This International Women’s Day, we’re focusing on how people of all genders can elevate and advocate for women in the workplace. Research consistently shows that boosting the presence and power of women in the workplace and promoting gender diversity benefits business.
Broadly, organizations striving for gender equity in the workplace need to rethink systems and challenge assumptions in order to cultivate a culture capable of harnessing the power of all genders. Is your organization doing everything that it can to achieve equity in the workplace?
To spark conversations, download our free checklist at the end of this article and share with your team to help make gender equity in the workplace a reality.
Organizations: Gender Equity in the Workplace Involves Everyone
Gender equity is a systemic issue, and as such, real change requires getting the whole organization involved. Organizational or functional leaders can implement key practices to overcome barriers to women’s leadership, and truly unlock the potential of gender equity in the workplace.
- Rethink systems. Do not place the burden on individuals. Understand and communicate system-level barriers to women advancing into senior roles. Help leaders understand what may be seen as supportive or dismissive of talented women, and engage them in creating positive change. The best-practice organizations have an all-encompassing agenda to tackle gender diversity systematically.
- Help managers develop talent and harness diversity. Leaders need to understand how their role in supporting leadership development furthers equity. Equip managers with skills to mentor, coach, and sponsor talented women. Offer developmental training on how to make the most out of the diverse talent pool. Provide guidance through tools, sessions within other leadership development efforts, and coaching support as they get involved and come across unexpected situations.
- Establish, and execute, flexible work arrangements. Flexible work arrangements can take many forms, but flexibility is one of the key things that women want from work. One company we interviewed found that the flexible policy alone has fostered the most return on women’s career advancement. But even more important than establishing flexible policies, is ensuring that employees feel “safe” to take advantage of them.
- Provide learning and development opportunities, and support. Women want and need opportunities — including stretch assignments. Organizations who want to attract and retain women need to offer developmental opportunities for women throughout the career path and talent pipeline; especially if organizations want to tap the power of women in senior leadership
- Gain commitment from board members and senior leaders. Addressing the barriers and experiences of women — generally and in a specific organization or context – requires involvement from the top. This may involve multi-phase learning on topics such as unconscious bias and style differences, and how to lead differently and inclusively, with an understanding of social identity. One company we talked with focused first on senior leaders who became advocates and shaped the direction for all diversity efforts. The company went from having zero women promoted in 2016 to 34% of promotions going to women in 2019.
- Endorse employee resource groups. Our research has found that many women have benefited from women’s groups that allowed a safe space to discuss the challenges, seek solutions, and access networking opportunities that they might not have otherwise encountered. Organizations can endorse and support formal employee groups as a way to shape culture, engage employees, communicate information, and provide resources. Of course, resource groups can be formed based on other common interests, backgrounds, and identities, too. For example, one organization has a resource group for new parents.
- Think beyond gender diversity. The ultimate goal is to create a culture where all voices are heard and all perspectives are considered without judgement. One company we worked with deliberately uses “Inclusion and Diversity” instead of “Diversity and Inclusion,” because they believe that by focusing on inclusion, companies get the most out of diversity. At CCL, we advocate for kick-starting your diversity efforts with a focus first on equity. Incorporate EDI into your organizational value proposition, identify diversity as a key component of organizational cultural change, clarify a global and a local diversity strategy, and appoint an executive-level Chief Diversity Officer.
Men: You Play a Critical Role in Gender Equity
Gender equity often gets pegged as a “women’s issue”, and because of this, it is often left to women to fix it. In fact, men might even feel uncomfortable participating in discussions around gender, because they might assume it’s not their place. However, in reality, we are unlikely to ever reach true gender equity in the workplace unless everyone gets involved — particularly men.
- Lead or participate in discussions of women and leadership. Men’s participation in gender equity discussions introduces different dynamics to the conversation, and can signal to others that it’s more than just a women’s issue. These discussions help people from all backgrounds understand different perspectives, the power of respect, and become more aware of the biases they may unintentionally hold.
- Take conscious actions. Small, daily actions contribute to a more inclusive environment. For example, one interviewee shared how intentionally avoiding gendered language (“you guys”) and offering smaller-sized shirts for women employees made a difference within his teams. Consciously support women in small ways and in bigger ones too, such as at critical decision points in the selection and promotion process, and when providing developmental opportunities.
- Challenge assumptions. When decision makers question whether a woman would really want a new role, men can challenge the underlying assumption by suggesting, “Let’s ask her.” Challenging assumptions also means considering the possibility for different styles and skillsets: “Here’s the profile of the last person in this job… but what competencies might we need now?”
- Provide challenging opportunities, and task-focused feedback. Research shows that women are often not given the feedback they need to improve, grow, or take the next step. Men can commit to giving women direct reports and colleagues helpful, constructive feedback, steering them to needed assignments and opportunities — as well as stepping up to be coaches, mentors, and sponsors.
- Lend your network. The right relationships and ties are assets in getting access to information, earning promotions, and gaining opportunities. Effective leaders rely on networks to influence others and to get results. Men can use their access to networks to create connections and open doors for talented women colleagues.
Women: You Can Shift Your Mindset
While gender equity in the workplace is certainly impossible without organizational and behavioral changes, these 6 mindset shifts could help women tackle the gender equity challenges experienced at work.
- Face challenges with confidence. Leadership roles come with uncertainty. If women wait until they think they are 100% ready, they miss opportunities.
- Be intentional about development. Women need to be deliberate about their careers and development as leaders. Women can take the lead in shaping conversations about their career and have greater ownership over career choices. Consciously build and strengthen their personal leadership brand.
- Seek mentors and sponsors. Both mentoring and sponsorship are important for career advancement, but women often find themselves over-mentored and under-sponsored. In order to close the gender equity gap women need a network of champions who will advocate for them.
- Speak up. Leadership is about influence. If women do not speak up, they lose the opportunity to influence. Women have knowledge, skills, and perspectives that will benefit their teams and organization.
- Give credit where credit is due. Research shows that women are more likely to credit luck for their successes. Perhaps this is not surprising in a society tends to dislike women who self-promote. However, such dismissal can lead to both women — and those around her — discounting hard work.
- Define success. The answer to the question: “Do I have the ‘hunger’?” is a key differentiator between women who achieved senior leadership roles and those who didn’t, according to a CCL study. Women who strive to reach the C-Suite need to dig deep and find the drive and tenacity needed for that long and challenging leadership journey. On the other hand, research also shows that women tend to have more varied interests in career and life paths, compared to men. And women who are uninterested in the C-suite should certainly not be presumed to be unsuccessful. What matters is for women to first understand what success looks like for them, and then to be ambitious about obtaining that success.
Are you keeping up with forward-thinking organizations who recognize the value of gender equity in the workplace?