This morning at our usual staff gathering, the person leading our time of reflection celebrated the significant achievements of the early “Heroines of Christian mission”. It was remarkable to reflect how much these great women of God accomplished in spite of the inequalities that existed; and continue to exist today.
This session sparked a lively discussion on how we should continue to work towards gender equality today. This is my reflection on the conversation.
History has shown that if we simply replace women with men – say in leadership roles – without tackling that society’s underlying assumptions about gender, change will, at best, be superficial. We can all think of examples of women leaders who resorted to ‘masculine/alpha male’ forms of leadership in order to be “successful” in a man’s world. While legislative approaches to diversity has been useful in advancing the cause of women, I’m dubious about whether a regulatory approach will ever lead to a paradigm shift. At best, criminalising behaviour can lead to compliance or political correctness, but it also does drives discriminatory practice and attitudes underground.
What’s needed are ways of creating transformative change. This got me thinking about how everyone can play a part in making real change happen. Something that we can all do is to ask questions – questions that generate something new. They have the potential to co-create new realities.
Successful organisations are characterised by positive partnerships across gender relationships in which both men and women contribute from their strengths, and are recognised and feel valued for their contributions.
Generative questions have the potential to socially construct such positive relationships. If you are interested in trying this approach, here are some examples of questions that can be used, say at a team building meeting or something similar. Ask people to answer the following questions in pairs:
1. Think of a time when you felt a genuine appreciation and valuing of diversity, particularly in terms of gender. What made this possible? What stood out as significant and meaningful? How was mutual respect and trust gained?
2. What would you like to see more of, in order to support or improve across-gender working relationships?
3. As you look to the future, what would you like our team/organisation to look like with respect to gender relationships? How should this be manifested in terms of leadership action and how can we ALL bring this about?
4. Having had this conversation what are you personally compelled to make happen? Who will you discuss this with? At the end of the session ask each pair to feedback the key points from their discussion to the whole group.
Remember, the success of this activity rests on people being ‘given permission’ to act on ideas that come up. So, at the end of the meeting you might want to ask for feedback to the whole group; and for ideas and actions to be written up on a flip chart.