Advancing Women: Help People ‘Get It’ in Four Steps: Here are the Second Two


People say it’s important to retain and advance women at work. But they aren’t really part of the solution if they don’t quite get it. In the prior post, I explained the first of the four steps that convert someone’s ‘lightbulb moment’ to action – the kind of action that changes companies into places where women want to build their careers.

The first step is realization– pinpointing a fact or experience that crystallizes the issue. lightbulbThe second step is relevance – the fact or experience hits home because it’s clear that it has immediate implications for you, your team, your company, your industry.

Realization happens in your head and relevance happens in your heart.

3. Recognition is the third step in converting inspiration to action – useful no matter where you work. Through realization and relevance, you took in the fact and it became personal. Now, with recognition, you’re turning it outwards to put it in context. What needs to happen for this insight to actually make a difference? Do we need to overhaul our work-life benefits so people don’t have to ask permission to work from home? Get better at working with women before they have one foot out the door? Talk with women who left a while ago to find out why they really left? Fire the jerk bosses? What?

4. Finally, take responsibility.

It’s all an intellectual exercise until you commit to do something.

  • What can you do, right now, today, to act on your lightbulb moment?
  • What can you say, today?
  • What you can you set in motion today to make sure that your lightbulb moment becomes a beam that guides you, and your company, to becoming a place where women want to stay?

Each lightbulb moment is progress. But when there’s a string of lightbulb moments, you see a new way forward.

See the whole AFWA presentation at Slideshare.


If you’d like the accompanying handouts – an infographic of the four steps from inspiration to action, plus a worksheet that you can use with small group or one-on-one discussions, email me at and it’ll be in your inbox pronto.

For more lightbulb moments, and subsequent change, read the 2015 Accounting MOVE Project report. It’s full of personal stories about how CPA firms are finding new ways to advance women.

MOVE Factors Globally Valued

The Accounting MOVE Project is a holistic model that shows the interplay of key dynamics proven to advance women in the workplace:

M – Money, or pay equity

O – Opportunity for leadership and professional development

V – Vital supports for work-life

E – Entrepreneurship, business development and supplier diversity

A new report sponsored by Citigroup outlines the priorities of working women around the globe – and guess what? It boils down to MOVE.

Women are encouraged, too: 60% of women around the world believe that the gender gap is closing, with U.S. women especially optimistic, with 68% detecting progress.

Around the world, women define ‘progress for women’ in MOVE terms:

  • 36% cite women in leadership of evidence of progress
  • 24% – flexible work environments
  • 22% – elimination of the wage gap

Meanwhile, 62% of women believe that work-life conflicts are a major barrier, and 70% of women want satisfying work – but not at the expense of a paycheck sufficient to ‘enjoy life,’ according to 88%.

And with their whole working lives ahead of them, millennials are most ambitious, with 93% saying they want to advance at work and 55% aspiring to top leadership.

Jeff’s Banana Peel

The Amazon portrayed in the New York Times’ powerful and brave expose of workforce dysfunction surprised CEO Jeff Bezos.

“I don’t recognize this Amazon, and I very much hope you don’t either,” the perpetually smiling company founder wrote to employees, and essentially to the world.

Gee, big surprise. Jeff Bezos, insulated by layers of managers and isolated from weeping employees terrified of meetings and ruthless rankings, thinks the company culture is just great.

Of course he does. Because he’s looking in the mirror.

How could Jeff be so disconnected from the workplace realities?

It’s more than his misplaced faith in data over emotional intelligence.

He appears to buy in to a common fallacy: that creating a policy and announcing a program or procedure means that the workplace reality will magically align.

In other words, I say it and it happens.

That’s magical thinking.

From pay equity to work-life programs, what Jeff doesn’t get is what most CEO’s don’t get: if they don’t align managers’ incentives to the policy, it will won’t get done. ‘’

Here’s the dirty secret that undermines all those big plans issuing from the top: they all come with a tiny asterisk: “At the discretion of the employees’ supervisor.”

Big announcements of grand plans come to naught due to that asterisk. With fanfare and cake, corporate chieftains announce their pay equity programs, their new women’s initiatives, generous paid leave for new parents and other programs designed to win and keep more women.

When the cake is eaten and the confetti is swept up, those programs must be put into practice. Bosses throughout the company sit down to read the details and a good number of them realize that the new program directly contradicts their goals for productivity, profits or both. Then that manager pulls out her personal performance incentive contract and gives it a good read. She confirms what she suspected – that she’ll get a bonus for hitting that profit or productivity goal, but nothing if she gets with the shiny new program.

So you tell me: what’s going to win?

Right. She’ll call on that asterisk to inform her staff that the new program doesn’t align with their team’s goals (and her bonus).

That’s the banana peel. That is why big plans fail to become everyday reality.

And when those big plans dissipate in the face of contradictory incentives, employees become cynical, bitter, and distrustful. That’s why Jeff Bezos didn’t recognize the Amazon he thought he built as it was reflected in the New York Times’ powerful expose of the retailer’s culture. He thought that if he told everybody to have fun at work, they would. But if a line manager’s choice is your fun vs. their bonus, you’ll be working late so your boss can reap her quarterly incentive.

Please, Don’t Take The Plunge

American metaphors about entrepreneurship are pretty scary.

Take the plunge.

Go out on my own.

Freelance — that one’s actually medieval.

And, these metaphors mislead would-be entrepreneurs all the time. That’s because no one actually works for him or herself. If you have clients, you are running a business. You are not on your own. You work with and for them.

Entrepreneurship is not a one-way leap into the unknown — at least, not for successful entrepreneurs. One of the key indicators of success, according to the Kaufmann Foundation, which researches entrepreneurship, is carving out a niche in an industry that you already know — and that already knows you.

Soft-focus self-employment of the sort described in Photoshopped terms in glossy magazines is just as real as the models in the accompanying stock photos of business women (all in their suits, still, I see).  The real key to success is building on the insight, contacts, and experience you have in the industry where you are currently employed as a staffer.

But…how to lay out the stepping stones to transition from staff to entrepreneur? You can gain some direction for engineering this transition in my book, The Career Lattice.  But I found that people needed the strategies in the book translated to a recipe, as it were.

That recipe is presented in an in-depth workshop, “Building Your Career: Lattice From Staff to Freelance,” which will be held on Saturday, May 2, in New York at the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists & Authors. The same workshop will be held on June 10, 2015, at Interlochen, the arts college just south of Traverse City, MI.

Join us as we plot your transition from the cubicle farm to self-direction, flexible days, and career growth determined by the goals you set and the clients you win and keep. I look forward to meeting you!


MOVE Methodology Adopted Globally

By Joanne Cleaver

Do you love women?

Who doesn’t?

Every company loves women. Everyone’s all about women: recruiting them, retaining them, promoting them, helping them start companies, win investments, sponsoring them and helping them to learn and gain confidence.

Women are one of the biggest ongoing business news stories of the year.

And they continue being a story because, for all the confetti and marching bands, women still comprise a sliver of top leaders in nearly every industry.

Anything that translates the business case for advancing women to business results shows a new way forward. That’s why the certification for gender equality offered by EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) has been grabbing attention in the last few weeks. It’s a ‘seal of approval’ that verifies that an employer actually advances women into leadership. EDGE sounds new — but it isn’t.

The EDGE methodology is great. I’d know: I developed a virtually identical methodology in 1998 for Working Woman magazine.

Working Woman imploded in 2001, but the methodology lives on in the MOVE Project, an annual research effort that measures the proportion of women in various industries, such as public accounting. My firm, Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., designed and manages various MOVE Projects. Currently, MOVE and EDGE vary slightly in the execution of the methodology, but remain largely aligned in purpose and process.

Here’s the secret behind the methodology used by both MOVE and the EDGE Certification: It’s not about how many women you have.

It’s what you do with them.

If 31% of your employees are women, as Facebook recently reported, and 23% of your senior employees are women, you are not making the most of the female talent you already have. Women under-index in the top ranks.

The beauty of this methodology is that it equalizes across industry, professional category and geography.

This eliminates the apples-to-orange-to-pears comparisons that result in recommendations so generic that they are meaningless. Yes, mentors, sponsors and coaches can make a huge difference. But how and when that difference translates from good intentions to good results varies by industry, by workplace culture and by the size and growth stage of each employer.

EDGE is just getting going, but we have over a decade of MOVE results that prove that this methodology works.

For example, women comprise 19% of the management committee members for the 50 CPA firms that participated in the Accounting MOVE Project this year. Women comprised 23% of the management committee members for the 10 largest CPA firms that have participated in MOVE for each of the past four years. As well, those ten firms have consistently improved how they retain and advance women in their partner pipeline. Every year, they do a little better.

MOVE gives them context for continually reinvesting in the women they need to fuel firm growth. When firms start to have measurable increases in women at top levels, they have evidence that they are living their values. That’s something to talk about. Increasingly, MOVE firms, such as Seattle CPA firm Moss Adams, publicly release their diversity efforts and results. Job candidates, clients, and anyone else who cares can see how women fare at these firms.

That’s why the approach shared by MOVE and EDGE is emerging as the standard for catalyzing genuine advances for women. It’s all about transparency and accountability. Don’t just say you love women. Prove it.

Training Wheels

Does training make employees more likely to leave?

That’s one of the persistent arguments against training: as counterintuitive as it seems, some employers take the position that ignorance is a workforce retention strategy.
A new study both supports and refutes that.

As reported recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology, training increases loyalty to the employer when it is tied to job performance and ongoing career development and advancement. In other words, the training needs to equip and commission employees for current and upcoming responsibilities: it needs to have a point. If employees actually use what they have learned and can see how it helps them achieve their next career goals…they’ll stick around so that their ambitions can play out.

Confident, convincing communication skills should be a core criteria for rising leaders. These skills help them cultivate their personal brands…and equip them to represent the organization on industry panels as they ease into expert and spokesperson roles.  Communication skills need to be woven into each cycle of executive training and coaching so that employees are more adept at crafting and delivering messages as they have more mission-critical messages to deliver.