An organization that was born from the idea of getting comfortable with failure is redesigning its training offerings at a time when the challenges for women in the workplace are at an unprecedented level.
Failure Lab, a global storytelling and corporate training organization that was founded in Grand Rapids a decade ago, next month will launch a virtual program called SHE, which it describes as “a life-shifting learning and support experience that no self-development book or ‘Boss Babe’ mug could ever provide.”
The organization has long offered general corporate training programs through a third-party facilitator, in addition to its live storytelling events, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything changed.
Anna Baeten, partner and COO of Failure Lab who is based in Grand Rapids, was hired in July 2020 as the organization was grappling with the need to redesign and bring in-house its training offerings for a newly virtual world.
“We took the training side down to its studs and redesigned the content, redesigned pretty much everything about it. The main objectives through that redesign were a pretty in-depth analysis of what makes the event (side of Failure Lab) so compelling and trying to make sure that we were taking those elements of storytelling and communication and empathy and stress resilience and things like that and weaving them through the curriculum,” Baeten said. “And then the other thing, of course, was to just make it much more flexible as far as delivery, so it can be fully in-person, it can be fully virtual, or it can be some combination thereof.”
Failure Lab then hired Chrissy Heyne — who had just wrapped a 15-year career at Teach for America designing curriculum and developing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives — as Failure Lab’s director of corporate training. Heyne and Baeten have been working together to develop SHE.
“(Chrissy) comes with that background and a real passion around management development and training in larger organizations, and so, as we were building out the general Failure Lab curriculum, the SHE programming was something that felt very natural for Chrissy and I to develop, because that’s the through-line of what we’ve done in our careers, is developing female leaders, leaders of color and managers in spaces where the representation isn’t super high, and so the SHE curriculum in particular is really just Chrissy and I running with what we’re most passionate about,” Baeten said.
“I think it’s incredibly timely. It’s always time to talk about women in leadership and how women work in a world that’s built around patriarchal systems and that we don’t have a lot of the social supports that are necessary for women to live fully integrated lives. But then, especially with COVID, the impact on working women has been particularly disproportionate. So, it just felt like (SHE) is very needed right now.”
While more and more women are entering positions of power and leadership on a national and global scale, at the close of 2020, despite making up 50.8% of the U.S. population, women made up only 7.8% of the CEOs in the S&P 500 (this number up from 6% in 2019). According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women are making 82.3 cents on the dollar compared to men, with minority women faring even worse. In 2020, Black and Latina women with bachelor’s degrees made 65% of the wages of their white male counterparts.
The pandemic has only exacerbated the systemic inequity seen by women. COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus the continuing disparity between the sexes as the world struggles to handle virtual work, quarantines, school closings and overwhelming uncertainty. In February, women’s labor force participation was at 55%, a number that has not been seen in the U.S. since April 1987, according to the DOL.
“If you talk to any successful woman, the ones who by all outward appearances are doing amazing work, juggling all the balls with apparent ease — every single one of us thinks that we should be doing better, and we can tell you, in great detail, a dozen ways in which we are failing on a daily basis,” Baeten said.
“Women hold themselves and one another to ridiculous standards, often manifested in unhealthy ways. Both of those things — the external and the internal — need attention. That’s the reason for SHE,” Baeten said.
She added one of the things she became most excited about after Failure Lab concluded beta testing a condensed version of the SHE curriculum a few weeks ago was the women’s eager responses to being part of something like this.
“We were really pleasantly surprised and amazed that people were so into it. There’s not really an opportunity right now for us to network in the way that we used to — meeting new people, having space to have robust and interesting conversations with smart people. The feedback that we got every single week was, ‘We could have gone on and on,’ or, ‘We could have had more time to talk about this topic and that topic.’ … I was nervous that it would be too much — people are so tired of being on Zoom — but I think we’re also just desperate for community and connection.”
Baeten said there’s a lot of research out there right now that shows employee contentment has to do with how many level-two relationships people have in the workplace. A level-two relationship is 20% more intimate than just a work acquaintance — a person you know something about who is not exactly a friend, not somebody you would hang out with after work, but who you feel close to in your workspace.
“One of the fastest ways to get to a level-two relationship is to have facilitated, real conversations about real things in a safe space,” Baeten said. “… We generally don’t get together and talk about how we feel about failing and whether or not our lives have set us up to feel like we can take risks.”
Heyne will facilitate the six-week virtual program, which will be limited to 15 women and will be offered starting June 23 at two times: 12-1:30 p.m. Wednesdays and 4:30-6 p.m. Thursdays. Tuition is $1,500 and includes a Failure Archetype Assessment; access to six sessions; all necessary materials and resources; and a private Failure Lab-SHE community group.
Baeten said the first cohort of SHE is designed for executives — defined as people who are responsible for a team or an organization, managing people, not products. The second cohort will focus on emerging leaders and likely will launch in the late fall or early winter, after Failure Lab conducts its next general management training cohort in September.
“The idea of keeping the executives as a separate cohort from the emerging leaders is that we don’t want these women to feel like it’s another space where they’re tasked with mentoring,” Baeten said. “We want this to be a space where they can interact with peers of various environments who have (similar) life experiences, because the conversations that happen then can be more impactful and pointed.”
In addition to the U.S.-based cohort, a separate facilitator is going to run a cohort simultaneously in Australia.
Enrollment for SHE is now open at failure-lab.com/she.
- Session 1: Failure Lab 101 — Failure & Foundations: An invitation for self-reflection. How does your relationship with failure express itself in your life?
- Session 2: Failure & Physicality — Failure & Practice: Understand the physicality of failure and stress. Master the tools to show up in your life with purpose.
- Session 3: Failure & Women — Failure & Power Dynamics: What unique challenges do women leaders face? How does patriarchy impact our lives and our legacies?
- Session 4: Failure & Risk — Failure & Imposter Syndrome: Women have specific internal and external challenges around risk tolerance and imposter syndrome. This session will unpack the things that hold you back.
- Session 5: Failure & Resilience — Failure & Nourishment: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t realize we were seeds.” Create the resources you need to thrive.
- Session 6: Failure & Community — Failure & Mentorship: The power of community. Leverage your power to empower other women and girls. Move into your future with confidence and purpose.
More information about Failure Lab is at failure-lab.com.