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Making Gender Equity in the Workplace a Reality

Making Gender Equity in the Workplace a Reality

Is your organization doing everything that it can to achieve equity in the workplace?

Studies have consistently shown that boosting diversity and gender equity in the workplace benefits organizations and their bottom lines, and our researchers have confirmed that having more women in the workplace increases well-being for all employees.

Broadly, organizations striving for gender equity in the workplace need to rethink systems and challenge assumptions in order to cultivate an organizational culture capable of harnessing the power of all genders.

To spark conversations, download our free checklist at the end of this article and share it with your team to help make gender equity in the workplace a reality.

Gender Equity in the Workplace Involves Everyone

Gender equity is a systemic issue, and as such, making real changes requires getting the whole organization involved. Senior organizational or functional leaders can implement key practices to help overcome barriers to women’s leadership and truly unlock the potential of gender equity in the workplace.

Here are 7 key action steps:

1. 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.

2. Rethink systems.

Don’t place the burden of driving gender equity in the workplace on individuals. Senior leaders must understand what policies and practices may be seen as supportive or dismissive of talented women and shift toward more inclusive leadership. Best-practice organizations have an all-encompassing, systematic agenda to tackle gender equity and harness diversity.

3. Establish and execute flexible work arrangements.

Flexible work arrangements can take many forms, but flexibility is one of the key things wanted by women in the workplace. 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.

4. Provide learning and development opportunities, and support.

Women want and need opportunities — including stretch assignments. Organizations that 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.

5. Help managers develop talent.

Leaders need to understand their role in supporting leadership development to further equity. Equip managers with skills and tools to mentor, coach, and sponsor talent (our mentoring women resources kit is a good place to start). Offer developmental training on how to make the most out of the diverse talent pool. Provide guidance through tools, and provide coaching support as they come across unexpected situations.

6. 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, a resource group for new parents may also help support and retain more talent.

7. Think beyond gender diversity.

The ultimate goal is to create a culture where all voices are heard and all perspectives are considered without judgment. One company we worked with deliberately uses the phrasing “Inclusion and Diversity” instead of the more common “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 equity, diversity, and inclusion (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 consider appointing an executive-level Chief Diversity Officer.

Men, You Play a Critical Role in Increasing Gender Equity in the Workplace

Gender equity often gets pegged as a “women’s issue” and because of this, is often left to women to address. Some men might even feel uncomfortable participating in discussions around gender because they might assume it’s not their place. But in reality, we’re unlikely to ever reach true gender equity in the workplace unless everyone gets involved — particularly men.

Here’s what men can do:

1. 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 and the power of respect, and become more aware of the biases they may unintentionally hold.

2. Take conscious actions.

Small, daily actions contribute to a more inclusive environment. For example, one interviewee we talked with shared how intentionally avoiding gendered language in meetings (e.g., banning the use of the word “bossy” in reference to women or girls, and saying “you all” instead of “you guys” to sound more inclusive) 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.

Learn more about effective allyship.

3. 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?”

4. Provide challenging opportunities and task-focused feedback.

Research shows that women are often not given the kind of 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.

5. 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. Learn more about why women need a network of champions, and how you can be one.

Women, Consider These Tips to 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:

1. Face challenges with confidence.

Leadership roles come with uncertainty. Don’t fall into the trap of waiting until you think you’re 100% ready for a challenge or question your capabilities. If you do, you’ll miss opportunities. Work to overcome impostor syndrome.

2. Be intentional about development.

Be deliberate about your development as a leader. Take the lead in shaping conversations about your career and take ownership of your career choices. Consciously build and strengthen your personal leadership brand.

3. Find allies and advocates.

Both mentoring and sponsorship are important for career advancement, but women often find themselves over-mentored and under-sponsored. Find someone to advocate for you, and build your network intentionally. (If that feels a little uncomfortable or challenging, check out our networking tips for women.)

4. Speak up.

Leadership is about influence. Women have knowledge, skills, and perspectives that will benefit their teams and organizations. But if you don’t speak up, you lose the opportunity to influence.

5. Give credit where credit is due.

Research shows that women are more likely to credit luck for their successes. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, as women who self-promote are sometimes seen as less likable. But a little authentic self-promotion can prevent you — and those around you — from discounting hard work.

6. Define success for yourself.

The answer to the question: “Do I have the ‘hunger’?” is a key differentiator between women who achieve senior leadership roles and those who don’t, according to another 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. If you’re not interested in the C-suite, that doesn’t mean you’re unsuccessful. For example, some women struggle to balance motherhood and leadership, but there are ways for those to be compatible. What matters is for women to understand first what success looks like for them, and then to be ambitious about obtaining that success. It’s all part of living with intention at work and at home.

Now that you understand the many different ways that organizations and individuals can work together to promote greater gender equity in the workplace, talk with your colleagues about it. 

Download our free gender equity checklist, a resource to spark productive conversations about equity on your team and within your organization, and begin taking steps toward growth.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Organizations can help increase gender equity in the workplace by providing their talented women leaders with customized women’s leadership development. Or, we can partner with you to create customized talent development solutions that help you attract and retain more women and people of color with our Equity, Diversity & Inclusion practice.


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March 6, 2020
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff to help you and your organization's leaders at every level. Want more content like this? Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-backed articles, webinars, insights, and news about leadership development solutions sent straight to your inbox.

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