Over my career, I’ve watched as the yearning for leadership has grown within the female ranks around the globe. But being a woman in leadership hasn’t been and still isn’t available to all qualified women who work hard and would make excellent leaders. The glass ceilings are starting to break away, but some cultures still have a long way to go before we see equal numbers of men and women in positions of authority.
I hope you will indulge me a true story to help get my point across.
Back in the mid-1990s, our company was chosen by a local university to teach instructional design techniques to a Turkish Educational Department’s male executives and female educators. Yep, only the guys were the bosses – which is exactly how it was back at their jobs. Hmmm, you might say…
What a great gig! (We thought!!) Here’s what happened:
Monday: We transformed our largest instructional design room, affectionately referred to as The PIT, into a training delivery room. Don’t laugh, our employees were and still are today into self-expression and fun, so they named their own departments. Thus, we had two ID departments: The PIT (Process Improvement Team) and The SPIT (Second Process Improvement Team).
Tuesday: Set up and rehearsed for what each employee would share with our foreign visitors.
Wednesday Morning: Introductions and a tour of our building to see how we created training. Each area had a spokesperson who shared how we created training for our own company and customers. Our guests got a quick preview of how we Process Mapped, Documented, Developed Graphics and Created Online Reference Systems, Printed Materials, etc.
Wednesday Lunch Break: The women sat on one side of the lunchroom and the men the other. The women had so many personal questions for us that it was hard to get a word in about creating school curriculum. They wanted to know how a woman could possibly own property or own her own company. They wanted encouragement that if they worked hard, they too would be Educational Leaders one day.
What an eye-opening experience for us American gals to see firsthand how living in America gave us privileges not known to all women! Some of us, men and women, made personal commitments to help women achieve their goals in any way we could.
Wednesday – Friday: The goal for 2 ½ days was to provide these educators with the skills to go back to Turkey and revise their country’s curriculum to boost their students’ basic skills. It was a big order, but we thought we were up to the task. That is, until I couldn’t get the men in the audience to look at me when I was teaching. Nor would they answer my questions publicly. They only commented to themselves – only sometimes in English… Luckily, the women in the audience were thoroughly engaged and were happy to offer insights. They couldn’t get enough of the information and asked for additional references and books to take home with them.
As a trainer, I thought I was prepared for most any audience. This one had me on my toes – not to mention that I had to suck it up as a woman and not take it personally that men of some cultures simply don’t look women in the eye. No matter how good my “song and dance,” I simply wasn’t going to get the same response I normally receive when teaching American execs. The final blow to my instructional design ego: The men didn’t even keep their personal copies of the materials we worked so hard to produce for them.
Not a fairy-tale goodbye, but a good ending:
While at first we thought the tour and training were beneficial, at least for the women, we were BLOWN AWAY by the positive evaluations we received about a week after the training. Would you believe it, the senior leader of the group told the university representative (a man) how much EVERYONE enjoyed their days with us and how much they learned. They couldn’t wait to get more materials to take back to Turkey for the rest of their Educational Department.
While I haven’t had the privilege of seeing these Turkish educators again, I feel certain that their time in the US was valuable. Based on what the women told me, they intended to go back to their country and do whatever it would take to be promoted to leadership positions. I bet some of them are leaders today!
If you have the opportunity to share your leadership knowledge with women living in second- and third-world countries, you’ll be blessed by the opportunity. You will definitely learn as much as your students.
As a proponent of Transparent Leadership, I’ll like to end with this thought: Transparent leadership takes the courage to openly admit mistakes, the self-esteem to allow others more capable to lead, and the fortitude to pursue your goals while enhancing the goals of others.
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