How Women Can Help Each Other And Spark Grass Roots Change in the Workplace

How Women Can Help Each Other And Spark Grass Roots Change in the Workplace

 

There are many ways to spark change. Perhaps, like snowflakes, change is different in each organization and is a unique product of that particular organization and the women who are willing to work together to commit to it. What is important is to begin, and to realize that it will take a team effort to accomplish change which is significant and lasting.

Change is always a challenge, but women should remember, there’s strength in numbers and sheer determination. There are proven ways in which women can work together to improve their chances of success in an organization, the most promising of which require no initiative from management. In other words, as one slogan has it, “if you can conceive it, you can achieve it.” But, to do so, you will need to take collective action and work as a team.

“The strength of traditional male business networks comes out of a trust that’s established through personal friendships, after-hours socializing and a shared acceptance of how business has always been conducted. Until cultural and societal norms evolve in a way that comfortably includes women and men on equal terms, women need to build productive relationships among themselves to accelerate the pace of change.”, according to Deborah J. Swiss, author of Women Breaking Through, Overcoming the Final 10 Obstacles at Work

One of the most positive forms of an alliance is one in which women get together and try to put in place programs which will benefit other women in the workplace, at all career levels.

A group spearheaded by Carolynn Rockafellow decided to take a hard business look at the problems their company, First Boston Corporation, an investment banking firm, was having in recruiting and retaining women.

“The task of the group,” admits Carolynn, “was formidable. The very existence of a grassroots women’s panel started by women leaders as an initiative to change systemic practices, reeducate a male-dominated culture, and promote women’s career development is more than unusual in the investment banking industry she contends. “It is revolutionary.”

Realizing that management anywhere generally perceives a laundry list of problems as whining and carping, Carolynn’s team decided to repackage the information they had gathered from women in the firm into a series of questions and answers linked to the company’s business goals and long-term stability. For example, “What is our competition doing to attract and retain women and can we learn anything from them?” Or, “What do the hard numbers tell us about women’s importance as producers in the firm?”

Taking this information as a starting point, specific objectives were linked with concrete proposals. Organizational change was tied to company goals, particularly its economic goals, and the women, themselves, assumed responsibility for well-defined and measurable segments of those aims.

Once an effort like this is defined, it’s important to get management to buy into it. Top level support is critical to creating and sustaining momentum and to get the effort’s results incorporated into company policy. The most efficient way to sell management on any program is to make the business case for it, bringing the whole effort down to the bottom line and the single question: “Will it, in the end, make money for the company?” In this case, First Boston had already identified the goal of recruiting and retaining more women employees.

Working together, as a team, with a common purpose, senior women at First Boston Corporation, agreed to assume leadership of specific areas and head subcommittees which focused on issues like recruiting, mentoring, development of career paths, and family-friendly policies. A program of communication with management was installed so that every month each subcommittee met with the CEO to discuss their findings and progress. The fact that management itself had bought into the process helped spark a change throughout the organization.

The First Boston model proved to be successful, and its measurable results included the start-up of an internal databank of nearly 200 women willing to help the firm with recruiting and the implementation of a career-development mentoring program.

What makes this model workable and gives it a universal application, is that all it requires is the energy and commitment of a critical mass of women. It does not require the initiative of management.

There are many ways to spark change. Perhaps, like snowflakes, change is different in each organization and is a unique product of that particular organization and the women who are willing to work together to commit to it. What is important is to begin, and to realize that it will take a team effort to accomplish change which is significant and lasting.

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