This is a post where I try to articulate some thinking about change champions. I’m not sure I’m going to get it right. I’d appreciate your help.
This afternoon I came across a link to an article on LinkedIn from the Australian Human Rights Commission. It provided details of a report released by an austere group – The Male Champions of Change. A group established in 2010 of 21 CEOs, Governmental Heads and non-executive board members. The report detailed the actions this group had taken within their organisations over the last 18 months to improve representation of women in senior roles. The group as the name suggests, is well, all male.
I was gobsmacked by this. Appalled. Speechless and tweetless even. Well almost.
I think I may almost be tweetless at how wrong on so many levels is a Male Champion of Change initiative designed to improve women in l'ship
— Dr Jen Frahm (@jenfrahm) November 6, 2013
As @denisemooney put it – that’s a big bowl of wrong. The message and semiotics were all wrong.
A peak influence body – the Australian Human Rights Commission (power) endorse the promotion of an initiative, which involves 21 white men over 50 (more power) making recommendations to how to shift gender diversity in organisations. The group is named “Male Champions of Change” – sub text women aren’t included. You could argue that the photo that accompanies reeks of self-congratulatory patriarchal promise. I don’t that was the intent though…
And I don’t know what offends me more – the exclusion of senior women in industry, or the ironic bastardization debasement of the change champion concept.
One of my tweeting community – Jude Burger (@JudeBurger) didn’t agree – she pointed me to an excellent post that culminates in a lesson on gendered violence. The bottom line is when the problem is man-made; you need men to fix it. It’s not entirely new to me – ironically, I alluded to it in a post on change champions and white ribbon day five years ago.
And Jude is right when it comes to the strategy of change. It is critical to have men in leadership to take accountability for the issue of increasing women representation in leadership. But is it necessary to exclude women from that conversation?
Because make no mistake when you name your change intervention “Male Champions of Change, and you publish a report that only includes the recommendations of 21 powerful men, and accompanying that with a picture of those men in suits surrounding one woman you are excluding women.
When you exclude women from the discourse about them, you perpetuate the message of invisibility. This article and image continues a discursive erasure of women in leadership.
When the discursive erasure is put out by a peak human rights body – well… this s%^t just got meta
The concept of creating communities of change champions is a common tactic in change management programs. I believe it derived from Roger’s (1962) Diffusion of Innovations in his discussion of the roles of opinion leaders as distinct from change agents. Emma Murphy provides an excellent overview on the use of change champions here
So the tactic is right in that you do want people of influence in your change champion network. You do want to have some of those who are likely to resist – make them part of the solution and you have a change evangelist when they see the light. But I can’t think of one organisational change where you would advocate the groupthink and omit diversity in your community of change champions.
Because it’s just not necessary.
Dan and Chip Heath, academic / consultant / authors of the best selling “Switch – how to change when change is hard”, share the strategy of looking to the bright spots – those parts in the organisation where the desired change is in effect. Translating this concept to this scenario and Male Champions of Change would be an Industry Champions of Change, a Champions of Gender Diversity Change and include female leaders of similar ilk. There may not be as many, but they exist. How powerful would it be to have some of those women on that stage at the luncheon today?
I think my reaction to this is one of frustration. In reading the report this group has produced, it is so welcomed. It is great work. I can imagine it will really hit the mark with this groups peers. And I understand from some of those that tweeted from the event that messaging was very compelling and the intent genuine. But the manner in which it is presented sends such a damaging message. “We’re saying one thing, yet enacting another”. It’s kind of like “you’re shouting so loud I can’t hear you” – we react to the meta message before we can process the content.