Why Sometimes It Just Has to Be Women Only
I'm often asked, why not do this for the men as well? This is my response
Regular readers will know I am not anti men. Far from it.
I am, however, pro changing the world so women get equal treatment, and I’m very pro raising awareness of just how unequal that treatment is, even in many enlightened organisations and businesses.
Our workplaces and businesses have been designed by men, for men. Working practices are designed to meet male requirements. One classic example – working practices take little or no account of the need for the human race to procreate. If we had truly gender neutral practices child care would not be the political issue it is. The needs of a society to have healthy, well cared for children would be evident in gender equal practices, and women would not be penalised in their careers for actually having babies. The Scandinavian countries are way ahead of the UK and US on this.
I don’t believe debates of this nature should be seen as women’s issues only. It’s one of the reasons I have changed my mind on women only pressure groups in the workplace. We need the men to understand the issues, and frankly, as that’s where most of the power still resides, we need them to be supportive of change, to help women make change happen. (More on that here: Are Women Only Groups Good For Your Career?)
I make one exception to this rule: in the case of personal development courses in an organisation committed to gender equality, when we’re talking about consciousness raising courses, taking that first step, I firmly believe they need to be for one gender only.
Most of us haven’t got our head around all of the issues, we’re too busy doing the day job. We need space to explore what that means to us. I’ve had experience of doing that in mixed groups and it’s far less productive than single gender groups. In mixed groups, women tend to say less, and men hold the floor. Men can feel embarrassed and defensive when they hear some of the statistics and research on gender inequality. They need time and space to explore their own reactions and thoughts, at least initially.
It’s precisely because I am not anti men that I think having these initial sessions in single gender groups is important, and respectful. Many women will be unaware of the working practices which are very male oriented because it’s all we’ve ever known. Once you give women space to think more deeply about this they become much more sensitised to the issues. As do the men. I know it seems counter intuitive to launch an equality initiative by separating the sexes within an organisation, but it can actually be counter productive to do otherwise.
*I’m grateful to Lusi of StockExchange for use of this image
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