Self-confidence counts, but can it be counted? Ask a woman

Hayden Majajas says we should try to measure important goals like women's empowerment, even if it's not always obvious how best to go about it

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 August, 2013, 3:12am

In 1963, sociologist William Bruce Cameron coined the expression "not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted". While Cameron was remarking on the difficulty of measuring what is truly important, the more common variant today is "what gets measured gets done" - a more optimistic phrase and, in many ways, a call to action.

Of course, the business world has long taken this mantra to heart but, increasingly, we are seeing its application to community programmes where rigorous measurement has generally been less important as a justification than the motivation of serving the goals of the common good.

The Women's Foundation believes in the importance of measurement, as well as setting priorities and having clear definitions. However, when it comes to empowerment programmes, what should be measured isn't always obvious. While promotions and pay increases are tangible outcomes, indicators like enhanced self-confidence or a greater sense of fulfilment are much more subjective.

On the eve of launching the fifth year of our mentoring programme for women leaders, we have been asking ourselves what exactly we should be measuring. Last year, we introduced surveys and scorecards; a way for participants to track progress. While most mentors and protégés embraced the exercise, a number of them failed to complete the surveys or provided only stilted feedback - perhaps because they didn't see the importance of the exercise or perhaps because we weren't measuring what really mattered to them.

However, the scorecards were created in the spirit of leadership trainer John E. Jones, who went beyond the moral of, "What gets measured gets done" to his exhortation that, "What gets measured and fed back gets done well".

I had a conversation with a local taxi driver last week, and we somehow got onto the topic of my role with the foundation. He struggled to understand why a man was involved with a charity focused on women's advancement. Then the conversation shifted to his family, and I learnt that he has two daughters who he is raising as a single dad. I asked what his aspirations were for them. Suddenly his demeanour changed. He spoke passionately about his determination that his daughters grow up feeling unconstrained in their ambitions.

I asked how he will know if he's successful. Needless to say, his was a slightly different approach to the foundation's use of scorecards and key performance indicators, and included metrics like his daughters' happiness and the extent of the trusting communication they enjoy, which enabled him to understand their hopes and dreams. As we arrived at my destination, he chuckled: "I guess it's like what you businesspeople say - what gets measured gets done."

I told the driver to keep up the good work and suggested our roles weren't that different - we were both focused on things that were truly important, measurable or not.

Hayden Majajas is director of diversity and inclusion at BP. He serves on the board of The Women's Foundation and as co-chair of its Mentoring Programme for Women Leaders. This article is part of a series developed in collaboration with the foundation