Empowered – brave women at work: case study

– They say they don’t want to use bad words when ladies are around – so we don’t get invited to management meetings. – Even if you are managers yourself? – We can get the briefing later. – How do you build your credibility? How do you ensure your access to information? How do you build your networks?

They didn’t know the answers. It was not easy in that organization, construction industry belonged to the most traditional industries with its steep structures, a bit old-fashioned ways of addressing managers, and the informal networks of information much more powerful than what was official. It was a miracle that there were female managers at all. They spoke with soft voices. There were tolerated and cordially welcome by their male colleagues. At times, they felt uncomfortable – but they did not want to start a revolution. This would be the last thing they would see good for their organization.

What they needed was empowerment. Hand in hand with the HR team, we designed a multi-faceted development process, starting with a personal diagnosis of preferences in terms of behavior at work. With this, every participant of the development program aimed at female leaders knew what was their starting point, their natural skills, abilities – and the most relevant style they would like to design their performance at work. There is no one universal template for a leader, they realized, and this already was a great starting point.

In the face to face session led by a female and a male ETTA consultant – so that the gender stays in balance – the participants explored their strengths and questioned their barriers. As it turned out, in many cases their position at work was a function of their perceived and presented self-confidence. How to take voice in a meeting where she is the only female participant? How to make sure they stay in the management meeting, no matter if someone likes to use bad words? Practical tips were strengthened by exploring own goals and priorities in life, both privately and professionally. We felt that these women start to explicitly understand their goals in life and work, and so – that they are able to set priorities and make conscious choices about what they want to be. No wonder the next step was one-on-one meetings with their managers, to discuss what they have discovered, and how they decided to design their future careers. Many were offered promotion.

Surprisingly, some declined. And you know what? THIS was the sign that the program was successful. These women no longer wanted to be promoted to ANY position in the organization. They wanted to take a specific direction, and they would not care to climb the wrong path. Not at all a revolution for the company… but a small bottom-up organization change process, starting with these small steps each of them was making to make sure that their work is a valuable part of their life. A process which, once started, cannot be stopped.

The development program had an additional outcome: previously alien to each other, now the female participants started to talk. To exchange experiences. Best practice. Tips on how to do best. To share their successes with the others. They empowered themselves, and they set a learning platform for future generations of the programme.

A distinguished guest speaker and a member of the Board made the closing ceremony a real experience. We were happy we could contribute to planting the seeds of change in this respectful, big, rich, and promising organization.