The Diversity Experiment, an experience report

In 2016, I dared an exciting experiment. The diversity discussion is mainly about men and women, about supposed differences and the difficulty of proportional representation and equal treatment – that is inflammatory discussion material. By Esther-Mirjam de Boer I was booked as a workshop leader on a strategy weekend with a management team of eleven men plus secretary to talk to them about it. They expected me as an expert to answer their questions about how they bring (more) women into their leadership bodies. I then tackled it differently with them. But from the beginning. The inspiration for the experiment comes from the book «Deep Democracy in der Organisationsentwicklung» by Caspar Fröhlich, a Zurich management consultant and coach. Among other things, this is about – to put it very briefly – that every person in a constellation can slip into a different role through a change of position in the room and their view is discussed there. I often work with systemic methods and have now put my foot down a gear for this workshop. Each individual in the leadership team has undergone a change of perspective in the sense of “Deep Democracy”. One after the other, they all took on the role of applicants before the committee and embodied a woman who applied to work in the management team. I conducted interviews about the emerging feelings, motivations, resistances and inhibitions in this role. The aim was to develop a differentiated motivation awareness within the team in order to be able to develop situational solutions from these insights.

The setting was then eleven times “a woman” in front of a hall of men – together with a secretary.

And it worked impressively! They all got involved, really wanted to understand it and experienced it for themselves. Some talked about their uncertainties and fears, talked about how unpleasant it is and how cheap it feels to have to sell yourself and justify yourself for the leadership position when your performance should be clear to everyone. They talked about the frustration when men end up selling themselves better and getting the job. They said that they were afraid of the exchange of blows, which men often rhetorically win, of the elbow-banging, the power struggle, the whole behaviour. They reported on their doubts as to whether their great commitment was compatible with their life plan and whether it was all worth it. Others were self-confident and demanded the position, declared their claim to leadership, raised a lack of diversity, and strongly represented their own qualities. In this way, we have deepened our understanding of the dynamics of action directly in the events.

I don’t know why these methods are so effective. They simply work again and again – even when dealing with demanding topics.

The female perspectives, feelings and points of view are well known to men, but I have the impression that they give them a different meaning in their being as men in everyday life than women often do. The change of perspective has made it possible to effectively break up and penetrate common patterns of interpretation. As a result, we were able to talk openly about traditional male rituals of competition – rituals that are far more familiar to men than women due to their socialization. And with this we were able to further develop how new competition rituals can be designed to be similarly challenging for both sexes in an application process, so that measuring, testing and checking becomes fair, regardless of gender. Because – so far we were completely in agreement – it is about quality and not about creating undue advantages for women through quotas, preferential treatment and special support. This is how we work at GetDiversity. Further current literature on the economic value of diversity in business can be found Here (link to the original CS study Gender 3000).