Expanding the Circle: Powerful Conversations for Women in Leadership (Part II)

by Betina Schonberger

In Part I of this post, I pointed out that to advance women, we need to unlock the double binds of both genders. We will continue to make only painfully slow, incremental changes for women in the workplace, until we can have healthy, honest conversations with both women and men. So, how do we go about bringing men and women together in meaningful conversation on gender issues?

My answer: What about using our Dimensions of Success model as a frame to address this question? How might we use Dimensions of Success, which defines success in terms of results, process and relationship, to identify the factors to consider?

To clarify the RPR model:
Results refers to the accomplishment of the task, or achievement of the goal. Process means how the work gets done, how it is designed and managed, and how it is measured and evaluated. Relationship refers to the quality of peoples’ experience in relating to colleagues, customers, and the organization, including importantly, the level of trust and respect people exhibit for each other and the organization. Each of these facets must be balanced in order to achieve a successful outcome.

So, here’s my initial list for consideration:

Results: What are the results we want to see from having a joint dialogue on gender issues?

A shared understanding of the bigger picture – that what’s good for women is good for business. The business case has been made through various research efforts and statistics, but not everyone seems to be bought in. Read more about the business case here.

A shared understanding of the gender dilemmas --both the invisible biases and structural issues-- that make it more challenging for women to succeed in the workplace. Conversely, a shared understanding of some of the biases men face that perpetuate gender stereotypes and behaviors . . . so that an agreement can be built to eliminate these biases and structural issues that serve as barriers for women.

A commitment to jointly work on eliminating biases and stereotypes for both genders to achieve equal opportunities for success  for both men and women.

Process: How can we create a process that will support the outcomes we’d like to achieve?

First and foremost, create a safe space for authentic, open dialogue, where men and women can be open and vulnerable. To facilitate this, use thoughtful design, ground rules and specific content that supports the creation of such an environment.

Men should have the opportunity to talk about gender issues and challenges on their own, before introducing women to the conversation. This may give them the space to process, elevate their own self-awareness, and deepen their understanding of the gender issues.

Remind both men and women of the bigger picture and our shared purpose. The bigger picture is we know that greater inclusion of women means better business results. Remembering the shared purpose of improving opportunities for women to improve business enables women and men to work as a team towards this goal, vs. trying to operate separately.

And finally, focus on building clear, sustainable agreements for the dialogues. Agree on  what we want to learn, what and how we want to share with each other, how we will communicate and what we are committed to changing moving forward.

Relationship – How do we ensure positive, inclusive healthy interaction between participants?

Set ground rules to actively listen to each other, and treat each other with respect.
Help participants to listen as allies, not an adversaries. Meaning: they don’t listen to reload but are willing to be altered by what they hear.
Encourage speaking up about challenges or problems while consciously embracing an empowered mindset using the “Three Acts of Empowerment.”
Provide ongoing, respectful feedback that increases self and collective awareness.
Be aware of our own ladders of inference and blind spots to avoid stereotyping or making gross generalizations.

Building on this model and these initial thoughts, how would you go about creating this dialogue?