For Women's History Month, YML is shining a light on the powerlessness far too many women feel, and how to be proactive about changing the status quo to drive impact.

by Marcela Lay | March 16, 2020

I was recently at a Together Digital meetup —a networking event where women help women succeed in digital - and in life — where a colleague shared something powerful and unfortunately disheartening with me:

“I feel about changing the status quo, the same way I feel about global warming – overwhelmed. I don’t even know where to start.” 

It was not the first time I heard this powerlessness sentiment when a gender equality topic has been brought up. So, it got me thinking about the state of women today, how our company perceives of and hires women in tech, and about where all of this fits in Women's History Month in 2020. 

What has created this analysis paralysis? 

On the one hand, we bring awareness to gender inequality issues through stats that, well, let’s face it, are overwhelming. 

I have used many of those data points during presentations to our staff and in public events alike, and I found it critical to create a sense of urgency. So, to be blunt — there's nothing we can do in the immediate that will change the fact that this issue is overwhelming, massive and institutionally bound to the culture we live in.

On the other hand, we read articles like the one published in December by Forbes, “The World’s Most Powerful Women: Newcomers To The 2019 List” that puts the spotlight on powerful women who are using their power to create change.  Or we participate in women marches that make us believe a massive movement is required to influence change.

Image result for women's march 2019

While the efforts from powerful women and women's movements have been necessary and the catalyst to influence change today, there is very little visibility into the small improvements that regular women are leading today. And if we don't have visibility into those more modest efforts done by regular women out there to drive impact, then that feeling of being overwhelmed and stuck will only persist.

Under our current climate, and when it feels like the world is finally listening, we can’t afford feeling powerlessness. If a window for change has finally opened, then it's our responsibility to take action. We owe it to ourselves, to our friends, to our daughters, and the generations behind us. We all have the opportunity to become agents of change today. If not today, then when?

So, what do we do?

We can start by bringing attention to our day-to-day and by embracing a steady disruptor mindset in our organizations.

Step 1: Identify the issue and label it.

In order to become a steady disruptor, first, we must become hyper-aware of the issues around us. And I know what you might be thinking, "We are already aware."

Yes, to a certain degree. 

But remember that for centuries, women have been trained to dismiss or justify the warning signs. A constant example I've encountered involves blaming ourselves for our co-workers’ inappropriate behaviors – maybe I smiled too much?

Becoming a Steady Disruptor requires an awakening.

Only then will we be able to recognize the warning signs at our organizations. As we start paying attention to that tension inside of us when something is not the way it is supposed to be, we will allow ourselves to admit the tangible problems of equality our team or organizations are facing. Once you identify a particular issue, go ahead and label it (harassment, bro-culture, mansplaining, etc.)  because unless you can accurately identify the problem, you won't be able to identify a potential solution. 

Image result for bro culture
Source: MindTools

For instance, our tech industry is dominated by men (80%), but at YML Atlanta, we ended 2019 with 57% women. How did we achieve this result? By identifying the right issue.

The issue I came across took place during hiring periods.  Our recruiting team would share a wide variety of candidates' resumes, but they were resumes of mostly men. So, I asked, where are the resumes of women? And they would answer, women didn't apply. 

The label I gave to this issue was: "Unbalanced pool of candidates." Then I moved to step #2.

Step 2: Assess opportunities for small and impactful change

Now, because of the countless years women have been socialized to dismiss the tension inside of us, as we try to identify opportunities for change, we will find many reasons that will stop us from doing anything about it. But now that you are not ignoring the tension anymore, fight those mental blocks.  

Here are some example of mental block:

  • Am I qualified to help? — This is the self-doubt mental block. 
  • I'm not sure if I have the right answer. — The uncertainty mental block.
  • What if I fail? — The indecision mental block.
Image result for small and incremental change

Get rid of those mental blocks, whatever those might be. That takes practice, and intentionality. But once you overcome them, you will allow yourself to move into a more creative space where anything could be possible.  It is at this stage that you will start asking yourself a different series of questions: 

  • How can I make this situation better?
  • How can I create an opportunity for change?
  • Who can I invite to help? What role could I play?
  • What type of small improvements could we implement?

The key here is to consider small improvements. Remember — we are not trying to boil the ocean.

Small and incremental improvements are the key to steady disruption. 

On our ‘unbalanced pool of candidates” issue example, I assessed three opportunities for small and impactful change:

  1. Educate our recruiting team on the fact that women only apply to jobs when they match 100% of requirements and that men often apply to jobs when they believe they match about 60% of those requirements. 
  2. Proactively reach out to female candidates to balance the candidate pool.  
  3. I needed to work on a women's empowerment initiative at YML to ensure our women developed a strong sense of confidence.

Step 3: Commitment to translate the opportunity into action

Once you have one small opportunity for change, all that is left is to commit to translating that opportunity into action. This is a critical step to ensure change. Unless we act on our ideas, the attention is not going to translate into meaningful results. 

Here is how I translated into action the three opportunities I assessed in step 2:

  1. I added to our ATL leadership scorecard a metric to ensure our team was requesting and only interviewing a balanced pool of candidates.
  2. I know our Atlanta talent better than my California recruiting team, so I needed to lean into a recruitment role.  I vetted local talent by reaching out on LinkedIn to potential female candidates and inviting them to connect over coffee. 
  3. I spearheaded our Women Initiative (WIN) at YML. Every month, we present content related to personal development, career development, and women empowerment across our US offices.

The first two small actions resulted in a more balanced pool of candidates and how we were able to reach 57% women by the end of 2019. While our efforts ensure more women participate in the interview cycles, we only hired the best candidate for the role regardless of gender.

Yes, small changes can have significant impact at your organization.

Women are poised today with the most power we've ever had to initiate change. The question is, what are you going to do with this power? 

Pay attention to the tension and translate that insight into action.  It is the ripple effects of our combined small actions that will redefine the status quo for this and the next generations. 


About the Author

Marcela Lay is the co-head of YML's Atlanta office, and she shoulders leadership roles across account management, strategy, and people operations. As a strategic customer experience executive with over 18 years of experience, Marcela has worked with Fortune 500 clients like Lowe’s, Delta Air Lines, The Coca-Cola Company, State Farm, and Fresenius Medical Care. Marcela’s experience allows her to bring a holistic understanding of all aspects of digital, including marketing strategy, experience design, and platform development. Throughout her career as a trusted advisor to her clients, combined with a solid background in customer experience strategy and process optimization, Marcela has led cross-disciplinary teams to deliver a range of transformational customer experience solutions.