There is a growing recognition that an organisation’s diversity goals can only be met by engaging both women and men into the dialogue. Historically, women’s networks have been underfunded, yet expected to make tangible progress on rectifying the gender balance. The work of women’s networks are vital in helping create progress for many women and should be lauded for all they do achieve. However, there is a limit to how much cultural change they can affect without men at the table. Similarly, increasing numbers of men are voicing resentment at exclusion from such events with the complaint: “Where’s the network for men?” To this end, many internal women’s networks are making more efforts to attract men to their events. When I speak at events on “Moving Beyond the Boys Club” I usually have a few men in the audience. There is definitely a need for both men and women to discuss how gender impacts work.
However, as someone who also runs smaller mixed gender workshops, I strongly feel women should still have their own space at some events within those networks. Time and time again, when I work with a group of 10 people; 8 women and 2 men, I will watch the 2 men take up as much ‘air-time’ in discussing their opinions as the other 8 women combined. As facilitator, I encourage the women to speak up but am dismayed that they suddenly become much less forthright in their opinions. As Deborah Tannen notes in her seminal classic “Talking from 9-5” when men make a point in a meeting, they take 18 seconds. Women use a mere 10 seconds. I even see this happen even when there is a single man in the room – plus watch the women be much more careful about “editing” themselves. A woman’s comment changes from “It’s hard to get a word in edgewise when I am at team meetings with my male colleagues” to “I know it’s not all men, so I don’t want to generalise, but I sometimes find it difficult to get a word in at team meetings if the men, again not all of them to be fair, are talking over me.” You’d think the women were suddenly gardeners for all the “hedges” they use and the way they “prune” their opinions! And that’s just the comments they will voice! I have certainly had women speak to me after events to say things they did not feel they could say in front of their male colleagues. Clearly, it will take both men and women to create a more gender-neutral workplace, but I for one, advocate some women-only events as part of any network where women feel they can speak freely. For more on networking click here.