A structured small group discussion in which men sit on the outside of a circle, listening to a conversation between women on the inside. The women speak on their experiences, ideas, and feelings about gender, race, sexual orientation and other aspects of identity. After a period of listening, the group comes together to discuss as a group.


  • Highlight the voices of women especially women of color
  • Increase men's conceptual understanding, increase their emotional commitment, and add to their toolkit of inclusive behaviors
  • Get men interested in receiving more educational resources
  • Theory of Change

    Men rarely hear the types of conversations and experiences that women talk about when they talk about gender and identity. Listening to a conversation amongst a group of women is much easier than asking an individual to speak about her experience." The ability to ask anonymous questions also provides a seldom available opportunity for learning. This process helps men to better understand women's experiences and perspectives and often provides personal inspiration to do more.


    Costs and food

    Providing food is nice. Caveat: eat before or after, not during. This is for two reasons. First, eating while listening makes the atmosphere more superficial. Second, the women can't easily eat while speaking, and it's weird for guys to be eating when women can't be.

    Target / likely audience

    This event is most successful with men who care and are receptive. The degree to which the women will be honest and vulnerable depends on their trust of the men in the room.

    Location / Participation Size

  • Ideally 10 men, and 5 women per group with a moderator/facilitator (male or female) per small group.
  • Rooms must be able to fit two concentric circles - the outer circle should be able to fit the entire group, which is around 16 people (5 women, 10 male participants, and the moderator). The inner circle must fit 5 people facing each other. Rooms should be as private as possible to encourage depth.
  • If you have more than 12 men, try to find more women and do two simultaneous groups
  • A/V Needs

    None, unless you're using an electronic way to do anonymous questions and/or poll the audience.

    Other resources needed

    Note cards for anonymous questions

    Special recruitment considerations

  • Because you primarily want guys who care and are receptive, it's best to reach out to men who are known quantities and/or part of the allyship club
  • Reaching out one-on-one to potential female participants is also very important and special care should be taken to create a diverse group in terms of race, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.
  • Roles and responsibilities

  • Program lead. Get all event logistics together. Recruit and support moderator/facilitator, female participants, and male participants. Creates agenda and conversation topics. Gathers feedback. Sends follow-up emails after event.
  • Female Participants. Willing (hopefully excited) to share their own personal experiences, ideas, and feelings in this semi-public setting. Special attention should be paid to finding a diverse group re: race, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.  
  • Moderator/Facilitator. Open and welcome the group. Choose the initial discussion topic. Intercede at times with a new question or topic from the available stack. Keep time. Once the whole group has gotten back together, start and facilitate that conversation.
  • Photography, social media, and documentation – Have folks write down something they learned on a piece of white paper, take a photo of them, and upload to community social media. Document learnings to be shared out to larger audience.
  • Agenda / Program

    Facilitators HIGHLY ENCOURAGED to read facilitation best practices

    Introduce and welcome

    • No one monolithic voice of all women - many experiences and opinions
    • Confidentiality with stories, experiences, opinions
    • Women are being honest and vulnerable and we have to honor and respect that
    • Go over process and agenda

    30 minute convo between women

    • Moderator chooses first question
    • Male participants can write down question anonymously on notecard and pass to moderator
    • Moderator can ask new question or change topic, but it doesn't need to

    30 minute convo with whole group

    • What was surprising?
    • What were men thinking?
    • Follow up on lack of clarity or subjects of interest

    Tips and pitfalls

    Making it Work

    • Create a welcoming environment of safety as much as possible Once a tone of respect and safety is set, this event pretty much runs itself
    • Smaller groups (6 men, 4 women, 1 moderator) absolutely can work. You can't really go below 4 women, as this event relies on a natural flow of conversation, which is harder to achieve in groups of 3 or fewer.
    • It can be tempting to try to "get through" all the questions/subjects at hand, but often times going in depth on a subject requires not constantly changing direction. Keep a list of questions and topics you didn't get to and later email out related information/links.
    • To gauge group preferences, use a simple check-in (both men and women): "raise your hand if you'd like to move to a new subject and keep your hand down if you'd like to stay with this one." If you are going to change topics, ask if there are any last comments on this subject before moving on.
    • Under the right circumstances and atmosphere, many women really enjoy this exercise and the chance for men to simply listen before dialogue.


    Limiting factor is recruiting participants and women willing to engage in this activity. 

    Get a room with chairs that can form two concentric circles

    3 months prior to event.

    • Get rooms

    1 month prior

    • Begin participant and role recruitment
    • One-on-one, allyship listserve or social media, WIB/affinity group lists

    2 weeks prior

    • Have rough guest list
    • See how many groups are necessary
    • Finalize volunteers/roles

    1 week prior

    • Remind participants of event
    • Update guest list

    3 days prior

    • Send request for 1-3 questions from participant

    1 day prior

    • Remind participants of logistics
    • Print evaluations

    Event day prep

    • Arrive to location early enough to do setup. Arrange chairs in concentric circles to start
    • Have a printed agenda
    • Have blank notecards for anonymous questions (fancier electronic options can work, but usually are not worth the extra trouble for this event)

    1 day after

    • Thank participants for coming and send unanswered questions and topics

    1 week after

    • Email links related to unanswered questions and topics


    Subject: Take part in a unique way to learn about gender equity

    Join a small group to discuss gender equity. We're using a "fishbowl" format in which the men will listen in on women discussing their experiences and perspectives around gender, race, and sexual orientation in the workplace. Men will have the opportunity to ask anonymous questions. After this initial period, the whole group will come together and continue the discussion.

    It's on [day], [date] at [time] in [location].

    After the session, we'll have food, drinks, and  good company.

    RSPV here: [link]

    Possible questions and topics for discussion

    How much of the "expectations" you feel are internal vs. external vs. societal?

    • What has happened when you bucked those expectations?
    • Has it been a positive or negative experience?

    What do you think men at your company think about you?

    • How is this different/similar to the community you are from?

    Men being defensive about feedback, saying it's not about gender.

    Guys only talking to other guys in groups -- women not being recognized or addressed.

    • Men ignoring comments from women

    Do you feel like female colleagues are judged or spoken about differently?

    Personal physical safety

    • Are there strategies that you can use to avoid harassment or physical harm
    • Did you have experiences as a kid of feeling disempowered due to your gender
    • Why do you think there are only 14 female CEOs in the fortune 500?