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Tool 6.

Agile leadership: Culture of innovation with a gender perspective

This tool proposes a series of guides to create an inclusive innovation culture in your company, which fosters the empowerment of women, around the concept of diversity of thought and psychological safety, framed from the agile perspective.


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Tool 6.
Agile leadership: Culture of innovation with a gender perspective

Tool benefits

  • Build a culture of innovation that promotes gender equality, forming diverse and inclusive teams, and structuring work dynamics that facilitate the participation of women and make their voice visible.
  • Improve the work environment, increase the level of motivation and capacity for accountability of the teams. Mainly motivating women to share their ideas, contribute their points of view and take calculated risks to contribute to the company’s innovation processes.
  • Innovation processes are not only made up of technologies and capital investment. The capacity for leadership-digital-, the diversity of thinking in the teams, added to the appropriate frameworks to do so, are also essential. In this way we strengthen the ability of entrepreneurs not only to adapt to the present, but also to be proactive towards the future of their companies.
  • By reducing risk in the design of new products, improving the capacity for agility and adaptation. Entrepreneurs will be equipped with a tool that will increase their possibilities to be more competitive in the market and thereby improve their financial performance, probabilities of obtaining financing, while attracting, selecting and retaining talent.
  • From the consumer side, the benefit will be to obtain and make use of products / services that are better suited to their needs.

What do I need to put this tool into practice?

  • Have innovation projects in your company. Some examples are: developing new products, making improvements to current products, generating new or improved processes, creating new business models and even markets.

  • Ideally, have a basic-intermediate level of maturity in the company of agile methodologies: Lean Startup, Scrum, Kanban, Design Thinking.

  • Have at least a team of at least three people, willing to lead and execute innovation processes. With the willingness to promote the participation of women in teams (ideally tending towards equality) and encourage their presence as members and leaders, in addition to ensuring that their voices are heard.

  • Basic knowledge of digital tools including Google Analytics and collaborative tools such as Miro, Trello and Google Docs.

  • Basic infrastructure: at least one computer (ideally, that the collaborators with whom you will develop innovation projects also have a computer) and a stable internet connection.

Why does the gender approach add value to the company's innovation processes?

Innovating is the process of introducing changes with tangible value for the business and for people. They can be changes aimed at products, processes, business models, markets and customer experience. Regardless of the type of innovation, level of disruption to the market and the degree of maturity in your organization, the quality of innovation processes is highly impacted by the level of diversity of thought contained in the team that participates and leads it..

While it is true that technology and digitization tools are relevant to the success of innovation, they by themselves do not achieve greater results, since they need a solid base of strategy and a vision that gives them shape and directs them towards a purpose. specific. This vision is built and enriched from the creativity of the team, the mentality of the leaders, the exchange of different points of view that enhance the quality and power of innovation. In such a way that, by choosing to include women in the innovation teams, give them a voice and make visible both their ideas and their contributions, the company benefits from enriching its own organizational capacity for diverse thinking in which the gender approach adds value to the innovation processes in your company.

How agile methodologies help to achieve this?

Let’s remember basic principles and concepts of the agile mindset:

  • Agile as a framework for innovation, has principles and components that enable the formation of inclusive and diverse teams, understanding that quality in innovation processes is the result of the diversity of thought contained in the team that participates and what lead.

  • In addition, agility facilitates the structuring of egalitarian work dynamics in which it is guaranteed that the voices of women and men who make up the team will be heard and situational leadership – regardless of gender – based on competencies is motivated. This is possible thanks to agile performance mechanisms focused on self-management of teams, their ability to adapt to changes, open communication and transparency, making visible the contribution of all and everyone, promoting leadership rotation according to needs. of the situation.

  • Likewise, agile principles focused on creating collaborative team environments and with horizontal hierarchies, reduce the possibility that unequal power relations that exist between men and women in society are replicated in work teams. Also highlighting the “psychological safety” component within these methodologies, the aim is to create a work environment of openness, respect and trust in which all the people who make up the team feel safe to express their opinions, disagreements and questions.

  • Addressing the usefulness of agile methodologies -with a gender approach- towards the development of new products. We see that by including techniques such as design thinking, businessmen and women will not only have the opportunity to better understand their clients, but will also have the ability to develop differentiated products, functionalities and attributes for women and girls. Thanks to the principle of observation, empathy and questioning of the assumptions that give customers a real voice, recovering the needs of women and girls in product design.

Hand in hand with the previous point, the flexibility of the agile frameworks allows incorporating the gender perspective throughout the development of the product, to guarantee that it is really applied from start to finish. For example, it can be included as a criterion to filter and prioritize the objectives, features and functionalities of the product, be incorporated within the acceptance criteria, made visible within the Kanban board and included within the planning and within the review of the results of the sprint.

General utility of agile methodologies

    • They manage to reduce the risk in innovation processes: scenarios of high uncertainty and high potential for added value.
    • Helps reduce financial, time and effort costs.
    • It encourages teams to work collaboratively, autonomously and horizontally.
    • Increases the ability of the company to be faster, flexible and adaptable (through agile principles, Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, Lean Startup).
    • By including techniques such as design thinking in the package, female and male entrepreneurs have the possibility of better understanding their clientele and implementing that knowledge in the design of their products, services and business model.
    • As a result, it increases the competitiveness and innovation of companies.

What is and how is psychological safety installed in innovation teams?

Several studies and research on gender equality in the workplace, point out a series of inequalities and invisible efforts that women must assume when participating in meetings, working as a team and contributing their ideas. For example, assertiveness is usually frowned upon by women when expressing a clear opinion or disagreement, they are also interrupted more often than men during meetings and are accused of being insecure in expressing their position or point of view, when In reality, what usually happens is that the environment is not very favorable for them to express their opinions. Therefore, installing psychological security within teams is essential to design spaces that facilitate the participation, visibility and leadership of women.

In this sense, and focusing on scenarios of uncertainty and interdependence -in other words, on innovation scenarios-, we define that psychological safety is the belief and sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking out, for exposing your questions, opinions or disagreements. It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people feel comfortable being themselves and contributing their diverse thinking.

Psychological safety, in addition to being key to forming high-performance teams, is also a fundamental enabler to create dynamics in your organization that facilitate innovation, promote the inclusion and empowerment of women in your company. When a workplace feels psychologically safe, mistakes are seen as a natural part of the learning process and an openness to opinions, questions and disagreements is promoted. This in turn means that your team on the one hand will generate higher levels of creativity and will dare to take risks in their ideas. On the other hand, it means that you will be creating a type of environment designed to make visible and promote the voice of each and every collaborator, generating highly favorable environments for gender equality in your organization.


Learn More

To learn more about psychological safety, you can watch Amy Edmondson's Ted Talk video and a video from Harvard Business School:

Did you know?

You can turn on subtitles on a Youtube video in a different language! Just click the CC button at the bottom of the video, then click the gear icon to chose your translation language.

Guides to create a culture of innovation with a gender and inclusive approach

Communication from your role as a leader

1. Make the uncertainty scenario and the importance of the contribution of each and every team member explicit, with conversations such as:

    • “The team faces enormous uncertainty and we don’t know exactly what the path will be like, but we fundamentally need everyone to contribute their ideas and voice, as well as their ability to listen and build together.”
    • “It is good that we do not know all the answers at this time, precisely for that reason we are innovating, to find out. But what I do hope and should be the expectation of the whole group, is that we solve it by contributing ideas and listening to each other as a team ”.

2. Recognize your own limitations or shortcomings with simple phrases like:

    • “It is possible that I have overlooked something in this approach, if you see something let me know.”
    • “It is the first time I have faced this type of challenge, but I am sure that with our team we will solve it, tell me what ideas you have in mind.”
    • “It’s a good question, I don’t know, let’s find out what actions do you propose?”

3. Guide your questions toward curiosity, not judgment, or criticism. Be proactive in asking intentional, open and focused questions:

    • I would love to know, what is your perspective on this issue, tell me what you think?
    • We currently have this challenge and I would like to know how do you recommend tackling it?
    • What worries you about this project?

The results of the last iteration were not ideal, do you know what happened? What can we learn to incorporate it into the next sprint?

    4. Receive responses in an appreciative, constructive way, focusing the conversation towards solutions:

      • I think it is a valuable comment, we had not considered that point.
      • That is a point contrary to what we have planned, if you are sure of that statement, let’s review the issue in more detail, can you take care of that?
      • I understand, how do you think we can reframe this problem in order to move forward?

    Designing and facilitating meetings

    Remembering that there is a trend of inequalities and invisible efforts that women must assume when participating in meetings, working as a team and contributing their ideas. We see that it is precisely in these spaces where incorporating changes in these dynamics will be critical to generate a transformative impact towards gender equality in your organization.

    Within the agile perspective, we design meetings with a specific time frame, frequency and objective. We create rituals. These articulated to the roles, objectives and artifacts implemented continuously create a system of innovation and a climate of inclusion.

    1. Guides at a general level to apply as a leader in meetings with your team

    You can apply them in traditional Scrum meetings (backlog grooming, sprint planning, sprint review, daily standup, retrospective), as well as ad-hoc meetings that are presented.

    • Participants will include representation of women, ideally tending towards parity. Check the list of people invited with these glasses before sending the invitation on the calendars.

    • Rotate in each sprint (every 2 weeks) the facilitators or leaders of fixed meetings, ensuring that the women in your team have their turn equally.

    • Horizontal hierarchy: includes as a rule of the game and tone of conversation “we are all colleagues and peers”, no matter the role or position, what matters is the quality of the ideas contributed and the construction that is generated on it.

    • Ask questions, request reasoned opinions, call by names (in a respectful and cordial way). Design meeting dynamics in such a way that it is more uncomfortable to keep quiet than to participate.

    • Ensures that all people have had the opportunity to participate and have been heard at the meeting. Identify particularly that they have listened to the ideas of the women on your team.

    • Amplify the voice of women: highlight the contributions of women in your team. Express comments or arguments that they have contributed as a reference, also include it in the summary and plan of next steps that you do at the end of the meeting.

    2. Alternative meeting design

    • Retrospective meeting: This key meeting within the Scrum framework, focused on creating an open and transparent conversation between team members, to reflect on the work processes and dynamics that applied the last sprint, is a great setting to talk openly with your team about what consider what they can do to improve psychological safety with a gender perspective, in the context of their innovation project.
      • Key questions:
        • Common questions about team dynamics in the project: What worked well in the previous sprint that we should continue to apply? What did not work, what should we change?
        • Add a maximum of 2 open questions to specifically address the level of psychological security, observing if there is any difference between the perception of the men and women in your team: How do they feel about our work environment to ask, comment and express disagreement? What do you think we can improve?
    • Failure sharing sessions: a once-a-month space dedicated to sharing failure stories, with the focus of normalizing failure to empower experimentation, learn faster, continually improve, and innovate. Shaping the mindset towards innovation, problem solving and resilience. It is essential that the participants include representation of women, ideally tending towards parity.

    • Brainstorming: conversations in which the team brainstorms in a creative and focused way toward achieving a common goal.

    • One on one: Informal meetings of the leaders with the collaborators, where different topics are discussed openly, emphasizing how they perceive and what level of enjoyment they enjoy in the face of the psychological safety of the team.

    • Mentoring sessions: this is a space of trust and learning in which particular challenges of the collaborators are identified, they are advised or formulated tactical questions so that he / she clarifies their doubts, reaffirms their sense of purpose with their role , team and company. As a leader, observe and identify patterns in the challenges faced by women in your company and take action against them.

    Indicators and measurement

    1. Design indicators to map and measure the diversity of thinking in your company:

      • What is the percentage of women compared to men?
      • What generations do they represent? (millennials, generation Y, X, etc.)
      • What is the percentage of women from other ethnic groups?

    In addition to the gender variable, you can add all the variables that you consider important to measure diversity: age, ethnicity, nationality or if you have lived in another country, etc.

    1. Design indicators to measure the level of psychological security in your company:

    A practical mechanism is to conduct surveys of your team, to identify the following information and put together an action plan for continuous improvement:

      • How often do collaborators express their questions, opinions and disagreements? What makes you uncomfortable or challenging about doing it?
      • What is the variation between the perception of psychological security between women and men? In what aspects?
      • What is the level of motivation and accountability felt by employees?

    With this graph it is possible to map the state of psychological security in your organization, considering the psychological security variables versus the level of motivation and accountability.

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    This toolbox is made possible by the support of the American People through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the terms of Contract No. AID OAA-C-17-00090. The contents of this toolkit are the sole responsibility of Deetken Impact and Pro Mujer and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.