How to eat an elephant?

May 30, 2013 | comments

How to eat an elephant?

In building or presenting the business case for gender diversity in your organisation, you can often be hit early on by difficulties in getting support for starting a big conversation that not everyone wants to hear. Accompanying our most recent insight guide on building the business case, this next guest blog from Harriet Beveridge looks at a useful method of getting controversial areas on the table; finding a hot topic and using it as a Trojan horse.

Regardless of how convincing your data might be, if you’re faced head on with comments such as “current business focus is cost cutting”, “this is a luxury”, or “it’s unfair positive discrimination”, it can be difficult to get past this. At this point, it’s useful to step back and think about a topic that might ‘open the doors’ to your difficult stakeholders. Ideally, it would be something where the benefits are tailored to their specific needs e.g. presenting tackling gender diversity as a way of cutting costs through reducing grievance or attrition costs.

Doing this also means the more focussed you are about the topic, the easier it is to engage people – like the playground joke: ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ answer ‘one spoonful at a time’. Otherwise gender diversity can seem too big and fluffy for some to get hold of - or it’s a topic so huge that a 45 minute scheduled chat about it at a leadership meeting gets derailed into so many different areas that no progress is achieved. 

Focusing on one smaller area also means it’s easier to get people to come along to your chosen intervention(s). We have worked with a number of clients, for example, who have used flexible working as a Trojan horse:

 - It’s gender neutral, avoids accusations of bias, even though the actual numbers of applicants were largely female and our research shows flex is key enabler to female progression.

 - It’s a painful topic for managers – often scared, confused and annoyed about the legislation/process/time consumed/difficult conversations involved with flexible working requests. Helping them with this removes their pain.

 - It’s a classic Trojan horse in that once people are in the room it can open up thinking about related topics – e.g. experiences of people returning from mat leave, speed of progression timetable, flexible career paths…

Another example topic is maternity, it’s an area where you’re helping mangers with a specific, live issue, but the underlying themes also help with gender diversity. A caveat to all this is obviously to link in to the bigger picture, but whether that is up front or as something subsequent once you’ve gained success with the Trojan horse topic is up to you!


Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent