So, Where Are Your Female Executives?

One of my most memorable moments as a media trainer occurred six years ago when I worked with a large organization’s top leadership team.

I noticed that all six of the trainees were men, so I decided to set the top executive up for the kill by asking a series of ostensibly easy questions intended to put him at ease. The questions included:

“Can you tell me about your organization’s commitment to diversity?”
“Why is that important to you?”
“What does a commitment to diversity mean to you personally?”

Men in Boardroom
As you might imagine, the executive professed his deep commitment to diversity. Then came my killer question:

“As I look around this room, I notice that all six of your senior executives are men. Can you tell me again about your commitment to diversity?”

The executive was stunned. He mustered a few lines about the difficulty of recruiting people and the organization’s deep bench of women at the mid-management level, but he knew there wasn’t much he could say.

When I turned the camera off, I told him that sometimes, the only “right” answer was to concede the obvious point by saying something such as:

“You’re absolutely right. We’ve done a good job of promoting women to the mid-management level, but we haven’t done nearly enough to get women to the senior management ranks. That’s something we know we have to do better at. And if you check in with me one month from today, I’ll be able to tell you more about our plan to make that happen.”

The great news? I worked with this organization again last year—and they had diversified their senior leadership ranks.

That story is one of the most satisfying of my career. Sometimes, media training exposes critical gaps in an organization—and when smart people like the ones at this organization pay attention to them, they can make critically needed improvements before the media have a chance to strike.

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