Guest post by Kari McGregor:
when trying to make orgs, groups and meetings female-friendly, I think it’s important to look at it all holistically, and accept that it’ll take time for the changes to happen – i.e. everything you can do to bring the change won’t actually result in change until later….
Key factors to consider:
– Dates & times – not all of us womenfolk have kids, but those who do generally (still) find themselves doing the larger share of the parenting and housekeeping (can’t dismantle this overnight, so gotta work around it), so weekday evenings when mums are trying to get food into fussy kids’ bellies is just too hard. Try and have at least some meetings during family-friendly hours on weekends.
– Venues – generally folks are more up for a social type of venue if it’s their first time, as this is less daunting. Choose cafe over pub for the ladies, because it’s non-threatening, and they’re not gonna have to speak up so much to get heard over the background racket (bear in mind this really is a major issue for folks who aren’t used to clamouring for attention). This goes for the after-meeting social thingo as well…. Just not always the pub.
– Facilitation style – you really need someone who’s a pro at facilitating… but, in the almost inevitable absence of someone who’s really good at it, bear these things in mind: you need to engage everyone in the first meeting they go to, so provide low-stakes opportunities for people to speak out in smaller groups and feed back to the larger group (as an example). Getting everyone used to getting a say boosts confidence in speaking out to the group as a whole. It’s good if the facilitator circulates around smaller groups and tries to speak to everyone while doing so – have eye contact, and encourage those to whom it doesn’t obviously come naturally.
– Tone – um, at risk of sounding stereotyped, and speaking on behalf of my whole gender… um, let the tone get a bit more emotional. Not everything has to be businesslike. It’s good to have a bit of time for “how do folks *feel* about this”, and provide time and space for venting (small groups, then feed back to larger group – none of this round-the-room bollocks that takes forever and hears next to nothing from most people while awarding some people a stupidly large soapbox) in a way that contains it – i.e. provide limited time and space so it’s allowed to happen, but doesn’t spill over.
– DON’T invite “comments from women first” or tag on as an afterthought “we’d especially like to hear from women”, or overemphasise that in any way… Making a show out of it, or acting out of guilt, just makes it worse, not better.
Of course, most of the above doesn’t just apply to women, but to minorities in general, and to anyone who’s a bit shy.
I have a fuckton of advice on how to facilitate groups properly, and most of it comes from teaching, training and group counselling, not the tidbits folks tend to learn at activist bootcamp… the pro advice is well worth taking, and will ensure you don’t stagnate in the same-old-same-old trap…
Anyhoo, if I think of anything else, I’ll shout out. I’m aware that most of the above might already be obvious, but saying it to cover all bases wink emoticon
Where this came from – I was having dinner with a good friend, and he asked me what advice I had about a situation where most of the people in a group were men, despite the stated desire to make it more gender balanced. I had a few (cough, cough) things to say, but then thought that, in order to rack up some good-guy tokens, we might consult a woman. I chose Kari McGregor, a whip-smart friend whom … I have never actually met. Above is some of her advice, which was met with very sincere thanks. Other advice on this subject very welcome.
There’s some great comments/suggestions (also by women – it’s weird how they seem to have thought more about The Patriarchy and what to do than men. Go figure) on a couple of other posts. These are the ones that come to mind