By Suzy Firkin – Development Director, WISE.
As part of their commitment to increase the number of women flourishing in their careers and achieving senior management or leadership roles there are many organisations that provide female only events on career development, leadership, communication and returning after a career break.
Studies have shown that men and women do behave differently. Generally, women tend to be communal while men may be self-orientated. If they act differently, should they not be trained differently?
Supporters, of this view say that women only events provide the best environment, where participants can experience a sense of belonging, are more open, less defensive, less vulnerable and have a feeling of privacy. This is particularly important with topics such as gender bias or reflecting on one’s leadership challenges, which could generate feelings of identity threat and resistance. Women are placed in a majority position, a possibly unfamiliar position, which could provoke powerful insights. As a result, they can find their voice3.
Even opponents of this view acknowledge that these types of sessions may be an important support network, but externally, and by men, could be portrayed as exclusive, formalising separation and showing preference to the progression of women over men.
Not all women only events will result in beneficial change2. Some deliver the same programmes to women that they deliver to men and don’t acknowledge the different situations that men and women face in corporate life. Others believe in “fixing the woman” and wrongly assume women are the problem, who must be taught to behave more like men.
But can women not have the best of both worlds? Various skills are required to progress in our careers and this could be accomplished through attending different events (single or mixed sex) and by having different role models/mentors (men or women), which would provide attributes, characteristics and skills from multiple sources2 .
Notwithstanding this, training for men and leaders to create a working environment that allows both women, and men, to advance to their full potential is critical as research continues to show that women believe that corporate culture hinders their progression.
WISE is committed to inspiring women to build careers in STEM and advising organisations on how to retain and develop them, not only through training to women, but also training and support to men and leaders to accomplish this goal. Our partnership with Skills4Uk to deliver both Career Development Courses designed for women and Returners Courses for both men and women returning from career breaks are a key component of our strategy.
- Diekman, A. et al (2010). Seeking Congruity Between Goals and Roles: A New Look at Why Women Opt Out of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Careers. Association for Psychological Science. 2010
- 2. Ely, R. et al (2011). Faculty & Research Working Paper. Taking Gender into Account: Theory and Design for Women’s Leadership Development Programs. 2011/69/OB. https://flora.insead.edu/fichiersti_wp/inseadwp2011/2011-69.pdf
- 3. Why single-sex training? Feature by Rosalind Alder, October 2011. http://mediaskillsforwomen.com/pdfs/single_sex_training.pdf
- 4. http://mitsloanexperts.mit.edu/reframing-diversity-through-lessons-on-unconscious-bias/#sthash.dVUDgjRN.dpuf
- 5. McKinsey Global Survey: Moving mind-sets on gender diversity (2014)