Many times when working with organizations on strategies to increase gender diversity in the leadership ranks the leaders will say ” lets just get all the women together and ask them what they want”. While this is noble and certainly talking with the women in the organization to understand how they experience the culture is critical it is not “the answer” . One of the most serious issues women face when attempting to advance in male dominated cultures is lack of access. Lack of access to senior leadership, opportunities, information, and organizational knowledge. As a result of this lack of access women “dont know what they dont know”. This also is a driving force in the phenomenon of women rejecting efforts to start any type of program or initiative aimed at advancing women. It is common to hear some of the women who may have be closest to breaking through to levels where women have not been represented say that they are not role models and do not want anything to do with any programs related to women or women’s advancement. This also represents the fact that women “dont know what they dont know”. Best practice programs aimed at helping women to advance are all about business and all about evening a playing field that is not providing equal career development opportunities for all. The uneven field is not something most people can see without awareness raising activity. The women in the organization are in fact often the individuals who most cannot see what is happening and “what you dont know can hurt you”. There are a long list of things that an individual needs to know about an organization in order to increase their value proposition to that organization. The most common method of learning these key lessons is access. Access to senior leaders, opportunities, experiences, assignments, and organizational learning. Without this information our careers are like a journey we take without a map. Most of our male counterparts more naturally gain this very important access due to ease of networking that very naturally takes place between people who identify with each other. Therefore our male counterparts have a map which is a very real and tangible advantage. We may think the road to our destination is straightforward and with steady hard work we will arrive. Little do we know that there are side trips and short cuts we need to know about that we cannot see without access to organizational knowledge. When we hear the lament of male leadership teams ” we would hire women if only we could find any qualified to do the job” they are not always making excuses. Because women are very often taking a less than focused journey without a map- they may not be as qualified as their male counterparts because they have not had the assignments and experiences that they need to be prepared to be the best candidate for a job. In addition, research has shown us that women are very often evaluated on experience while males are evaluated on potential which multiplies this problem dramatically. SO what is the answer to this very significant dilemma? Learn how to build access. Stay tuned for my next posting on this very topic!!