A diversity story with a twist
I recently heard one of our members mention, “Oh it is so difficult to get women to nominate themselves for a leadership program; even when we get one specifically approved for women! It is such a pity. We have to first get the management to agree and then find ways and means to get women to nominate themselves”. Her words transported me to another time when I faced a similar situation. I am sharing my experience here hoping that others can benefit from it.
“What!! A leadership development program only for women? Why is it required? We work together with men, why single out women? These were some of the questions thrown at me when I joyously announced to my friends at coffee break that budget for women leadership workshop has been approved.
Taken aback, I spent time explaining to them in detail about research that points to women not nominating themselves for training and also how they miss out on high profile assignments and as an outcome do not get considered for promotions.
They heard me out and simply said, “All this is very well but how are you going to position it to the larger women audience? They may not have time to go through the research data that you will present to get their buy-in. You have to position it as something out-of-the-ordinary. Something, which will catch their attention or their manager’s attention, given the plethora of leadership programs announced frequently.”
Their words got me thinking. The data that I used to present, appeal and move the senior management may not work here. I realized it was easier to get the management’s buy-in with data, but I needed to position and communicate differently with women to get acceptance from them for the program.
The big question – what do I communicate to make sure I catch their attention and take the program seriously? This simple story helped me set the tone and need for the program.
Two men, A & B, were to run a marathon. Both were equally motivated and encouraged by the organizers. A practiced for hours each day and was coached for his technique and speed. B also practiced for hours each day and was coached equally well. However, participant B had an iron ball chained to one of his legs and, hence, could not run as freely as he wanted to. They practiced for months.
People observing this protested as it was unfair and not a level-playing field. A week before the marathon, the iron ball was untied from participant B’s leg. The organizers said a level-playing field has been created and both can compete as equals in the marathon.
No prizes for guessing the winner … obviously,participant A!
In this simple story if you replace participant B with a woman, do you think that a woman needs a little extra coaching to have a level-playing field with men? I articulated this story to a small group and it resonated well. Nominations started pouring in and the program went on to become one of the most coveted ones!
My experience here taught me a few things
- Research and data is important to get necessary approvals.
- You have to go beyond the rational and obvious to catch people’s attention
- Once you have women’s attention, they make most of it, and prepare to deliver the best