5 Simple steps to creating a cultural shift

Not my usual – but some ramblings in a more serious note for those needing inspiration in this space…

Gender programs are many and varied and, although we are definitely leaps ahead of the bra-burning 70’s, we still have work to do in creating sustainable cultural change in the space of women at work.  Here are the 5 Simple Steps I believe can get you to a meaningful cultural transformation.Before I get into the details a small spoiler alert is necessary…simple does not mean easy. In many cases simple means quite the opposite of easy.

You need to lose weight? (Don’t we all?) The solution is simple…quit sugar, kill the complex carbs, eat small meals and exercise at least 3-4 times a week – you see it’s simple! But we all know it’s not easy! When that winter alarm clock goes at 5am for your run how easy is it to drag yourself, your internal maniac kicking and screaming, from the delicious, cosy warm cocoon you feel eternally locked within? Or when that 3pm slump hits and the vending machine choccies are luring you closer with promises of joy and comfort and everlasting fulfilment, how easy is it to keep the sugar at bay?  You get the point.

In creating the necessary cultural change for gender equality we can apply 5 simple (but not easy) steps:

Step 1: Believe in possibility.

If you believe that cultural change is an imperative, and if you know that you need to create impact in the gender equality space; then believe that you can change your world – and then you will.  A person who believes deeply is infectious, the stronger your belief, the more infectious your ideas and the more profound the impact you can make. Cultural shifts always begin with a great idea and a great passion, if you have the idea or passion, trust that you can make it happen. Note to self:  If you were able to believe in Santa Claus for like 8 years, you can believe in yourself for like 5 minutes, okay you got this!

Step 2: Build a team that believes with you.

There is something magical in the power of a pack.  “For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.” ― Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book.   Once you begin the gender conversation, you will realise the overwhelming number of others who believe that cultural change is an imperative and who are looking for a place to make a difference.   According to Wikipedia:  “minority influence, a form of social influence, takes place when a member of a minority group, like an individual, influences a majority to accept the minority’s beliefs or behaviour. This occurs when a small group or an individual acts as an agent of social change by questioning established societal perceptions, and proposing alternative, original ideas which oppose the existing social norms.  Unlike other forms of influence, minority influence is often thought of as a more innovative form of social change, because it usually involves a personal shift in private opinion. Without influential minorities challenging the majority view, there would be no new ideas or positive change in society. Examples of this are the Civil Rights movement in America and the suffragettes campaigning for votes for women.”  Influence can be powerful as an individual, but as a small team the impact can be exponentially improved.

Step 3: #Jointheconversation

Conversations create movement, they create awareness, they create a language.  The simple act of conversation creates the butterfly effect; this minute localized change in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere. Not only does conversation give permission for people to join the movement for change, it gives permission for them to use their voices and create the impetus necessary for sustainability of a movement.  The louder the voices, the more energy is created around the topic and thus the more sustainable the change can be.

Step 4: Feedback is your friend

As a leader of cultural change you really need to know who you are leading – Sam Nunn reminds us: “if you think you are a leader, and look over your shoulder and there ain’t nobody following you, man you’re just taking a walk.” To create sustainable cultural change, you need to test your thinking – widely, and repeatedly and again! Feedback is a powerful tool in honing the conversation you need to have and the language that will be appropriate for your organisation.  You’ve probably heard the rule of mathematics: If it feels easy, you are doing it wrong.  In the rest of life, if it feels too difficult you are doing it wrong, especially when it comes to creating influence. Each organisation will require its own language and its own solutions.  If it feels too difficult, get feedback and tweak the strategy until it begins to feel right for you.

Step 5: Aha moments

To create sustainable change you need a clear and concise plan with buy in from senior influencers.  Steps 1-4 will get you to a clear plan that is appropriate for your organisation.  Getting buy in from senior influencers often requires an “aha” moment, that point where they realise “this current reality is not the future I wish for my daughter, my sister, my wife, my legacy”.   Influencer buy in may take time, but without it cultural change will be slow.  Take time to walk in the shoes of those making the decisions, to understand their motivations and act as an agent of social change by assisting them to question their own perceptions and discover their own motivation for becoming an agent for this change.

Keep on keeping on

Margaret Thatcher said that “you may have to fight a battle more than once to win it”.  There will be failures and mistakes and difficult conversations but each of these acts as opportunity to adjust the strategy and to refocus on the end goal. In these moments remember the steps:  believe in possibility, the pack is bigger than the wolf, get into conversation, seek feedback and create aha moments.

I said at the outset that these simple steps may not be easy.  So how do you start?  It’s a simple case of ready, steady, GO!  Just like quitting sugar, if you know your end goal and the reason you need to achieve it, you can access the power within you and then just start.  Drag off those warm winter covers, say no to the vending machine and take the first step. The beginning may not be easy, but once you’re on the road it feels pretty great, and the satisfaction as you see the change happen is well worth the effort.

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