Reflection: What I am learning from leaders about equality
by Anna Dewar Gully, MRes
My partner, Dr. Kristen Liesch, and I help organizations and leaders connect the dots between equality, effectiveness, and profitability. We stand for Equality, Empathy, Candour, & Courage in all that we do.
When we started our business we already had deep knowledge about what it takes to make real change in organizations (me from my strategy and strategic change career and Kristen from her consulting career and Academia) but in spite of our knowledge and skills, the learning curve about how to make change in a diversity of large, fast-growing, and innovative businesses in Canada and beyond, has been a steep one. We've learned a few things we would like to share with you...here are the lessons, in no particular order
Lesson 1: We've learned that leaders talk a lot about equality...but that for many leaders it's just talk
Over last six months we've marched ourselves into countless established, fast growing and innovative organizations of all shapes and sizes. We've taken meetings with all sorts of leaders in all sorts of industries in order to learn about the equality challenges and opportunities they see where they are, to share our thoughts about building equality through strategy, and to share the services we've developed that help organizations move from avoiding the problem of inequality to tackling it head on.
We've learned that leaders love to say they care about equality. But few really do ... yet. The leaders who we have met who really really care about equality today - are the ones that are prepared to take the often difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes unpleasant steps to shake up their board composition, their leadership tables, to take a hard look at what their business does and who it serves, and to bravely design a future state for the organization that looks different...and is more equal. They are the ones willing to acknowledge that change is a long road, but a plan needs to be in place, and steps need to be taken today, tomorrow, the day after, and beyond to get there. They are the ones who proudly tell us "progress isn't pleasant".
For many other leaders who we have met - they are not yet in action mode - although they may have fooled themselves into thinking that they are.
They are operating in their organizations to build equality with a tick-box list of plug and play solutions. An "empowering event or two". A leadership program designed to "fix" the individual, not the structural discrimination that exists. And unfortunately, their businesses are, as a result, not fully tapping into the true and expansive potential that real equality holds for business culture, effectiveness, and growth.
These "leaders who talk equality", have not yet fully acknowledged to themselves or others, that they are more comfortable with nurturing the status quo then dealing directly with the rumbling for change beneath their feet.
In terms of the stages of change theory (the theory we talk to people about when they are trying to lose weight, etc.) "these leaders who talk equality", they are living somewhere between pre-contemplation and contemplation (somewhere between "we have no problem, we are a meritocracy" and "we might have a problem, but I'm not yet prepared to look under the hood").
These leaders are not our ideal clients...yet. But they do often need our help to move from contemplation to action. To these leaders, we say...let us prove to you (with one of our simple, actionable solutions), that if you can look under the hood of just one of those contributing challenges to equality, we can help you uncover a solution that does not only build greater equality but creates effectiveness and profitability too.
If you see yourself or the leaders you report to in the above...call us and say "yes" to working with us. We have a perfect solution to begin to move you from pre-contemplation to action...it's called a #solveathon and it's a quick win for equality (yes there is such a thing) and we'd love to tell you all about how it works. We promise it doesn't hurt and in fact it will add value to your organization on day 1.
Lesson 2: We've learned that the leaders who care most about equality are really really FRUSTRATED
The "leaders who act" the ones who have moved themselves beyond pre-contemplation, to contemplation, to action, are frustrated and they often feel alone in the organizations in which they work. They are the tireless advocate at the Board table trying to get that talented black woman the job she deserves (again). They have been given the "gift" of wearing the diversity and inclusion hat (without being given any budget or power). They have been asked to write speaking notes for the "leader who talks" to make them sound convincing about caring about equality. These folks people are equality champions and they are PISSED OFF.
Do you recognize yourself in this description. You are our ideal client. We can shore up your bravery, energy and enthusiasm with external perspectives, rigorous data, and a steely determination to help you get the power, platform, and budget you need to really really succeed (one strategic win for equality, effectiveness, and profitability at a time).
To you, thank you for being so tough. We are in awe of you and want you to succeed.
3. The Equality "Sales Cycle" is a long one and we have to be honest about that
I think it was Alanna Bastin-Byrne from Australia's Femeconony that warned me early in our business development phase (and over a quick call) that the sales cycle for selling solutions that build equality is a long one. She told me, to really get into an organization in a deep way it's an 18 month journey. When she told me that I thought "if that's true, we are screwed" we have mortgages to pay, children to raise, etc. But I've reframed her advice in my own mind. I now know that we can offer value in the lead up to those 18 months to our potential clients. We can help them, in a variety of ways, move themselves from pre-contemplation (we don't have a problem) to contemplation (ooh, we might have a problem), to action (ooh we have a problem, what are we going to do about it) and we are equipped to provide real value at every step along that journey. If you'd like to know more about that...please reach out.
The sales cycle for building REAL EQUALITY in organizations is long. But the journey from pre-contemplation to action is a mission-critical journey. You can't skip the steps. Sum Strategies can help you, your leaders, your organizations take those steps. We have tools, services, and supports designed to guide you through that absolutely critical journey. You don't even really need to believe in the problem of inequality today, to start taking the steps with us tomorrow. We are honest now with ourselves about that.
Progress isn't always pleasant, but it is progress...