You are a Senior Program Officer at the Job Readiness Coalition (JRC), an urban, not-for-profit coalition that helps local groups with job readiness training for the underemployed. Impending budget cuts at the federal and municipal levels are threatening to debilitate, and in some cases close down, the activities of many JRC member organizations.
In an effort to prepare for the budget downturn, the JRC decided to engage selected beneficiaries of local job training in an advisory capacity to help inform and focus member organizations’ activities. Your boss tasked you with convening an advisory committee at four evening meetings and asked you to produce a report at the end outlining the advisors’ top policy and direct service priorities for the year.
The advisory committee includes five women and five men from a cross-section of JRC target populations such as at-risk youth, the homeless, single mothers, the long-term unemployed, and veterans. Despite your best efforts to ensure gender parity, men in the group seem to dominate the conversation. One exception to this rule is Sharon Jones, a single mother and JRC success story, but she was only able to attend the first meeting due to childcare constraints. You are also accustomed to the woman veteran in the group being independent and self-confident, but in these meetings she has mostly deferred to the men in the room.
As the group has worked through developing its priorities, there have been disagreements, but you have not noticed these opinions dividing along gender lines, except on one of the issues: mentoring versus skill building. On this topic, the women feel strongly that access to a mentoring network should be a top priority, while the men insist that having skills is much more important than having someone “hold your hand.” One of the men, a former site manager of a paper production company who has been unemployed for six years, said this proved to be true during his 20-year career at the company. No one has offered any concrete arguments to support the importance of prioritizing a mentoring network.
- At the most recent meeting, you shared what you considered to be the group’s top five recommended activities so far (not including mentoring network or skill building, which you said are still up for discussion). You made sure to ask whether everyone agreed with your preliminary list, and you got nods of approval. You were therefore surprised to get a phone call the next day from a woman in the group complaining that the whole advisory committee experience has been a waste of her time. She said the JRC doesn’t seem to value her input and she likely won’t attend the next meeting. You only have two meetings left, and you need to figure out how to make sure you’re capturing as many voices as possible.
- What are the implicit and explicit gender stereotypes in play?
- What kinds of structural changes to the process could you make to encourage more inclusive participation?
- How would you coach the women in this negotiation? How would you coach the men?