I get lots of invitations to speak at women’s groups and I accept a few when time permits. I love talking to a group of women about serious issues that affect women and I love running personal development courses for women and working one to one with women.
There are most definitely times when it’s appropriate to have gender specific groups and I’d argue (well, I would, wouldn’t I?) that personal development is one of those areas. Men and women want different things from these courses and when asked to run one in house I always ask if something similar could be offered to the men.
But I don’t think it’s a good idea at work to start a women only group to advance the cause of gender equality. We’ve moved on; maybe 20, possibly even 10 years ago this was one of the ways women could challenge the status quo and gain the confidence to assert themselves. In this day and age I think it’s counter productive.
Anti Women’s Advancement?
Absolutely not and if you’ve been anywhere on my site you’ll know this isn’t the case. But I am a pragmatist on this issue. If you work in an organisation where there is a glass ceiling, where women are under represented in senior management, then you need that organisation to take the matter seriously and address it. De facto you are in an organisation which doesn’t currently do that. Men, it seems, hold more sway than women in your organisation, so you have an uphill struggle.
In my experience many such organisations are happy to see women’s groups existing because they can say they are addressing the issue by allowing and facilitating these groups. It can be the organisational equivalent of a pat on the head, and a patronising smile. (Calm down, dear). The trouble is senior management rarely take them seriously and they rarely change anything of lasting consequence. Women may grow in confidence from attending when they will either leave to work for a more enlightened organisation, or accept the status quo, or stay and be angry much of the time.
Gender Equality Groups
A group which is looking at gender issues however, which is tackling the problem involving all of the organisation and making it strategic is likely to be much more successful. You need people in your group who have the power to make changes. Not all the males in your organisation will be happy with the way things currently work; many of them will know that when an organisation truly embraces more women friendly policies the general well being for all goes up, and that more senior women equals more profit too. These are the men you need on board, so involve them and make your group relevant to them too. And not all women will want to see change… Getting your aims and membership right means you will have people who really want to see a change and who together can act as an irresistible force and make it happen!
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Posted on September 11th, 2012 by Jane