How I Stopped Admiring The Problem

If it’s to be it’s up to me

This is one of my mantra’s. These words have galvanised me into action many times. A lot of the time, my bias for action means it translates into JFDI (Just F***ing Do It!)

A while back, when I was still haunting the hallways of corporate Australia, I was heading into JFDI territory as a result of thinking and feeling (again) that if its to be, then its up to me.  I wisely took a different approach (on this occasion!)

What happened? In character with much of my executive career, I found myself as the only woman on a senior leadership team. I was proud of being on that team, however looking beyond my own situation, I found that women were under-represented at all leadership levels in this workplace I was a senior leader at. I didn’t have to look far either. I constantly had women asking me for advice, mentoring, to diffuse poor leadership situations and expressing how pleased they were to finally have a woman at the top.

Pale. Male. Stale.

My male colleagues, with one exception, all had male dominated leadership teams. They were all middle-aged, white, straight men. I saw no demonstrable awareness from them that we had a gender equality problem. Really nice guys…..but! No awareness = no action!

After thinking about it & stewing a bit (OK it was healthy levels of outrage), I decided to speak out at a leadership meeting to point out the issue. I wasn’t confident about speaking out. Why?

  1. The burden of inclusion was being placed on the excluded. Me. Women.
  2. An all male team were likely to see this as me having indulgent self-interest.
  3. My manager didn’t rate me and had already provided me feedback that he found me abrasive and emotional.  So he was unlikely to be an ally or advocate.

I was stuck between a rock and a hard place as I felt that I could very likely make it worse for my female colleagues, not better.

I got strategic, I enlisted help

Unlike previous conversations that I had about gender equality, which had been perceived as emotive, anecdotal and self-serving (duh!), this time  I got smart and decided to approach the issue differently. Instead of just declaring the gender problem, I prepared and got the HR team to provide me a screed of data. I assembled that data, the story the data told, built a solution, an action plan and a business case to the table. After all, I was pitching to a bunch of businessmen who liked numbers and outcomes.

To cement the likelihood of success, I called upon the women that had gone before me. I enlisted the help of two other women leaders who had already forged the way in another division with the same problem. My female colleagues had formed a high-profile, influential and successful program for female inclusion and advancement. The programs purpose was to address the poor number of women in their division. The opt-in program had gone from zero to 700 members with a fully funded set of activities that included an international study tour, regular ½ day networking forums & coaching circles in less than a year. Importantly, it had accelerated female representation from around 11% to 24% in just 2 years. I knew they were onto a winning formula! Why not leverage it. After all, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel do we?

I shamelessly leveraged their success to improve opportunities for the women in my part of the workplace. I figured that a force of three passionate, committed and informed senior women would be a force too difficult to reckon with. And it was! After I put forward the case for change, showcased the success and the great outcomes that had been created for women in another part of our business,  I got support, funding and commitment to assist advancing women in our workplace.

Bottom line is that I don’t care if I received approval just to shut me up, I got the outcomes that my female colleagues needed to be better included and to advance.

The hard work doesn’t stop

My colleagues and I agreed that to achieve an enduring, sustainable initiative for women, we would need to work purposefully, deliberately and continuously at keeping the gender equality opportunity front of mind. This meant creating advocacy and sponsorship amongst the male leaders, providing them with the tools and the techniques to continue to challenge their own thinking and behaviours when it came to including women and of course, tangible success measures and milestones in place.

Bottom line, is that we all agreed that we could no longer sit back and admire the problem of too few women in our workplace.

I’m a big fan of JFDI, but this is one of those times when a deliberate, planned and purposeful approach worked.


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