Making Women's Leadership Contagious

I just finished Jonah Berger’s book, Contagious, Why Things Catch On.  The book offers an overview of how and why things are shared virally, both in-person and online.  Berger suggests a recipe of how to make a product, issue, or even political candidate gain real interest and argues that key components compel an individual to share a product or idea with his or her friends.

Throughout the book I was thinking about my work promoting women’s leadership.  In my estimation, few people seem concerned about the advancement of women’s leadership compared with other issues.  So what would make the concept of improving women’s leadership catch on in a spectacular way?

I decided to look at Berger’s suggested formula and see how these ideas are already taking shape to promote women leaders.  Berger suggests an acronym, STEPPS, each letter representing a vital element to make a viral movement take shape.

 Social Currency  - People share things that make them look good. 
One tactic trending on social media is the #HeforShe campaign. The campaign shares stories from men who have awakened in their notion to support the advancement of women.  Men talk about how having a daughter has changed their views; others share their long time care for women’s rights.  Each sees women’s empowerment as a personal responsibility and, at the same time, their responses make them look good.

Triggers An idea or product needs to relate to something that is already familiar or comes up frequently.
Anniversaries can be great triggers, reminding us annually of a milestone or event.  This past week, Women’s Equality Day marked the 95th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States.   This trigger in the calendar brought about a vast conversation about where women stand in United States and globally.  This trigger date is a powerful connection to spur the conversation.

Emotion Using an emotional cue compels people to share.
One example that has taken off in recent years is an emergence of girl power.  Companies are using girl power to cater to women consumers, filmmakers are using it to tell the stories of women who have received few accolades for their accomplishments, journalists are conveying the surge of women’s influence as we discuss the 2016 presidential election.  The emotion around girl power is working to draw interest.

Public – Products or ideas portrayed publicly gain traction
A number of companies are publicly talking about the importance of hiring more women.  It makes them look good, but also promotes (in a visible way) where they are spending their energy and conveys their values.   I see this tactic as a major win-win to educate the general public and to improve the company.

Practical Value  - People share information that is useful. 
From Ernst in Young, to Credit Suisse, to Goldman Sachs, to major universities, research developed by these companies and institutions shows that more women in leadership roles within companies is making companies more money.  This practical information is not only useful, but also significant in showing that the inclusion of women is helping companies to thrive.

Stories Information travels through stories.
Journalists are doing a great service of re-telling personal stories of women leaders and even regular women who have succeeded. These stories highlight women role models.  From a recent National Journal article about the women staffers on the Clinton campaign, to an ELLE magazine article sharing tips from businesswomen, these stories are transforming the public discourse and showing women how to lead.

So how do we help women’s leadership catch on?  Let’s continue to take a page out of Berger’s playbook and also remember to share our convictions each day in our lives.  With a little awareness building and hard work, we can each make the concept of women’s leadership contagious.

Jessica GroundsComment