Turning courageous conversation into courageous action: how women’s networks can turn discourse into deed

In a fast-changing world, courageous conversations at work are good for business: 80 per cent of workers say inclusion is important when choosing an employer, and 39 per cent of workers have indicated that they would leave their current organisation for a more inclusive one. [1]

Initiating conversations to discuss difficult and uncomfortable realities, such as the inequity of women’s health and wellbeing, the gender pay gap, or the lack of women in leadership positions, allow businesses to tackle inequity and exclusion internally and in wider society. But as John Doerr notes in his book Measure What Matters, ‘Ideas are easy. Execution is everything’. Talking and understanding are just one part of the picture, and ultimately conversations are only courageous if they lead to actions that can drive real change. These outcomes may be a behaviour change, an action, a policy or a change in attitude- but they all start with tangible, intentional activity. We look at five powerful ways to practically move the needle and ensure that conversation becomes true transformation… 

Make the conversation an inclusive one

Employee engagement is a foundation of positive workplace outcomes, and with 59 per cent of people currently ‘quiet quitting’ according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 report, including everyone, not just a select few, is a key factor in retention and performance. Turning discussion into meaningful action means asking employees what their challenges are and what they actually need, giving real insight into what would make their life easier. For example, is more flexibility required when women return to work from maternity leave? Or would a more structured approach to the transition be the most supportive policy? Only by asking the question can you understand different perspectives and mitigate bias and non-inclusive behaviours to get illuminating and sometimes surprising answers as to what positive change looks like for a diverse workforce. 

Take action: 

  • Utilise all platforms–from Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to one-to-ones, social events and anonymous surveys to ask and listen to the most prevailing needs and wants in the workplace. 
  • Make sure you’re asking the right questions to get the most useful answers. A ‘Do you feel you’re supported enough in X?’ will not yield as much information as ‘What one change would have the biggest positive impact on you in this area?’ 

Decide the strategy plan

A strategy plan is essential to know your priorities and how you will move them forward. Have a series of easy wins, mid-range and longer-term goals that may require bigger change and buy-in from stakeholders, and be clear on how they can build on each other to create momentum. Importantly, put deadlines on actions whatever their size- a goal without a deadline is just a dream, as the saying goes. Research by Tel Aviv university into the psychological effects of deadlines showed that their presence builds intrinsic motivation. [2] Constant feedback on how much further you have to go means that as less of the task remains to be done, each unit of effort is perceived as more effective in closing the gap- something that can help amplify efforts individually and in D&I initiatives through the company. 

Take action:  

  • When setting goals and timelines, constantly communicate the ‘why’ to stakeholders to make action meaningful and compelling.  
  • Determine early on if additional resources are needed, engaging senior stakeholders to take ownership of certain initiatives or to provide a budget.  

Gathering the right data

Data is essential to know what good looks like—don’t leave this part of the equation purely to perceptions. Once you have had your courageous conversation, look at the data you have for the issue, use analysis for insight, and help decide the most impactful steps you can now take as a team. A recent BARC survey showed that organisations benefit from being more data-driven, with 69 per cent saying they were making better strategic decisions as a result. [3] Similaraly, the Harvard Business Review reported that organisations that collect in-depth workplace demographic data around hiring, retention, representation and advancement are better positioned to craft inclusive cultures. [4]

Take action… 

  • Use data to help you to create KPIs around specific issues for individual and group behaviours to act as a powerful framework that supports structural change.  
  • Make sure you are also constantly gathering data and feeding it back into the system to create a state of continuous learning. 

How will you measure success?

Strategic success requires measurable goals. Only by knowing what your target is do you stand a chance of hitting it. This can feel easier if you have a goal that has a clear timeline for a result, such as creating a dedicated breastfeeding room for new mothers or changing health assessments to include gender-specific tests. For something like closing the gender pay gap, where several complex factors need to be considered over time, realistic (but ambitious) incremental goals can measure progress toward that goal and judge the likelihood of hitting pay parity in your organisation by a certain date. And if you’re looking at something like supercharging female confidence, then those metrics can be harder still to quantify. A study by Encompass Quality found nearly 80 per cent of women say they regularly lack confidence at work, but how does that actually break down? [5] A useful way to start might be to define some tangible confidence markers—perhaps raising the number of female mentors by 20% in one year, that can be used and measured to help lilypad to a larger behavioural and attitude change in culture.  

Take action… 

  • Make sure your goals for change have clearly measurable outcomes and deadlines or timelines for incremental progress. 
  • Use the feedback from your progress in hitting these metrics to understand whether you need to recalibrate initiatives, either through content, action points or timelines. 

Keep yourself accountable

Metrics are also a crucial way of keeping yourself accountable, but they need to be matched with active leadership and ownership around issues to ensure change is driven forward and doesn’t get lost in BAU. Again, deadlines and milestones are essential, but make sure you also clearly know who is leading change in different areas and who is responsible for heading up the delivery of initiatives. Change is a continuous cycle of iteration, so keep the learning process in action to embed it in the business culture, and continually look to build on your understanding of issues in each area. 

Take action…

  • Transparency around goals and progress creates a culture of trust and greater engagement, so provide regular and visible feedback on your initiatives. 
  • Shout out loud about your successes, both internally and externally. The more companies make their active, positive change visible, the more it becomes imperative for others to follow suit.   


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