By Skills

Women in the Workplace, McKinsey 2018

The study cites several factors as the primary barriers to progress, including continued under-representation of women in the pipeline, everyday discrimination, racism and micro-aggressions, and continued pervasive sexual harassment.

So, what can we really do to do things differently?

Maybe an old idea can help us with some new ways to think about what we can change.

Last fall, my husband announced to me that he had picked up a book on “Kaizen”, the Japanese concept of continuous quality improvement through small steps. (When I mention “kaizen”, most people appear with a look of vague recollection on their face; the idea is embedded in many process-improvement approaches, but the concept has been stored in the back of the warehouse of their memory.)

You should know that said husband, Gary, used to be a voracious reader, but since he converted to audiobooks, he subsequently adopted the idea that he is not a good reader.

“I’m going to read this book in the kaizen way,” he said after returning from the library. “Two pages per day.” (You should also know that it’s a very small book, and two pages is an embarrassingly small goal.) 

The benefit for me, however, was that he would read his two pages (or three, or ten) and then re-read them to me as he walked around the house. It sparked my curiosity and I snagged the book one day when he was out and read it in a couple of hours. And I’m not a fast reader.

The book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, is by Robert Maurer, Ph.D.  Maurer, a psychologist, essentially applies the principles and concepts of kaizen to everyday goals—fitness and exercise, relationships, work and productivity, etc. He teaches you to think smaller, to ask smaller questions, to cherish small moments. His premise is that our brains innately fear and resist change, and when we set big, ambitious, 180-degree change goals, we fail most of the time.

I’ve become something of a kaizen evangelist in the last few months. I’ve ordered more than 50 of the books and given them to almost everyone I know or work with in coaching. And I’ve been practicing it on some of my own stubborn habits, with some surprising results. (A story for another post.)

It’s such a simple methodology. Where has it been hiding?

Can setting smaller goals help us make bigger progress in our quest for gender balance and equality?

Here’s an example: Imagine you are sitting at a conference table with your HR team, brainstorming ways to recruit and hire more women who could be promoted to managers in the next five years. 

Big goal/big question: “How can we find and hire more high-potential women?” (Blank looks around the table.)

Small goal/smaller question: “What is one thing that we could do that we haven’t tried before to hire more women who have leadership/management capability?” (Ideas popping around the table.)

“We could define “high-potential” more clearly.”

“We could review our job postings to see if our descriptions are biased.”

“We could talk to our current managers and get their ideas about the best fit for our culture.”

You get the idea.

When I ask people how they think we will “crack the code” on equality, I hear many of the same ideas and themes:

Companies need to have better policies and leaders must be accountable.

Women need to stop tearing each other down.

Men need to be allies.

We need to eliminate unconscious bias, sexism and racism.

Every woman should have a mentor or sponsor.

We need to address the ways we are socializing children.

Men need to accept women as equals.

Women need to have more confidence and speak up for what they want.

We need to eliminate sexual harassment.

We need more women in technology and engineering.

We need to change cultural norms that create barriers for women.

Women should have flexible schedules and access to day care.

Men should have equal paternity leave.

We need to provide critical work experiences for women, so they are prepared for leadership.

Big, hairy, audacious goals, right? (Remember BHAG?) All of these ideas and goals are, indeed, important in our pursuit of equality. But quite honestly, maybe we are exhausting ourselves with goals that are bigger and more complicated than we have the experience or knowledge to tackle just yet.

What if we asked some smaller, simpler questions, or set some (perhaps embarrassingly) small goals? What if we broke our big goals into smaller, bite-sized pieces that help us (as Dr. Maurer says) “tiptoe around the fear” of change?

Try this:

Ask: “Who is one male leader I consider to be an ally for women already? I could talk to him about what makes him an ally.”

Practice: “I am going to stop complimenting my female colleagues’ outfits and compliment them for their work contributions instead.”

Support: “Our company doesn’t have a formal mentoring program, but I’m going to ask Diane, our Sales VP, if she will meet me for coffee, so I can ask her for some specific feedback on my career direction.”

Confront: “If people on my team are joking inappropriately, I’m going to ask them to knock it off. We’re in a new era of working, and I plan to be a proponent of respect for everyone.”

Think: “What is one thing that I may be doing or saying—consciously or unconsciously—that perpetuates inequality?

This content was originally published here.

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