The case for women-only development

It’s one of the most efficient ways to accelerate progress towards gender balance in leadership, yet many organisations are reluctant to offer women-only development and training opportunities. Women-only development is controversial for a number of reasons; many argue that it is not representative of the actual workplace, it perpetuates the belief that women are somehow ‘lacking’ and undermines the argument that men and women are equal.  

However, it is important not to confuse equal with same. While women are equally capable, their leadership journey is very different to that of men. The workplace was designed around a society where men went out to work and women stayed home. While society has moved on, organisational structure and culture remain relatively unchanged. Men have the advantage when it comes to understanding many of the behavioural norms and unwritten rules in organisations.

By contrast, the concept of women in leadership is relatively recent and there is a shortage of strong female role models. Those women who do succeed are held to a different standard than their male counterparts – the ‘double-bind’.

The reality is that the leadership journey is experienced differently by women. Therefore, it follows that their developmental needs will also differ. Women-only development allows women to explore their leadership identity, discuss issues unique to them such, as barriers to advancement and provides access to female role models. It allows women to build skills in areas where they often feel uncomfortable and at a disadvantage, such as self- promotion.

So, what women-only developmental opportunities exist for emerging leaders in Ireland?

Established in 1983, Network Ireland is a progressive, dynamic organisation supporting the professional and personal development of women.

Its members include women from very diverse backgrounds; entrepreneurs, professionals and leaders in indigenous and multinational organisations, non-profits, charities, arts and the public sector.

Network Ireland also offers members an invaluable opportunity to avail of free mentoring from other women on issues such as leadership, mediation, finance, PR, social media and marketing.

The recently launched IMI programme, Taking the Lead is designed to give women executives an opportunity to come together and share their leadership experiences in a learning environment that has direct relevance and personal impact.

The programme will run in both Dublin and Cork this spring and covers topics such as purpose, empowerment and personal brand whilst also addressing inhibitors.

Run by the DCU Ryan Academy for Entrepreneurs and supported by Enterprise Ireland, Dublin City University’s Female High Fliers accelerator programme attracts on average 130 high calibre female entrepreneurs every year who are looking to develop leadership skills, fast track their business and ultimately achieve scale.

In the UK, the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education offers the Aurora women-only leadership development programme. With the intention of addressing the issue of under representation of women in leadership positions in higher education

Over the past four years 3477 women from over 139 institutions across the UK and Ireland have participated.

As organisations recognise the advantages of women only-development, further initiatives will emerge. However, it is essential to ensure that it is offered as a range of training and development opportunities.