Once Upon a Time There Were Only Two

In graduate school I observed a phenomena that I ultimately dubbed and branded the rule of 3.


To understand the rule of 3 and how it operates I Invite you to step back in time with me. We’re seated next to each other in a graduate school classroom. The professor is leading a discussion on race as a factor in medical/psychiatric diagnoses. Lots of white students participate in the conversation. There are two black students in the class. They remain silent.

I’m puzzled and disappointed. We lost the opportunity to hear a non-white perspective on a racial issue. I’m curious about why this happened, so I seek out the professor. She references social science research. “Until three members of the non-dominant group are present, they typically will not speak up, and if they do they will often not be heard.” I tuck this tidbit away without knowing why or how I will use it later.


As a leadership and business psychologist, my work focuses at times, on bringing talented women and women’s talents to the leadership table. The tidbit finds its purpose.

When corporates ask what metrics to set for women’s initiatives, they hear about the Rule of 3. Their visual response is often that snap-to-attention look on someone’s face when they become instantly aware of something that’s been happening, yet gone un-noticed, for a long time. They suddenly see the lack of attention to the voice of the lone woman in the room. You can almost see them watching the not-so-instant replays in their mind’s eye.

“Include 3 women on the leadership team,” I advise. Equivalent ratios are reference by other experts and thought provokers in the field of women’s leadership, including Linda Tarr Whalen and David Gergen, (staff adviser to four presidents and senior political anaylst at CNN) in his introduction to Enlightened Power: Transforming the Practice of Leadership.

THREE - changes the conversation and the culture. Why change the culture? The 2008 economic debacle is a good reason, for starters. Had there been a Lehman sister, better yet, three sisters, the voice of caution and reason may have prevented the economic crisis, the one from which the world has yet to recover. We need a culture in which many views, not just the prevailing view of the dominant group, is heard and valued.

Women collaborate. They get people (ages 3 and above) to play well together. Women are concerned with ethics and social good. Women use their power and resources to build stronger families and communities. The business world needs our voices at the table, and those currently in power need to listen. Ipso facto



No matter how you position two points, they always form a straight line. They either align or oppose. There is no other possibility. Two can agree or differ. Three breaks the tie and moves things forward. Three allows us to see more than two sides of an issue. Three points to a third way. It is the third eye seeing into another world. Three creates stability. We announce first second and third place winners – gold, silver, bronze. Third time’s a charm.

Business leaders say diversity sparks innovation and enables their company to appeal to a diverse customer base. But have we taken advantage of these benefits or have we just created window dressing? To test and reap the true benefits of diversity we must aim for inclusion of the non-dominant groups, the ones who did not set the rules or determine the prevailing cultural norms. In the business world, this means women, among others, because we did not set the rules, but we can be a force in changing them.

One woman, unless she is bold and unafraid, is not apt to speak up, and if she does she is not likely to be heard. Two don’t want to be seen as always agreeing with each other, or representing The Group. “Let’s ask Jane what women think.” But Jane wants to be valued for her individual contributions, not as a representative of All Women, who don’t think the same, anyhow. So, there you have it.


the-rule-of-3_blackAnd later co-founder, with Dorothy Dalton, of a leadership incubator for high achieving women leaders duly named…

eventbrite logo

Anne Perschel
Anne Perschel
When she is not consulting; coaching; reading and writing about leadership; or enjoying her work in other ways; Anne can be found:

Listening to ocean waves receding over stones.
Enjoying the spontaneous expressions of young children who haven’t yet learned to hide their emotions.
Taking in the scent of freesias, lilacs or salt water.
Enjoying the great, or not so great, outdoors and all variations of nature’s gifts.
At the gym.

As Seen In:

The Magic of 3 in Business