Creating more gender equitable and inclusive cultures is high on the agenda for many organisations. However there is often a disconnect between existing staff development activities and efforts to create the desired cultures. More explicitly linking individual development to organisational change can make a big difference to the return on investment when developing staff. The ‘bifocal approach’ translates this ideal into reality through clear principles and program design.

Men's work; Women's work

I’ve worked for about 17 years to help improve Aboriginal/non-Aboriginal relations. Jen de Vries has worked even longer to improve gender equity. In both of these fields we are in a time of transition – about 40 years old and counting – from an era of unambiguous and socially sanctioned disparity in rights, dominance and power, to an era of genuine equity. That transition is hard work. And in both of those fields I’m in the dominant group. I’m white Australian, and I’m a bloke.

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Challenges for men: The expectation to lead and succeed

‘We (men) are expected to lead’, one of the male participants exclaimed. As a woman so immersed in working with women’s leadership development programs I found myself somewhat taken aback. It was impossible for me to imagine a woman saying anything like it. For women the reverse could be said to be true: we (women) are not expected to lead. It was one of those moments when you are left in no doubt that gendering processes are alive and well. A moment when socialised gender roles, so often implicit become explicit. And, in this case, open for discussion.

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‘I never expected to be talking about men’s issues today’

Getting men and women together to talk about gender. Sounds ordinary enough. Might happen around a dinner table but when was the last time it happened at work? Maybe it never has? Tim Muirhead and I recently ran a full day ‘Partners for Change’ workshop where attendees came in male/female collegial pairs. Women mostly did the inviting, asking a male colleague to come to the workshop with them, with the intended focus of strengthening their capacity to work individually and together to tackle gender issues in their shared workplace.  

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Women undermining women and gender equality

Better behaved with male colleagues? While debriefing an experiential exercise in an all female leadership program, one woman suggested she would have behaved differently if men had been involved.

She would have treated men more seriously and with more respect. While hard to admit, this observation opened up a discussion about how they, as women, treated their female colleagues differently to men in the workplace. 

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What about the men?

What about the men? I have heard this question asked in so many different ways. Men sometimes ask it, complaining they are being unfairly treated, missing out on something that is being offered to women, for example the opportunity to be matched with a senior mentor or participate in a leadership development program. Women on leadership programs often ask ‘what about the men?’ ‘Men need this too’, they say. Or ‘men need this more than we do, they are our bosses and they are the ones who need to change, not us’.

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