Advancing Women

Gender Equality Services: Advancing Women in Business & Sport

How to Solve a Wicked Problem with Design Thinking

There are more reasons than we can list about why organisations should pursue gender diverse leadership and board structures. One outstanding reason? Companies with gender-diverse boards performed an average 7% better per year than companies with no women on their boards. Despite this blindingly obvious business performance opportunity, progress towards gender equality on boards, in business and in sport is agonisingly slow in Australia.

Creating a gender equal organisation is a wicked problem

‘Wickedness isn’t a degree of difficulty. Wicked issues are different because traditional processes can’t resolve them.’

 John C. Camillus

Some of the characteristics of the wicked problem of creating a gender diverse organisation are:

  • The problem is difficult to come to grips with and changes with every attempt to address it
  • The problem involves many stakeholders with different values and priorities
  • The issue’s roots are complex and tangled

It is stating the obvious that organisations of all types and sizes are operating in an increasingly complex and tangled environment. Adopting a traditional approach to solving the problem of gender diversity will not serve organisations well. Gathering data alone, redefining the issues, or ‘eating the elephant one bite at a time’ simply does not generate new ideas or create fresh solutions to wicked problems like creating a diverse, inclusive and gender equal organisation.

Advancing Women uses Design Thinking to Solve Wicked Problems

 “Addressing gender equality within organisations will not happen accidentally, and like any other business issue, a strategic and systematic approach is required.”


Design Thinking is a strategic and systematic approach to solving business problems. Design has long been acknowledged as the domain of new product and service development gurus. Advancing Women uses Design Thinking to help organisations solve the wicked problem of creating gender equal organisations. Design Thinking does not require innate genius to solve wicked problems like gender diversity. However, it does take knowledge, organisation, resourcing and leadership commitment.

‘Those of us who can’t part the waters, instead need to build a bridge to take us from current reality to a new future.

Liedtka, King and Bennett (2013).

Your organisation’s new, gender equal future can be designed using the D4G model, a simple 4 step process for solving wicked problems. The first two critical steps to design a gender diversity plan for organisations are What Is and What If.

Design Thinking Graphic AWBS

Figure 1. The D4G approach: Liedtka, King & Bennett (2013)

Step 1: What is the current reality?

 “The best way to get insight about the female talent is through data. Too often we look at gender balance by having a conversation based on outdated personal experience, assumptions and anecdotes, which is not necessarily found in data or in numbers.”

Rebecca McGrath, Chairman, Investa Office Management

Understanding the current state of your organisation is our first step. There are a range of reasons for a lack of progress when it comes to gender equality in the workplace and in leadership. Reasons include structural (systems, policy, process) and cultural (bias, societal beliefs about gender roles, lack of female role models) which require understanding at an organisational and employee cohort level.

Developing an accurate set of both qualitative and quantitative data provides a key opportunity to develop deep insights into the stakeholders needs and wants. By using ethnography and journey mapping the female organisational experience, we become informed about the current problem and the opportunity for the organisation before hurtling into solution design which, without this step, can often be too narrowly defined.

Step 2: What if we had a new gender equal future?

Creating a solution in isolation and falling into the same trap that many organisations do by assuming gender diversity is a straightforward logic and analytics issue to solve (often by the HR manager!) is not an option with the Advancing Women method. After we scrutinise the facts, the data, the wants and the unmet needs of all the stakeholders, we then move into the fun space!

Using brainstorming, visualisation and mindmapping enables us to take a human centred design approach to imagining and developing a future vision for your organisation. This is the opportunity to involve many players from the organisation in sessions of varying formats that tap into left and right brain thinking. By exploring with people what they want their future organisation to look and feel like, using the creative and powerful tools of metaphors, reframing, curiosity and co-creation, we empower people to design and come up with a concept or a solution to the wicked problem.

Reframing to ask better questions can look like this;

  • What if we had 50:50 at every level?
  • What if we were able to attract, develop and retain the best and brightest women?
  • What if our customers or members knew we were a gender equal organisation?

“Where we are most effective is when the men ask the questions about gender or other diversity and it’s not left to the women.”

Kathryn Fagg, President, Chief Executive Women


LOGO Advancing Women in Business and SportBy engaging Advancing Women, organisations will leverage the experience, expertise, resources and divergent thinking to co-create a future workplace that is sustainably diverse, equitable and inclusive

Your future diverse and inclusive business will have engaged, productive employees, highly satisfied and loyal customers and will be 15% more likely to have financial returns above your respective national industry medians.

ABOUFemeconomy badge of approvalT GENDER EQUALITY SERVICES

Many companies use expert solutions provided by consulting and advisory firms to advance gender equality. However, the offering of gender equality services tends to be fragmented.

We are working to identify and promote a portfolio of gender equality services from consulting organisations who meet Femeconomy’s criteria. The criteria to be a Femeconomy approved company is at least 30% of women on the Board of Directors or 50% female ownership. This provides businesses with the opportunity to support gender equality through their procurement decisions. Contact us for more information.

Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Founder

Mother, wife, daughter, determined dreamer. Lover of books. Background in Human Resources leadership in global organisations.