<![CDATA[One way to move toward understanding our differences as women is to engage in joint projects between affinity groups in the organization.
Sometimes affinity groups formally exist in organizations, such as one for women managers, one for African Americans, one for Asian Americans, one for Latinos, one for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) employees, and others. However, these groups may not see the other groups as having the same interests or goals. It can be helpful if affinity groups can define joint projects, even if their scopes are small, to open the possibility of building trust and taking on larger projects later.
In one of my client groups, a group of senior-level women decided to try to get the women in the organization together by organizing a women’s leadership forum as a one-day annual event where fun and leadership development opportunities would be shared and trust could be built. Not unusually, most of the women of color in this organization worked in support roles, and many women in technical positions worked in the field as the only woman on their teams. Not surprisingly, the first year of the forum, only a small number of women, predominantly white professionals, accepted the invitation to the event. The support women didn’t feel the event was for them, even though everyone was invited. Some technical women reported that they would not attend because they felt they would be disloyal to their male colleagues if they attended. Others felt their male managers would penalize them if they attended and decided not to go. But the original organizers kept their focus on getting the women of the company more connected, and each year the attendance grew.
The women of color went from one table of women sitting in the corner and not participating in the experiential activities at the first annual event to a much larger group of women mixing and mingling with others by the fourth year. By the fourth year, about two-thirds of the women in the company attended the forum. It may seem that a one-day event held once a year would be too insignificant to have an impact, but the environment did begin to change as a mentoring program was spontaneously and informally launched by some of the more senior women for junior women and some of the isolated technical women in the field began to meet periodically and offer each other support. Within four years, more women of color began showing up in the ranks of the technical and professional women. To be sure, pressure on the organizational culture to change came from sources other than this one-day event. Small groups of more senior technical and professional women were involved in an intensive one-year women’s leadership training program during this same period, which greatly enhanced their ability to support other women.
An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0982056982/).]]>