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  • henleyrose2

Developing women: Together or apart?

Much is written these days about gender equality, including how organisations can best support and develop female employees to have equal opportunities to their male counterparts. Indeed, I have myself added to this discussion with articles and blogs. My interest has focused on ways in which we can understand and support women as they seek to reach goals and potential at work and particularly in leadership. Many of these ways involve some form of dedicated developmental support such as coaching or training.

Developing women in the workplace

We hear a lot about the value of offering dedicated female-only or single-gender developmental programmes where women come together on their own to understand and work on their progression and growth. This is particularly common for female leadership development programmes. But should we develop ourselves, apart from our male colleagues?

Female-only or single-gender developmental programmes

There are two opposing views on the benefits of separating people out and offering single-gender programmes. The benefits include that it provides a safe space for women to explore and share their own experiences. Given the barriers that still surround female leadership, having a safe environment in which to explore and share experiences and ideas is valuable. Secondly, that women can develop their own identity and leadership style within a supportive community. Thirdly that it gives women the opportunity to network and build long-term supportive relationships with other women. Research I have been involved in suggests that women value the connections they make in such programmes and that these relationships can support them beyond the programme itself.

Narrowing the gender gap

But there are alternative views about single-gender programmes. One perspective is that if women want to be treated equally then they should take part equally in the same programmes as their male counterparts. They should demonstrate that they can cut it in the male environment. Separating out women only adds to the view that they are different. If we want to be viewed as equal and in the same light, then why not be prepared to attend programmes with men? Another argument against separate female-only programmes is that

it cuts men out of the process and debate of how women move into leadership and so can disengage them further from encouraging female leadership.

But what do I think?

I believe strongly that men should have a role to play in supporting women in leadership. That we will only break down the barriers that inhibit organisations from viewing women as strong leaders by including men in the debate. Being considered for leadership is about being able to make it within the existing framework of the organisation. However, there is also scope for reconsidering our existing structural frameworks which are often aligned with male models of work. Development is a life-long, ongoing process. There may be times when single-gender-only developmental experiences for men or women play a role in enabling the exploration of such models. They provide safe environments for both genders to challenge existing assumptions. This need not negate the many times that women and men still come together to share, learn and grow both individually and organisationally.

But what do you think?


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