The 'bifocal approach', based on and backed up by research is a proven approach to tackling the difficult task of moving organisations forward in addressing gender inequality and the continuing under-representation of women in leadership.
The 'bifocal' approach
Linking individual development to organisational change.
Jen’s work is underpinned by what she terms the ‘bifocal approach’: linking individual development and organisational change. The 'bifocal approach', based on and backed up by research is a proven approach to tackling the difficult task of moving organisations forward in tackling gender inequality and the continuing under-representation of women in leadership.
Jen uses the metaphor of bifocal spectacle lenses to represent the need for individual development (the near focus) to be linked to organisational development (the distant focus). Bifocal spectacles assist the wearer to switch focal length seamlessly. In organisational terms, this translates into keeping the near focus on individuals and the distant focus on organisational change, both clearly in view. This, Jen argues, is essential for organisations wishing to address culture change issues, perhaps with a focus on gender and diversity, creating inclusive workplaces or ensuring innovative and responsive learning cultures.
The ‘bifocal approach’ arose from Jen's doctoral research where she explored the capacity of a women’s leadership development program to contribute to organisational cultural change. Women’s programs are usually confined to a focus on individual women (a mono-focal approach), and organisations are increasingly aware that these ‘person-centred’ approaches are not delivering the dividends hoped for. Jen explored the way in which a 'bifocal approach', linking individual development to organisational culture change, could be effectively implemented using a women's leadership program as the vehicle for a culture change strategy.
The 'bifocal approach' guides strategy, design and implementation, be it for gender equity initiatives, leadership programs or mentoring programs, in fact wherever organisational culture change is required. It ensures that in-house programs, such as leadership development and mentoring programs, deliver organisational culture change, learning and innovation. For example, Mentoring programs based on the ‘bifocal approach’ can be transformed from being a career boost for individuals to an organisational change strategy designed to benefit mentees, mentors and the organisation.
While inspired by the need to create more gender equitable workplaces, the bifocal approach has been usefully applied to other organisational agendas, and adapted to various organisational change initiatives.
The culture change imperative for gender interventions
It is clear that creating more gender equitable workplaces requires more than development for the women - it requires cultural and structural change on the part of the organisation. Without this, organisations will not reap the business reward. Rather than leave this to chance Jen argues that the 'bifocal approach', embedded in strategies and program design, curriculum and implementation will ensure a far greater return on investment for the organisation.
Gender capacity building for all staff, men and women is an integral part of the 'bifocal approach' and Jen's work. This includes women's programs, partners for change (men and women), public speaking, and work with leaders. See services for more details.
de Vries & van den Brink examine the potential of the “bifocal approach” as an intervention strategy for countering gender inequalities in organizations.
This article provides a good introduction to the bifocal approach. Written during Jen's 2011 Postdoctoral Fellowship in Sweden, it places her work within the Swedish context.