Your organization's women's initiative may meet once a month, once a quarter, or even just one to two times per year – regardless of how often you come together, leaders of women's initiatives know that in order to attract the maximum number of participants, the programming should be compelling, valuable, and reliable.
Planning programming that hits all of these criteria is no easy task, and can add a lot of pressure to our already full plates. Our goal is to provide leaders of women's initiatives a simple blueprint that helps ensure that all programming – whether it is once a week or once a year – is compelling, valuable, and reliable.
3 Simple Steps to Planning Compelling Programming for your Women's Initiative
1. Ask (the right) questions.
We know, we know – we can be broken records when it comes to collecting data to inform your women's initiative (see here for proof of this.) In our defense, it is the only way to truly know what the women you are programming for are interested in, and most important, what they find valuable. Being interested in something and finding value in it are two different things, which are important to distinguish when you are gathering data from your women's initiative members.
Measuring interest area will provide you with a list of topics to draw that your programming can focus on. For example, interest areas might be "the gender wage gap", "work/life balance", and "leadership development. Asking your participants to identify areas of interest and programming to meet those interests is an easy, important way to catch their attention and make them think twice about blocking their packed calendars off for an afternoon to attend.
Measuring the value of your programming is slightly more difficult than simply building a list of topics, but it can be done at the same time you gather interest area data. Simply include a question in your survey (or interview/focus group questions, if you decide to collect the data in person) that allows participants to identify what would create a "value add" to their experience with the initiative. Interest areas can be one component of value adds, but more likely than not, your participants are most concerned with what they will "get out of the initiative". Will they gain access to mentors? Hear interesting presenters? Have time to network with their peers? Create policy change? In your survey, you can generate a list of possible value adds, but you should absolutely leave room for a write in option as well. These responses will tell you how to generally structure the events you are planning so that they are most valuable to your participants.
2. Keep (enough) things the same.
Once you have a good idea of the topics and attributes that will draw interest and add value for your participants, it is important to create a formula that allows for reliability in your programming. What factors you keep as steady pieces of each gathering will likely come from the questions you ask in your participant data gathering exercise surrounding adding value.
For example, if you are able to determine from the data you collect that your participants want to meet new women within the organization, it will be helpful to include a structured networking activity as a part of each gathering (as opposed to free "networking time.") Rarely during 15 or 30 minutes of "networking time" will participants meet new people– they will instead gravitate towards those they already know. But by ensuring participants that you will provide them with a guaranteed way to make new connections through a purposeful networking activity, you are compelling them to attend as they know their needs are being valued.
3. Switch things up.
The third and final component of this formula to creating compelling programming for your women's initiative may seem to directly contradict #2, but it shouldn't. After all, by keeping only certain elements of the gatherings the same but changing others you are able to maintain reliability while also adding a sense of intrigue.
The aspect of switching things up within the gatherings is important because, even though you will collect and analyze valuable data during step 1, you will inevitably realize in analyzing that data that everyone has a slightly different opinion on interests and values. In order to compel different personality types, you will need to switch up aspects of your program each time.
Switching things up isn't as hard as you think, either. In fact, you are probably already doing it, but perhaps you just aren't also taking participant interest and value areas into consideration alongside it. You can switch things up by bringing in outside facilitators to lead some topics, while keeping things completely internal for others. In addition, you can take some of your meetings off-site while keeping others in-house. You can add a creative component. Even switching up the food and drink offerings (there should ALWAYS be food and drink offerings, by the way!) can be compelling enough to bring participants in!
So there you have it. With just a little bit of extra thought and some forward planning in the form of data collection, you can ensure that you are doing everything possible to create the most compelling programming for your women's initiative. We know that most leaders of women's initiatives lead their groups from the side of their desks, on top of many other tasks and responsibilities, which is why we are always here if you need us!