Boss Lady

Women only training courses: yes or no?


Women’s only gyms, personal, yoga or other physical training sessions are so common that it has become the norm. We prefer to train with like-minded females, without the added pressure about how we look or feel as we punch and run and breathe heavily, red faced and sweaty. We feel safe and supported, and we know the women we exercise with understand the pressure we experience to make time and energy to look after our health and fitness.

So why is our attitude different to women only training on different subjects? Leadership, or project management, for example; subjects and skills sets that are often male-dominated and where gender specific courses are ideal in the same way they are when it comes to exercise or sport.

Women’s brains are wired for collaboration and sharing, so team activities and peer-to-peer learning and mentoring is more organic when the majority, or in fact all the students, are female. Traditionally, men have not been encouraged to share feelings and experiences, and are more likely to be competitive, protective of what they perceive as their own ideas or intellectual property and more ego driven. None of these tendencies make for the most successful learning environment.

Research shows us that when it comes to personal development, men and women need a different approach – not through any lack of ability or understanding, but purely based on life experiences and the traditional masculinity of the leader role model.

We know that becoming a leader takes quite a shift in mindset. It’s a whole new identity and that can take some getting used to, especially when as a woman, you operate differently to the accepted role model.

Unfortunately, traditional mixed gender training courses don’t tackle the hidden gender biases and male-oriented cultures of most businesses. Often, the organisation hasn’t even realised that it exists. So while they give women the skills and knowledge they need to become leaders, hidden processes within the organisation inhibit their promotion to the role.

The research showed that the best solution for women’s leadership training is a specifically designed program which includes individualised coaching to allow women to discover what they can offer, and how to manage themselves in a conservative, male environment.

This is where we are coming from with the development of EmpowHER. We don’t see the design of a course specifically for emerging female leaders as a special favour to them, or as a prejudice against males. Instead, we see it as another tool that every organisation can use to bring out the best in their leadership talent.

So next time you are offered a female-only training course, see it for what it is and don’t be put off by what your male counterparts might think.

If the concept of training and learning with like-minded women is appealing, please contact me to discuss how our individualised programs can work with your and around your other commitments.

About Sonia McDonald

Sonia McDonald, Director of LeadershipHQ, is a thought leader, consultant, full time single mum and dynamic speaker and writer. Internationally recognised as an expert in leadership and strategy, organisational development and neuroscience, Sonia is an engaging writer who inspires as she educates. Sonia’s key focus is on the strategies behind successful business and leadership. Her articles and blogs are both fun and informative. Taking a neuroscience approach, Sonia shows how the power of the human brain can become the driver for business and team success, pushing your business to achieve and surpass organisational objectives. She has also just launched her amazing EmpowHER program which is taking Australia by storm and building leadership capability and confidence for women across the nation.

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      Emma Roborgh

      April 2, 2015 at 12:00 pm

      Very interesting article Sonia and a discussion we’ve had internally too.
      We’ve just launched a Women in Procurement 2015 conference to be held in Melbourne in May. When we researched the topic we found that women faced separate challenges to men with regards to procuring from Asian countries but apart from that having a women only event is more about networking, career advancement and getting inspired by some of the most influential CPOs and procurement practitioners in Australia.
      We have had the occasional woman getting back to us saying they don’t like gender specific events. Very interested in more comments on this…Emma



      April 7, 2015 at 2:15 pm

      You lost me at: “Women’s brains are wired for collaboration and sharing…” As soon as you start essentialising gender differences based on sex, you’re working in the same developmental stage as all the other programs that Minimise gender differences, or worse, are Defensive about them. I don’t disagree that women- and men- only programming might be very beneficial! But don’t get sucked into the same useless vortex of essentialism that dominates so much thinking and action in this space. Gender is enculturated, it is not biologically wired.

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