Beginning with the Client Assessment
We start with a client assessment interview to determine which model of mediation will work best. The decision to use a gender-balanced mediation is based on information we gather during the assessment process and what we learn about the dynamics of the relationship between the clients.
We recommend a gender-balanced mediation, with both a male and female mediator present, when issues are identified that may detrimentally affect the ability of either client to operate capably in a mediation session for which the gender-balanced mediation process will assist.
Some examples of the type of issues that favour the gender-balanced mediation model are:
- Either or both parties stuck rigidly in their own agendas or positions. Sometimes a reality check for clients is required in mediation and is best received from a mediator of the same gender.
- The presence of a power imbalance based around gender issues. An example of this would be the male partner of an ex-couple controlling all the money from the relationship because he worked and his ex-partner had stayed home with the children. He may not acknowledge her contribution to the relationship because she did not work and contribute directly to their finances.
- One party holding the belief that due to their gender they command more power in the relationship. This may be a result of a family of origin belief system, peer group influence or religious beliefs.
- Cultural beliefs that the male in the relationship holds all the power and makes all the decisions for the family.
Benefits of the gender-balanced mediation model
The presence of both genders as mediators often has a profound effect on the success of mediation, for example in “reality checking”.
Mediators use various tools in the mediation process such as reality checking (eg. “So let me ask you Brian, if you are working on a fly-in fly-out roster of four weeks on and one week off, how do you see a 50/50 week about living arrangement working for your three children?”). Reality checking is an important part of mediation and may be quite challenging for certain clients. If that challenge is coming from someone of the same gender it may be accepted and considered more easily.
Impartiality is also essential in a successful mediation. All mediators understand how important client perception of impartiality is. For agreements reached in mediation to remain in place beyond the mediation room both clients need to feel they were heard, acknowledged, fairly treated and had their ideas form part of the final agreement.
We mediators all operate from a place of impartiality however, despite all our efforts, some clients do not always feel that is the case. An example could be a male client feeling overwhelmed and out-numbered in a co-mediation using two female mediators (this is a very common model of mediation) simply because he is in a room with three women being his ex-partner and the two mediators.
Gender-balanced mediation addresses this perception. I have experienced clients sharing with me after their mediation session that a balance of genders was enough to make them feel comfortable around impartiality.
A Tale with an unexpected Twist
An interesting example of how a gender-balanced mediation can work, even unexpectedly, I will relay to you, and conclude with, the story of a session I was involved in a couple of years ago. For confidentiality reasons I have changed their names.
Brittany and David were young parents who had one child but had separated recently. In their assessments it appeared that David was very controlling given his responses to some of the questions and his very confident demeanour. He did accuse Brittany of being stubborn and controlling and this was explored and noted. Brittany presented as quiet and not displaying a lot of confidence. David wanted to establish a shared living arrangement for their young daughter Kylie that, according to Brittany, was not in Kylie’s best interests due to her age. I had assessed David and a female colleague had assessed Brittany. As often happens we, as mediators, discuss cases before the decision is made as to how mediation will work. Our discussions were around how a gender-balanced mediation may work better than a solo (one mediator) or a co-mediation (two female mediators). We both felt that my male presence may work well at two levels. Firstly to give the perception of impartiality (and of course we were) with a balance of males and females in the room and, secondly, if we felt that David needed a reality check or needed to be challenged over certain issues it would be better coming from another man.
Due to certain circumstances mediation was delayed for a few months. As it finally proceeded it became apparent early in the session that Brittany was actually the one who had power and control. She had either become empowered whilst waiting for mediation or had not revealed her true self during assessment. Nevertheless there was a clear power imbalance in the room in her favour. My female colleague became the one reality checking Brittany rather than me checking David, a role reversal. We worked for two hours with this couple and at the end of mediation they reached some workable, age appropriate agreements that were best for Kylie and fair and sustainable for her parents.
In our post –mediation evaluation forms David expressed his gratitude for having a male and a female mediator in the session as he felt supported and Brittany was happy with how mediation was conducted. She said on her evaluation; “I felt at ease because the two mediators were like my parents”.
Greg Argaet is a Perth based mediator and registered Family Dispute Resolution Provider. Greg spent many years as a successful small business operator before making the transition to counselling and conflict resolution. Completing a BA (Politics and International Studies) and Postgraduate Diploma in Alternative Dispute Resolution, Greg is able to use his high level interpersonal skills to effectively mediate and facilitate rational and meaningful resolution. He is a practitioner with Gender-Balanced Mediation Services.