Gender balance in leadership has been a hot topic. I came across this allegory recently, and found it to offer a refreshingly different point of view on the challenges we face in changing structure and challenging cultural norms. I wanted to share it with all of you:
The Giraffe and the Elephant
In a small suburban community just outside the city of Calabra, a giraffe had a new home built to his family’s specifications. It was a wonderful house for giraffes, with soaring ceilings and tall doorways. High windows ensured maximum light and good views while protecting the family’s privacy. Narrow hallways saved valuable space without compromising convenience. So well done was the house that it won the National Giraffe Home of the Year Award. The home’s owners were understandably proud.
One day the giraffe, working in his state-of-the-art wood shop in the basement, happened to look out the window. An elephant was coming down the street. “I know him,” he thought. “We worked together on a wood project. He is an excellent woodworker too. I think I will ask him to see my new shop. Maybe we can even work together on some projects.”
So the giraffe reached his head out of the window and invited the elephant in. The elephant was delighted. He walked up to the basement door and waited for it to open. “Come in, come in,” the giraffe said. But immediately they encountered a problem. While the elephant could get his head in the door, he could go no farther.
“It is a good thing we made this door expandable to accommodate my wood shop equipment,” the giraffe said. “Give me a minute while I take care of our problem.”
He removed some panels to allow the elephants in. The two were happily exchanging woodworking stories when the giraffe received a telephone call from his boss. The giraffe told the elephant, “Please make yourself at home; this may take a while.”
The elephant looked around, saw a half finished project on the table in the far corner, and decided to explore it further. As he moved through the doorway that led to that area of the shop, however, he heard an ominous scrunch. He backed out, scratching his head. “Maybe I’ll join the giraffe upstairs,” he thought.
But as he started to climb up the stairs, they began to crack. He jumped off and fell back against the wall. It too began to crumble. As he sat there dismayed, the giraffe came down the stairs.
“What on earth is happening here?” the giraffe asked in amazement.
“I was trying to make myself at home,” the elephant said.
The giraffe looked around. “Okay, I see the problem. The doorway is too narrow. We will have to make you smaller. There’s an aerobics studio near here. If you would take some classes there, we could get you down to size.”
“Maybe,” the elephant said, looking unconvinced.
“And the stairs are too weak to carry your weight,” the giraffe continued. If you’d go to ballet class at night, I’m sure we could get you light on your feet. I really hope you will do it. I like having you here.”
“Perhaps,” the elephant said. “But to tell you the truth, I’m not sure that a house designed for a giraffe will ever really work for an elephant, not unless there are some major changes.”