If you want to see gender equality in your organization, you must go beyond policies and give practical, tangible support to women.
Much of that support needs to come from individual leaders and employees. But how? Here are five tips to inspire you to take action.
1. Actively seek out women’s expertise, ideas and feedback.
Are you searching for a new team member? Or looking for a subject matter expert to give a statement? Or perhaps doing a survey? Make sure to actively search for, and include, women.
This is by no means a new strategy. Still, it is an important and powerful one. Including female perspective(s) has the power to change a culture–and prevent a needless crisis. By consciously identifying, inviting and displaying women’s knowledge, skills and points of view, we normalize women’s participation in every part of the organization. Just like (white) men’s participation is already obvious and undisputed.
2. Make space – verbally and physically.
There is extensive research on the topic of male verbal dominance in the workplace. In other words – men generally speak a lot more than women, even when the opposite is perceived. Train yourself in detecting this phenomenon. Listen attentively in meetings and other conversations, and make a note of when women have not had the chance to speak as much as their male peers.
When this happens – directly invite a woman to speak. Ask for women’s opinions. Insist on letting women finish their trains of thought, and don’t allow yourself or others to interrupt. If it happens, stand up for them. and ask whoever interrupted to wait because you’d like to hear what the woman was going to say.
The same goes for physical space. Men have spreading tendencies in more than one way. Legs, arms, desk space, corridors… Help limit it. If you’re a man yourself – watch that man-spread! Make sure you stick to your designated space, and don’t constantly spill over into your colleagues’ areas.
3. Include mothers.
Being a woman in the workplace and trying to make a career for yourself is already hard. Doing that at the same time as being a mother is infinitely more complicated. And the load of parenting almost always hits women harder.
Hence, supporting mothers in the workplace is vital to create true gender equity. To support moms, make sure it’s acceptable and normalized to do home office work or to work flexible hours whenever needed – without penalization of any kind. Avoid booking important meetings and events around the times where people usually leave to pick up kids in daycare. Be cognizant of nap schedules, too. Normalize that family and children are more important than work (because they are).
If you have children of your own – openly share your stories about parenthood and how you may have handled them. That way, you help remove the stigma that some parents (especially mothers) feel around not only being a professional but also a parent with other priorities. Don’t be afraid to start parenthood conversations at work.
4. Think twice when you delegate tasks.
Do you have a habit of asking team members to take notes from meetings to summarize and formalize the conclusions? Great. However, when doing that – make sure not to ask the same person every time. And, most importantly, make sure that it’s not only women assigned with this task.
Taking notes in meetings may give the note writer a certain power – it matters what you leave in and what you leave out and how you formulate things. However, it also distracts the person from speaking in the meeting. If they are busy listening and taking notes, likely, that person won’t get the chance to express their opinion.
This also goes for other tasks. Always think twice before you delegate tasks. Is this an interesting task? Is it prestigious? Is it likely to gain acknowledgment in the team? Or is it mundane busy work? Make sure you rotate functions in a way that gives women the same chance as their male colleagues to engage in stimulating, rewarding work.
5. Watch your language.
Many expressions and words that we use daily are sexist. Some are obvious, others are more subtle. Moreover, most languages, including English, tend to use masculine pronoun forms as the norm, also when talking about specific professions or situations. Train yourself in resisting this. Pay attention to the language that other people and you use on a daily basis. Correct yourself when you notice that you use an expression that is contributing to gender bias. Speak up if you hear somebody use inappropriate language or if a colleague makes a sexist joke. Make it uncomfortable for people to express themselves in a sexist manner. Help abnormalize it and, instead, normalize gender neutrality.
These steps are actions that, little by little, can help strengthen women and bolster gender equity in organizations. They are by no means a miracle cure or permanent fix to the problem of gender inequality. Still, they represent day-to-day, small acts that can make a positive change for the women working with you when practiced daily and consistently. Today and in the future.