“You have to understand the rules in order to change the game.” Diversity – Part 2

Marc-David Rompf23. March 2019

In the second part of the interview with the organization and change experts Dorothea Derakhchan and Christine Solf, we discuss the implicit rules and power structures, cross-gender linguistic skills and the success of the development and change program called “iLead. Make it your Game” at Accenture.

Marc-David Rompf: What has to happen to change these patterns? So that more women enter management and learn to take pleasure in enjoying success and exerting influence? And who’s responsible?

DD: Anyone seeking to break down well-established patterns closely entwined with cultural, economic and social structures will quickly come up against barriers. A more promising approach is to change the patterns from inside by raising the awareness of participants. That can’t be done overnight. It cannot be achieved by defining unilateral responsibilities either.

Firstly, women must take responsibility for making brave decisions that also entail risk. In order to bring about change, you have to question your own stereotypes, principles and fears, to scrutinize yourself properly and to know what you are capable of and where your limitations lie. You have to know exactly what you want, and indeed don’t want. That takes honest self-analysis. What difference do I want to make? What are my values and what could my authentic path look like? On this basis, you should then be able to develop an appealing vision of your own career success – a career goal. After all, a journey requires a clear objective and direction. It may be useful to look for role models who you can emulate. Effectively used networks and mentoring programs can also be useful.

CS: Tasks which women are typically reluctant to undertake also need to be tackled: pro-actively creating their own strong brand, working on their own presence, looking for platforms on which to raise their profile and focusing on prestigious tasks. It’s a question of concentrating on creating benefits, making an impact and showing leadership. That’s more important than wanting to please and seeking perfection. Above all, you simply have to act and not hang around waiting to be woken up by a kiss like Sleeping Beauty.

Women nevertheless need organized support to achieve all of this. Otherwise they’ll soon end up fighting a losing battle?

CS: Yes, of course – the development of female management identities and careers requires interaction with the organization and its key decision-makers. Everyone – men and women – has to rise to the challenge. Bringing about cultural changes calls for a long-term approach and a great deal of commitment. It starts off with questioning yourself: Is my outlook and mindset in line with the current reality? What is holding back change and how am I hampering it, albeit subconsciously? Does my way of thinking foster creative and open cooperation that’s geared towards innovation? How well do I tolerate differences and diversity? Do I perceive it as a form of enrichment or as a threat? Am I willing to meet people on equal terms?

DD: This also concerns the systemic level. In this respect, the top management has to decide whether it’s willing to leave the comfort zone of an established structure and to deal with the uncertainty that this creates and any possible initial irritations.

This decision can only really be sustainable if it – firstly – provides a clear answer to the question of “Why are we doing this? Why do we want to appoint more women to management positions?” Then – secondly – this decision has to be implemented by top management which must act as a role model here. Thirdly, this deliberate change in thinking and behavior must then be supported by well thought-out and credible communication at all levels and between the levels. But also through greater transparency and flexibility as far as career paths are concerned, through systematic mentoring programs and by showing greater courage and imagination in the creation of roles, working and part-time models.

In the first part of our interview, you mentioned naivety in dealing with gender diversity – and indeed in terms of women and men. How important is it to avoid being naive in the process you describe?

CS: It’s vitally important. As part of our programs we try to pro-actively address this and to scrutinize things that we take for granted and then attempt to come up with and implement effective solutions. This isn’t about trying to turn the world upside down – with all the will in the world you can’t simply change the rules of an established game overnight. Initially, we’re seeking to help women to successfully participate in this game. That’s why our current program at Accenture, for which we recruited Dorothea as a coach, is called “iLead. Make it your game.” And that’s why we selected a diverse coaching duo for this program. We wanted different professional perspectives and career experience of the world reflecting both male and female viewpoints.

What’s this program like?

DD: The program supports the participating women and their sponsors from the top management for a nine-month period on their individual development paths. As coaches we address four main areas: We start off by defining key success factors and discussing ideas and concepts that were never scrutinized in the previous culture. We consider, for example, what ‘success’ means to us? Is there a specific female definition of success? What does individual and collective high performance mean? How do we approach growth? What structural issues, attitudes and unfavorable patterns of behavior prevent women from assuming management roles?

In the next step, we look at the relationship between individuals and organizations. But also at the self-perception of the individual in the context of the organization: What do I stand for? What does my “brand” look like? Where and how will I make a difference? What do my future scenario and roadmap look like? What about my ability to manage and look after myself? How can I create a ‘platform’ for my success? Who could act as a role model for me? These are obviously just a few aspects from this very comprehensive self-analysis and self-reflection process.

That’s the individual level. But there’s bound to be a systemic one as well?

CS: Yes, that’s right. It’s important to also look at the structure in which women wish to pursue their career path. You need to understand how power works, how and where it is amassed and how it can be used. You have to understand the rules of the game. It’s anything but trivial as most of them are unwritten and the players – both male and female – are often not actively aware of them. We make these implicit rules explicit. Women have to understand the values, attitudes and rituals shaped by men, the body language and approach to conflict and to develop a set of “inter-cultural skills”. That doesn’t mean imitating male behavior, but rather communicating in a targeted and coherent way, extending their own range of abilities to perform successfully and effectively on this playing field.

The fourth lever is particularly effective: this concerns profile, networking and mutual support: we encourage women to develop a stronger presence in the relevant internal and external networks, to raise their profile as a role model, to bring more talented women to the company, to mutually support one another and to clearly address what support is required from the organization.

How do male managers act when taking part in this kind of program?

DD: First of all, these programs cannot be closed, women-only events. We often find that male and female managers – in many cases representatives of the top management who are involved as sponsors or mentors – reflect upon themselves intensively. Almost everyone finds it enriching and liberating when entrenched thought patterns are broken down and alternative approaches emerge. Everyone knows the world is changing rapidly and that this change necessitates cultural and strategic transformation at corporate level. The difficulty lies in identifying what aspects of the way in which you think and act require change and then tackling this systematically. Ultimately, successful and sustainable organizational change always begins with the people who work for an organization.

CS: From my experience with “iLead” and in working with other companies, this change is often easier with the help of smart insight and resolute support from outside.


Dorothea Derakhchan is a trusted advisor for management executives and works as a corporate consultant. She is the founder and owner of Almadera Consulting, a boutique company specialized in coaching, consulting and training, and an associate partner of the personnel and organizational consultancy dla.

Prior to the foundation of Almadera, the economist spent many years working in various management positions at an international DAX-30 company. She possesses extensive expertise in the fields of developing teams, future scenarios and guiding principles, offers purpose workshops and provides training on trusted advisory and mindful leadership. In her role a as an executive coach, she supports her clients to deploy untapped potential in individual transformation processes. In her group coaching programs for female managers, she supports women in developing a strong female leadership identity.

Dr. Christine Solf creates unconventional development programs for talent and executives. As a senior manager of the dgroup, which is part of the corporate consultancy Accenture, she supports digital transformations focusing on organizational development and the introduction of new working and management methods.

The sociology doctorate holder specializing in system theories applies this focus in her consultancy work in a sustainable manner. She refers to her approach as #nag&nurture: analyzing situations with an unobstructed view and looking at where change would be beneficial in order to then support it resolutely. Diverse, complementary teams and the development of female managers are a key issue in ensuring that more untapped potential can be deployed and that the profile of role models and best practices is raised to encourage other people to venture something new.