Albert Einstein advised that “You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it.”
The following uncommon practices are designed to break through this impasse and shift us to a new more effective leadership paradigm.
1. The Rule of 3
- Set a near term goal of three women on each top leadership team where important decisions are made.
Why three? It is extremely difficult and unlikely for the lone woman – or any lone minority – to change the prevailing culture. Almost all lone women share the experience of speaking up during a team discussion and being ignored, overridden, or dismissed. Within minutes a man in the group states the same point. This time the peer group acknowledges the speaker and often supports his idea. The lone woman eventually become less active and less invested as this experience is repeated. Because no one else in the group shares the woman’s experience they do not notice this dynamic and without support she become less vocal. The opportunity for culture change diminishes as does her effectiveness in the group.
2. First Women – Selection, Support, Accountability
- Carefully select, sponsor and mentor first women who join the team before the rule of 3 is achieved.
They must be highly capable of doing the job and being trail blazers. These women are courageous, self-confident and resilient. They read the human landscape and respond with flexibility, keeping the end goal in mind. They need a solid support group inside and outside the company. Spending time with members of this group is part of the job.
- Hold both her sponsor/mentor and the first woman accountable for her success.
It is their success. Their relationship includes mutual learning and requires a high level of trust so that vulnerabilities and difficulties can be openly discussed and addressed. He also ensures that she has access to important networks. The sponsor creates a learning environment such that the first woman and her peers can explore sensitive issues to improve team performance. Advice and counsel from experts in change management, human dynamics, and diversity help ensure the first woman, her sponsor and the team are successful.
- Establish first women and first sponsor groups.
A formal group of all the first women becomes a mechanism for supporting each other and changing the culture. A first sponsor group plays a similar role. These two groups also work together to learn, review progress, identify and remove impediments to culture change and enhance the success of first women.
3. Rapid Readiness of High Potential Women
To keep the pipeline full use very fast track approaches to prepare women for top leadership roles. A recent study by Steve Wolff, DBA*, the Hay Group, found the role of executive assistant, not to be confused with secretary or administrative assistant, to be one such method. High potential women who participate in decision making discussions with senior executives are ready for top leadership positions sooner than when traditional methods of moving up through the ranks are used.
4. Two Heads are Better than One
*Steve Wolff, DBA. The Coming Leadership Gap. Presentation to New England Society for Applied Psychology. Waltham, MA. March 7, 2010