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The gender debate: Should development be different for women and men?

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2nd Jul 2008
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male/femaleThe male/female divide has been a hot topic for years but has hit the headlines recently with Harriet Harman's proposals for an Equalities Bill. So should we develop staff according to gender? Emma Jones explains why she believes women and men benefit from different development styles.

 

Gender specific development is a controversial subject for many people and the question has often been raised as to whether a female/male divide in development is a step forward or an act of discrimination.

But in my experience, the needs of female executives are different to those of men. This is because of the variation in self-awareness and emotional intelligence between the genders.

Photo of Emma Jones"Historically 'women in business' programmes have followed two routes - the aging hippy approach to find your inner goddess or a burn your bra feminist attack on males. Neither approach has supported or positively publicised the impact of female focused development."

Harvard Business School conducted a number of studies on the emotional intelligence levels of both female and male leaders. Researchers found women naturally have a higher level of emotional intelligence and this alone would support the argument that development should be different for female employees.

For example, if a female executive was to attend a leadership development intervention with a number of male peers, would she gain the optimum learning outcome due to the differing levels of emotional intelligence and self-awareness in the room? I believe the success is purely down to the individual and their ability to challenge, participate and engage with a mixed audience.

Often the best learning comes from the observation of others in the room and shared stories between delegates. If the dynamic of the group was too 'safe' due to an attendance of very similar people, the learning experience may be limited and comfortable rather than challenging and stretching.

Women-only training programmes

Historically 'women in business' programmes have followed two routes - the aging hippy approach to find your inner goddess or a burn your bra feminist attack on males. Neither approach has supported or positively publicised the impact of female focused development. Therefore before any type of female development is embarked on, robust PR activity is required to raise the profile and clearly articulate the business and individual benefits.

Gender specific development needs

Research on the human brain suggests the left hand side of the brain, which is logical, analytical and rational, is mostly used by males. However, the right side of the brain which is emotional, creative and intuitive is most used by females.

Based on this, female development should be focused on 'whole brain' learning to ensure women can not only maximise their natural talent but also interact and work with males in a like for like way.

The approach to female executive development

The approach to female executive development can be addressed in many ways. Coaching, mentoring, workshops and open learning are just some of the methods. However, I believe the power of female focused development is providing women in business with the opportunity to network across different organisations and sectors and share their knowledge, challenges and successes with like-minded colleagues.

"Regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or religious preference the key to maximising the potential of any leader is developing an authentic approach."

Arguably, many female executives also have emotional issues to deal with such as parenting, as well as professional challenges. Open courses or workshops for female executives are great for introducing females to others in similar positions. This is not only a beneficial support system but an excellent learning and coaching experience.

Female or authentic?

So, should training be gender-led or focused purely on the individual? To truly make a difference to individual and organisational performance, the development of authentic leadership is vital.

Providing business leaders with the opportunity to nurture their 'real' leadership style is critical to the personal and business success of the individual. Regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation or religious preference the key to maximising the potential of any leader is developing an authentic approach.

Emma Jones is the director of private sector business at change management and leadership consultancy SFL.
For more information visit Read Verity Gough's feature 'Smashing the glass ceiling'

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