Measure Impact, Not Activity

At the Global Tech Women VOICES conference, March 12, 2015, I gave a talk about how to “Measure Impact, Not Activity” of a women’s group.

The video of my talk will be available for 90 days after the event. Below are my slides, annotated with my speaking notes.


Hi, I’m Karen Catlin. Welcome! I’ll start by explaining by background briefly. I’m a technical woman. I started my career as a software engineer and, over time, moved to the executive level. Most recently, I was a vice president at Adobe Systems in the CTO’s office. Now, I’m an advocate for women in tech, and I am an independent consultant advising companies on gender diversity and coaching women on leadership skills.I’d also like to get to know all of you. How many of you are involved with leading a women’s group at your company, or a non-profit focused on supporting women or girls?

About 3 years ago, I left my job as a VP at Adobe Systems. While I was there, I started the Adobe & Women group. It was what you might expect…networking meetings, book club discussions, panels of female Adobe leaders, lunchtime discussions on skill development, and the like. And we had some great tchotkes, like you see in this photo.When I left, I handed the baton over to another female leader at the company. She asked me a good question. “Karen, how are you measuring the success of the group.?” Well, I have to admit that, while I’m proud of our accomplishments, I didn’t measure our impact. I honestly don’t think I knew how to. At the time, calculating the ROI seemed like a holy grail.

It turns out that I’m not alone. As an advocate for technical women, I meet many people who run the women-in-tech group at their company. I’m always curious about what metrics they use to measure the impact of their programs, so I ask. In return I often get slightly embarrassed looks.And I’ve talked to women running non-profits for women in tech. It’s pretty much the same reaction.

One woman told me she’s tired of hearing about how many pink cupcakes they hand out. At least she was honest. Others say, “Well, we don’t exactly know.” Then they say something along the lines of, “We have annual goals for how many events we host” or “We run a survey for our members and meet as many of their needs that fit in our budget.” Clearly they’re thinking about the activities to offer, but not always about the greater impact and how to measure it.

If I were running a women-in-tech group today, things would be different. I’d approach it more strategically. I’d identify a vision for what would be different because of our group and how I’d measure the impact. And I want to encourage other WIT leaders to embrace metrics that matter for their programs, too.

To get started, assemble a board of advisors and brainstorm on the critical question: What will be different about our company if our WIT group is successful? For non-profits, what will be different about our community? Answering this question could make all the difference in securing the budget and support to make it all happen.Here are four examples:

Are there diversity issues to address? Eg, do you want to double the % of women in tech roles, or cut attrition of women by 20%? Great! Identify the goal & what you want future to look like.

Are there business challenges to address? Take a lead from your company goals. Perhaps your company wants to increase innovation, customer satisfaction, or employee engagement. Pick an area and understand how your company plans to measure improvements. Then craft a goal for the WIT group that aligns with that corporate goal. For example, if your company has a goal to double the number of patents filed year-on-year, your WIT goal may be to “Double the number of females listed as inventors on patent applications.”

Are there corporate social responsibility goals to address? I recently heard about a company with a goal to increase employee volunteer hours by 20%. If this were your company, your women’s group goal might be to increase your members’ volunteer hours by 20% by providing opportunities that are meaningful to your group. You could partner with a local girls’ coding camp or after-school robotics program to provide mentors or tutors.

Do you want to align with career growth for women? Do you want more women promoted into leadership positions? Or more women rising to the architect or senior technical roles? Your women’s group goal could be “Double the number of women promoted internally.” But be careful, because that’s not everyone’s definition of career growth. More on this in a few minutes…

Depending on your goals and budget, identify how to make progress and measure your impact. Measure your baseline metrics, and identify activities that will support improving that metric.Here are some examples:

This might be a plan if you want to improve gender diversity at your company.

Here’s the start of a plan to help with an overall company goal of creating more patents as a way of measuring innovation.

Here’s the start of a plan for aligning your women’s group goal with a larger Corporate Social Responsibility goal.

But what about that goal of women’s career development? This is a challenging one—a holy grail—because career development means different things to different people. It might mean getting promotions into management or into a senior scientist role, or a lateral move to another part of the business, or an international assignment. Because of how broad career development can be, it’s hard to craft a crisp vision and metrics to show your impact.

I have 3 examples of non-profits who focus on women in leadership or in tech ad how they’re measuring impact. All three want to help women advance their career.I am on the board of directors for The CLUB, and when we wanted to measure our impact on career development for our members, we looked to Catalyst, the leading organization focused on women in the workplace.

A few years ago, Catalyst published a research report “THE MYTH OF THE IDEAL WORKER: DOES DOING ALL THE RIGHT THINGS REALLY GET WOMEN AHEAD?” In the report, they explained what they found to have the greatest impact on a woman’s career advancement: gaining access to powerful others, and making their achievements known.

We utilized the Catalyst research for our brief survey last Fall to measure the impact of the CLUB. And we added a few other topics we wanted to explore.

Recently, I worked with Sukrutha Raman Bhadouria who is the Managing Director of the Bay Area Girl Geek Dinners. She wanted to run a survey to measure the impact they were having on career growth for the women who attended and if they had been connected to a job opportunity because of a dinner.

I also worked with Mona Sabet, founder of LWT, an organization offering leadership training for women in the SF Bay Area. She ran a comprehensive survey to measure the impact of their Wilpower program, and included these “overall” questions in addition to an extensive list of questions about specific offerings.Non-profits can use the results from these surveys to show their value to sponsors. You can do the same with WIT groups in companies to show your value.

In closing, I encourage all of you to keep your eyes on the prize. Focus on “What will be different when we’re successful?” and be sure to measure impact, not activity. It could make all the difference in being able to attract new members to your group and getting the support you need, either from external sponsors or from an internal budget holder.

Thank you!

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