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in the Spring 2015 issue of SHE magazine.