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No girls allowed? Here’s how to circumvent the boys' club

Thursday, March 21, 2013   (1 Comments)
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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 smoking.

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 solution.

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 guard.

Inspired and organic change works better, lasts longer.

Dr. Anne 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 women.

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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Robert Wray says...
Posted Thursday, April 4, 2013
Great column!

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