In 2019, articles about how to support women in the workplace should be pretty obsolete... But, in spite of the progress made over the past few decades, things still aren’t always equal in the office, or the boardroom, or even the breakout room. From giving women credit for their own ideas to calling out unacceptable behavior, here are nine of the best ways to support women in your workplace.
55 years on from the Equal Pay Act and we’re still talking about this. The gender pay gap is still very much alive, and it’s particularly brutal for women of color (on average, black women earn $0.63 and Latina women just $0.54 for each dollar earned by white women). Neither race nor gender should have any bearing on what someone earns. We shouldn’t need to still reason this: pay men and women equally for equal work.
Supporting women in the workplace doesn’t end with paying them fairly. It means involving them too; listening to their thoughts, considering their opinions and making sure they are represented in decisions. Don’t isolate women, whether it’s denying them chances to present in pitches or letting male colleagues talk over them. As a boss, it’s up to you to draw the line if you see men interrupting, undermining or simply “hepeating” (rewording a point raised by a female colleague). You can’t be a champion of women without tackling poor behavior – but similarly, don’t project your own vision of what female empowerment looks like. Talk to women, let them speak for themselves and use that information to strengthen the company.
Multiple studies prove that companies with a diverse workforce not only have a more varied skill set, but are also more lucrative. And yet, female representation is still a long way from even. Examine your own company structure: if you don’t have any women represented at managerial level, you need to seriously reconsider your business model. Some companies have set public targets for diversity, aiming to hire X number of women by a set date. But this shouldn’t lead to one-off tokenism; there are tons of ways to give women opportunities throughout their careers. Put them forward for promotions, invest in their skills and protect space for their development.
Creating a safe workplace for women doesn’t just mean not being sexist yourself; you need to take meaningful action against sexism. Your positive work culture has 0 space for it. Even if you are irreproachable and set the perfect example, don’t just pat yourself on the back and think you’re doing your bit – be active, not passive, against sexism. Help prevent, highlight and report unacceptable situations and behavior – and actually take action.
Just as a male colleague’s private life is none of your business, a female colleague’s private life is also none of your business. Never pry, make assumptions on “life plans” or use a woman’s personal life to take decisions affecting them. Whether a woman is childless or has five kids, whether she’s single or dating, gay or straight… none of this should ever come into professional decisions.
It’s largely accepted that having both parents present to raise a child is a pretty positive thing. But social provisions and attitudes don’t always enable this, meaning child raising still falls disproportionately on women. While companies shouldn’t intervene directly in an employee’s life, they should recognize inequality and offer ways to minimize the burden – whether that’s helping women stay connected and developing their skills while they’re on maternity leave, or facilitating their return to work. Offering equal paternity care is a no-brainer. As with everything on this list, you should also offer flexibility to all of your employees. People’s personal schedules aren’t always compatible with work, and no one should feel bad when the two sides of their lives don’t perfectly align.
Celebrate women’s successes in a way that’s meaningful to them – not you. A woman’s achievement is not a way of proving that you’re a cool, progressive boss – and it doesn’t mean you’re not out of touch, because it’s all too easy to hire a “token” female to be your company poster girl. Realize: Women in the workplace are not there to make you look good, and feminism should never be marketed for your own gain. So be mindful of how you celebrate female achievement, and recognize the very prevalent phenomenon of men stealing women’s ideas. You should be earnest in how you express value to all your employees. Be honest with yourself and examine whether any of your equality incentives exist – even in part – so you can feel good about yourself and your business. While having female role models gives greater visibility to female success, it’s a double-edged sword: you shouldn’t still have to mark achievement by the gender of the person behind it.
Men and women can have very different perceptions of the same action; it’s entirely possible for a women to feel unsafe when a man has no intention of making her feel that way. So what’s “harmless chat” for you can easily be felt as harassment by someone else. This unconscious sexism still counts as sexism – take your whole company on a male privilege/sexism awareness course and have open conversations about what counts as unacceptable behavior. Then check your own biases, regularly. Navigating the gendered norms of leadership can be a minefield for women – having to straddle the balance between being warm and approachable but also tough and competent is just one example. Think about how your management style affects women, from your hiring policies to team building and office dress codes.
This point counts for a lot. We can all think of powerful men who view women as some kind of strange species – inferior or exotic, depending on the situation. But – surprise! – women are not some separate species of being. The way women look or dress has zero bearing on their skills, ambitions, ideas, thoughts, strengths or potential. There is no such thing as a “gendered brain”. If you take nothing else away from this list, the best thing you can do for women in your workplace is to treat them as you would any other human being – with respect, dignity and equal validity.