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It is the time of year when we resolve to make changes. A recent article (Oliver Burkeman, Newsweek, December 17, 2012) concluded that resolutions rarely work. Motivation, the author points out, is quickly lost if the goal is too big. Making small changes works much better.

I would argue that having big goals is important, but that we must “chunk them down” into small goals or steps. I learned this lesson when (a number of years ago), I climbed Kilimanjaro. At 19,341 feet above sea level, it is the highest peak in Africa. On the third day of a five-day climb, the clouds cleared. I saw the summit clearly. I formed a clear intention to reach the top. On the day my group set out (at 2 a.m.) for the summit, the air was already thin. My goal (the summit) was overwhelming. I kept it in the back of my mind. In front of me was a very long and tough climb. I had to set smaller and smaller sub-goals. First, I set my mind on making it to the next switchback. As the air got thinner, I focused on one or two steps at a time. I made it to the top – one step at a time.

This lesson has helped me make manageable steps toward larger personal and career goals. It is giving me patience with the goal of my work. My work is to help businesses get the benefits of diversity at all levels. In particular, I focus on gender diversity in leadership. That is the “summit” I want to help organizations reach. This summit has significant rewards. According to Catalyst, McKinsey and Credit Suisse, among others, gender diversity in leadership pays with better financial results.

We have made progress on this climb. Over half of the people in middle management are women, says Catalyst. The old story that leadership traits are masculine in character has begun to change. According to former professor Anne Cummings, over the last few years, when she asks for lists of words associated with leadership, the descriptions have become more gender-neutral. She concludes that “The notion of what makes an effective leader is changing” to include “both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ components.”  According to The National Jurist, women are increasingly represented on management committees in law firms. Although the wage gap is still a reality, women have made gains in the financial area. Books by Hanna Rosin (The End of Men) and Liza Mundy (The Richer Sex) document the increasing number of women who out-earn their mates. Women continue to earn more undergraduate and graduate degrees than men, preparing them to hold good jobs in this information economy. The most recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that women earn 57.4% of B.A.’s, 60.7% of M.A.’s and 53.3% of Doctoral degrees.

We are not, however, near the goal of this climb. I will not give up on that goal – that women be proportionally represented in the leadership ranks of business. We need to break this big goal into smaller steps. Reaching this goal requires two things:

1.  More women succeeding and achieving the leadership ranks, and

2. More businesses with inclusive cultures where both men and women can thrive.

The steps for women include:

  • Learning to shift from masculine to feminine approaches depending on the circumstance,
  • Being aware of, and avoiding, the blind spots – the double bind, the comfort principle and unconscious models of success (which I call “unconscious preferences”),
  • Having powerful mentors and sponsors,
  • Enrolling men in initiatives to increase development and retention of women, and
  • Having the facts and spelling out the business case.

The steps for organizations are:

  • Creating broad awareness of the business value of gender diversity in leadership,
  • Building cultures where both masculine and feminine approaches to achieving results are valued and leveraged,
  • Developing broad understanding of the obstacles that slow the climb of women – the double bind, the comfort principle and unconscious models of how excellence looks,
  • Implementing processes to monitor the lowering of these obstacles, and
  • Assuring that women have access to good mentors and sponsors.

Each of these steps needs to be “chunked down” into even smaller steps. We can reach the goal of gender diversity in leadership – one step at a time.

Where are you in your personal or organizational climb? What small steps can you resolve to make?