Women’s leadership and 'the rule of three'
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Posted by: Barbara Francella
By Dr. Anne Perschel
first year of graduate school, I observed a phenomenon that ultimately became
known as "The Rule of 3.”
understand the rule and how it operates, I invite you to step back in time with
me. We’re seated next to each other in a graduate school classroom. The
professor is leading a discussion on race as a factor in medical/psychiatric
diagnoses. Lots of white students participate in the conversation. There are
two black students in the class. They remain silent.
puzzled and disappointed. We lost the opportunity to hear a non-white
perspective on a racial issue. I’m curious about why this happened, so I seek
out the professor. She references social science research. "Until three members
of the non-dominant group are present, they typically will not speak up, and if
they do, they will often not be heard.”
leadership and business psychologist, my work sometimes focuses on bringing talented
women and women’s talents to the leadership table. When corporates ask what
metrics to set for women’s initiatives, I tell them about The Rule of 3.
visual response is often that snap-to-attention look on someone’s face when
they become instantly aware of something that’s been happening, yet gone unnoticed,
for a long time. They suddenly see the lack of attention to the voice of the
lone woman in the room. You can almost see them watching the not-so-instant replays
in their mind’s eye.
three women on the leadership team,” I advise.
Three is a magic number
ratios are referenced by other experts and thought provokers in the field of
women’s leadership, including Linda Tarr Whalen and David Gergen, (staff adviser to
four presidents and senior political analyst at CNN) in his introduction to Enlightened
Power: Transforming the Practice of Leadership.
changes the conversation and the culture. Why change the culture? The 2008 economic
debacle is a good reason, for starters. Had there been a Lehman sister, better
yet, three sisters, the voice of caution and reason may have prevented the
economic crisis, the one from which the world has yet to recover. We need a
culture in which many views, not just the prevailing view of the dominant group,
is heard and valued.
collaborate.They help people play well together. Women are concerned with
ethics and social good. Women use their power and resources to build stronger
families and communities. The business world needs our voices at the table, and
those currently in power need to listen.
matter how you position two points, they always form a straight line. They either
align or oppose. Three breaks the tie and moves things forward. Three allows us
to see more than two sides of an issue. Three points to a third way. It is the
third eye seeing into another world. Three creates stability. We announce first,
second and third place winners ― gold, silver, bronze. Third time’s a charm.
leaders say diversity sparks innovation and enables their company to appeal to
a diverse customer base. But have we taken advantage of these benefits or just
created window dressing?
test and reap the true benefits of diversity, we must aim for inclusion of the non-dominant
groups, the ones who did not set the rules or determine the prevailing cultural
norms. In the business world, this means women, among others, because we did
not set the rules, but we can be a force in changing them.
woman, unless she is bold and unafraid, is not likely to speak up, and if she
does she is not likely to be heard. Two don’t want to be seen as always
agreeing with each other, or representing The Group. "Let’s ask Jane what women
think.” But Jane wants to be valued for her individual contributions, not as a
representative of All Women, who don’t think the same, anyhow. So, there you
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.
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.
"Don't let an uncertain career path determine your future"
and more Beyond The Middle blogs