No girls allowed? Here’s how to circumvent the boys' club
Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Dr. Anne Perschel
Advancing women to leadership roles. Creating a gender-balanced organization.
Achieving equal pay.
These issues involve changing centuries-old assumptions,
beliefs, thinking, cultures and systems. Bringing about this degree and depth
of change is no easy feat. Consider efforts, beginning in the 1960s, to end
It’s best to involve people affected by change in the change
process. According to Kurt Lewin, social psychologist and father of modern day
change theories, mandating change is sometimes needed, but should be very
carefully considered, as it is a least effective and most costly approach.
To understand why, grab your sunglasses beach blanket and
sunscreen for a trip to nature’s sandbox.
Act I – The Beach
Seven boys, ages five to eight, are engineering an intricate
series of dams and rivers by the water's edge. They include a small hot tub and
are enjoying their time in this mini-spa when along come the girls, first one,
then two. As a third girl attempts to find a seat in the tub, two boys protest.
"No girls allowed.” The girls argue, but eventually move along. Minutes
later, the mothers arrive and demand equal rights for the girls. The boys
protest for a while, but the mothers stand guard and as long as they do, girls
are begrudgingly allowed in the tub. But no one is having fun. As soon as the
guards leave, the chanting begins anew, "No girls allowed.” This scene is
repeated several times.
You and I, the observers, are wishing the mothers would not
intervene. We want to see how things will go without adult intervention. We get
our wish as the mothers become distracted and the girls grow tired of battling
for diversity and inclusion.
The girls meander along and create their own play space, but
it’s a small beach and they land not far from the boys’ club. For a while,
nothing of interest catches our eyes. Then, a lone girl starts to dig a short
distance from the boys. She is far enough to maintain respect for the rule of
separation, but close enough for the male engineers and construction workers to
see her. Other girls join in. They build elaborate scenes creatively using
beach flora, fauna and debris to make bridges, houses, trees and people.
Soon, a curious boy catches on. He inches his digging
project closer to girls’ scene. Within minutes and with subtlety, he connects
his trench to the female landscape. Other boys take note. They look on
curiously and edge closer. They begin to build connecting roads. Soon the
groups’ combined engineering and creative talents result in a complex and
ingenious landscape filled with people, cars, pets, trenches, dams and a bigger
co-ed hot tub.
This beach phase of our observation ends here, but there is
an Act II. It takes place in an office setting, so please take the time to suit
up in appropriate attire.
Act II – The Office
Please take the observer’s seat in a small conference room,
where I’m meeting with Ms. Julie, a client. Ms. Julie, the most senior woman in
the organization, is complaining, whining even, that she does not get invited
to important all-male networking events. She is a damsel in distress waiting to
be rescued. I share the beach story with her then ask if she is going to wait
for some adult to demand an invitation on Ms. Julie’s behalf or whether, like
the girls on the beach, she is going to construct her own irresistible
Ms. Julie throws her own tailgating party. She invites the
boys and the girls. The food is imaginative and delicious, but she is sure to
include the more traditional grilled hot dogs, hamburgers and sweet smelling
sausages. Tailgates and football games are different now. The rule of "No
girls allowed” has been rescinded, despite the absence of mothers standing
Inspired and organic change works better, lasts longer.
Perschel is a leadership psychologist with Germane Consulting
and co-founder and chief
inspiration officer at 3Plus
International, a career lab for high achieving and high potential
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