Finding True Equity and Balance: Why Women Only Events are Still Needed

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Very recently a friend of mine advertised a training program she was running for women around building your business tribe, on a professional organisation Facebook group she was a part of as a part of their #PitchWednesday offerings. It was taken down by the moderators saying that it breached the ethics policy of the organisation, which states they do not discriminate based on gender.

This angered me, and obviously angered my friend.

It was for a couple of reasons. I want to start with the legal ones first. The reason we can have women only networking, events and organisations is because women are considered to be a minority group under equal opportunity legislation, not just in the UK but around the World (yes I do understand that there are some exceptions but the ‘First World Countries’ all subscribe to this as does the United Nations). We are considered to be a minority, even though population wise this may not quite be the case, because of the lack of women in leadership positions world wide.

I understand what the organisation was trying to do with their ethics policy, but in this case it was actually not just unethical but also illegal.

The other reason is that we have had a millennium of ‘male only’ groups due the very practices and nature of society. The current set up and hieracy in organisations means that whether they mean to or not they discriminate in favour of males, and in particular white males, with regards to the balance in events they are biased to the dominant traits amongst a group of males due to the fact that that is the majority personality type.

The reason for setting up programs for women only, is to create an environment where they will thrive and ultimately be able to gain the training and resources, they need in order to be able to move forward. This is needed until we gain balance and real equality of opportunities.

We forget that the current system is biased to white males of a certain personality type, largely because no matter how often we talk about running ‘blind’ recruitment processes and how many checks and balances we have in place, in the end we hire in own likeness, not just physically but in personality type. The majority of leaders in organisation are white males, their subconscious bias is to white males like them. Not because they are racism, sexist, machoistic or any other ‘ist’ but because it is how we are all hardwired.

This means that in order to create balance, and to bring equity into the opportunities we need to do things to help shift the balance. Just like in maths, or on a set of scales. If you have more on one side the only way to create that balance is to add the difference between the two sides to the otherside so it is equal. Running women only training and workshops is part of the way we do this.

Another reason woman only workshops work, is that many women actually gain more and participate more in women only environments. Please, note I haven’t said all, partly because I am one of those women who will thrive in whatever learning environment I am in because I tend to be one of the outspoken.  I am considered to have what are often mistakenly designated as male personality traits. Personality traits don’t have gender, they just coincidently have some that are more predominant in males that females and vice versa.

It was another article that I read today which has reminded me of this often-raised debate around ‘what about men who…’ cry to the world. You see we forget that men, and if we want to be very precise, white men, in general have had the favour for many, many years by virtue of society’s collective biases. This continues even today, without us realising it. This is a part of the reason why it is illegal to have a ‘men only’ training event.

One of the things we often forget in our eagerness to create equal opportunity, is that to create the balance and inclusion we need for this to happen, we need to add the extra ‘bodies’ to the other side of the scales to make this happen. To do this, we still need women only events for those women who need it to feel inclusion. In some cases, we may even need to go as far as making them for women of a certain cultural background, once again to cater for the cultural biases, but I am going to stick to the broader subject at hand here.

On another level, something we need to also remember is just because we create the appearance of diversity, doesn’t mean that we actually have inclusion. Having a policy that says we do not discriminate on gender, ever, in an organisation which still has a senior level/ higher experience level, sitting with white males, is actually an organisation which is being exclusive. The message that is being sent out, is you need to make it in “our” in environment, in our way but we include all genders. This does not equal balanced or included. It equals a tick box exercise on paper with the voices of the minority still being muted and excluded.

We need to be careful how we create Diversity and Equality of Opportunities and ensure that we are actually looking at ways to be inclusive and give a voice and a safe place to grow to the minorities that are trying to build up their way to this place. Until we really have this, women only events are still needed are a way for organisation to move towards balance and inclusion.

About The Author

Maggie Georgopoulos

Author | Speaker | Consultant Maggie works with women who are looking to reach their full leadership potential through her Up the Ladder in a Skirt Program.

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