I’ve watched with fascination the recent explosion of media related to women in leadership, gender diversity, and the business case for gender-balanced leadership. I’ve pored over dozens of statistical reports on the trends and barriers for women in workforces all over the globe, and read countless stories of courageous women who have stepped up to their own visions, stood up for change in their culture, or said “No” to others’ predestined plans for them in order to pursue what they really want.
Clearly, things are changing. In spite of the stats and the reports that tell us change is happening ever so slowly—the numbers of women represented in senior leadership in corporations and governments around the world remains embarrassingly low—something is changing. There is movement, perhaps even momentum building that feels different.
I recently watched an inspiring TED Talk by Hannah Brencher. Hannah believes in old-fashioned letter-writing, and has started a global initiative that encourages strangers to exchange love letters. In October 2010, she began writing random love letters intended for strangers and tucking them away in libraries and cafes across New York City for people to discover. She made an ambitious offer on her blog HannahKaty.com to write a letter to anyone who needed one. Over the next year, she mailed out more than 400 hand-written letters. Today she runs “The World Needs More Love Letters”, a letter exchange dedicated to connecting strangers across the globe through the art of letter writing. You can watch her TED Talk here.
Change happens when there is need for change. Hannah—herself in need of change at the time—figured out quickly how to get one ball rolling for change. She started with her own experience and shared it, and soon discovered others who shared her love for hand-penned letters and needed a change of their own.
Momentum, simply defined, is “The impetus gained by a moving object.” The easiest way to increase momentum is to find things that are already moving and build on them. When we resonate with the experiences of others, we often feel a need to contribute and share. Women describe their experience at Chocolate Villa as “transformational” and “game changing”; they report that they go home feeling different, carrying “the magic” of their experience and sharing their new perspectives with their families, friends, and colleagues. This is the kind of start we need for change. Just like Hannah, sharing our own experiences can have a surprising exponential effect.
But I recently learned there is more to it than just talking. I was approached one day by a sharp, talented executive woman whom I’ve known and worked with for some time. I was facilitating an offsite meeting for their leadership team, and she walked up to me on the break and asked, “What do I need to do to get to Chocolate Villa?”
I stepped back in shock, realizing I had never talked with her about Chocolate Villa, nor considered that she might be interested in attending. (Now you have to understand here that some people think that Chocolate Villa is all I talk about, everywhere I go, because I am so deeply passionate about our work with women leaders.) She said, “I heard from a professional woman in my network that I should go to Chocolate Villa so I can decide what to do about moving up in this company. And then she sent me your contact information!”
We both laughed heartily together, but I was a little embarrassed knowing I had missed something she needed by not talking about Chocolate Villa with her before. As I shared the details, she became more excited and asked for directions on how to sign up.
Building awareness by sharing our experience with each other is the only way we’ll see real transformation in the culture for women in leadership. If you experienced an increase in clarity and a surge of energy for your “next” during your Chocolate Villa, share it with someone who wants that change for herself, too. Maybe you, like Hannah, will be surprised by the response.