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elephant in the roomOver the last five years, I have refined how I approach my core topic as a writer, speaker and workshop facilitator. I think my approach is clear and effective. But a couple of people I respect have lobbed ideas my way that could shake up how I approach this topic. I’m still working these ideas through – and invite your help.

My core topic arises from my mission — to help create a world where both masculine and feminine are valued and leveraged. The outcome will be a world where gender diversity in leadership is the norm and organizations thrive because of that. With my colleagues, I’ve designed the building blocks of workshops intended to create “aha’s” (sudden understanding) – and inspire action to forward our shared mission.

After a recent workshop, my colleague Stewart Hirsch mused that we might attract more people, particularly men, to the cause (and, as a result, to our programs) if we “shifted the emphasis to a different syllable.” He asked whether we should emphasize, not gender diversity, but the business benefits of gender inclusion. He was suggesting we might lead with the outcomes (being more effective and getting better results), rather than with the means of getting these outcomes (creating gender inclusive leadership and workplaces).

Hmmm. I like the positive focus. But would that mean that we’d join all those people doing leadership and organizational development instead of being in the world of diversity and inclusion? Would our message get lost in the crowd? And how and when would we make it clear that our focus is on inclusion as a leadership skill and diversity as a driver of better outcomes? Would we be making gender and diversity elephants in the room?

Then I attended a program by Doug Krug, author and leadership development guru. He pointed out the shortcomings of “problem solving.” He applied to workplace outcomes a principle that I know and practice personally (and spiritually). That principle is that focusing on a problem that we want to solve can bring about more of the problem. If we focus on what we want, we are more likely to bring about that.

I began thinking about how to apply this principle to my mission. In our workshops, we frame the very positive goal of gender diversity – better business outcomes. But we do focus on a problem, the slow progress of gender diversity in leadership. We focus on the obstacles that keep women from reaching their potential and their roots in unconscious “mind-sets” (unconscious gender bias). Our purpose is to help people acknowledge and change those mindsets and, so, lower those obstacles and, so, get those better business outcomes. So, are we problem solving?

I want to flip the dialogue. Instead of describing mind-sets as the source of obstacles for women, I want to explore ways of thinking that engage women and enable them to reach their potential. But how do we focus on what we want without talking about things that stand in the way? How do I not mention the elephant in the room — unconscious bias?

So, help me out with two dilemmas.

  • I want us to do as Stewart suggests. But how do we attract people to learn about ways to be more inclusive by focusing on organizational culture and results? Aren’t there a million programs on organizational culture? And do we indicate up front, or once they are in the room, that the drivers we focus on are inclusive leadership and gender diversity?
  • I want us to do as Doug does and focus on the desired outcome and not the “problem.” How do we do that and effectively address unconscious bias?

Send your thoughts (please) by commenting on my blog site or LinkedIn.