Despite a number of notable improvements, most women will agree, that the workplace is not always a supportive environment for female employees. Among its many negative impacts, COVID-19 has exacerbated gendered labor issues and increased inequality. In fact, a report from the National Women’s Law Center revealed that nearly 2.1 million women in the USA left the workforce between February and December in 2020.
A brief survey of some of my female peer group revealed that most have experienced casual sexism in the workplace. And many felt they were not adequately supported by male colleagues when discrimination reared its ugly head. So, what can we do to tackle this critical issue and help ensure that women feel safe, happy, fulfilled, and on an even footing with their male counterparts? Read on to discover 5 ways male business leaders can support women in the workplace.
Give women the opportunity to be heard
There is a tendency for men to be the dominant voice in meetings and group discussions. Not only does this mean that important ideas aren’t heard but it also breeds a workplace environment where women aren’t considered to be as valued and valuable as men. Many women are socially conditioned to wait until there is a natural break in the conversation to give their two cents worth. But if that gap doesn’t arrive they may just give up. This is a particularly challenging issue when conducting meetings remotely as the loudest and most persistent voices are those that get the airtime.
If you see this happening in either physical or virtual meetings, look for a break in the chatter where you can intervene and ask a female colleague to contribute. Never do this in a tokenistic way - ‘it’s time to give one of our ladies a chance to talk’, or similar. Instead, defer the discussion to one of the - no doubt - highly-qualified female team members who are a specialist in the subject at hand and ask for their opinion. ‘Rebecca, you’ve got plenty of experience in this area, what would be your take?’
Make sure women are included in decisions
We should all be aware by now that a diverse team leads to a more sustainable, and productive workplace. But with just 26.1% of directorships in the USA held by females much more needs to be done to include women in key decisions. There’s a very simple way you can do this as a business leader. Make sure that women are invited to contribute when business decisions are being made and promote this approach to all your team so that newer entrants to your workforce rise through the ranks with that expectation in place. That’s how cultures change for the better!
Allocate responsibilities based on skills and experience
If the women in your workplace are always the ones getting the coffees, or tidying up the boardroom after meetings, you need to stop it right now. It is not the 1950s anymore and this kind of lazy gender bias towards the tasks and jobs that women should be doing is incredibly reductive. It also significantly impacts on workplace equality and damages the perception of women in your office and what they are capable of.
Address unconscious bias
Unconscious bias is somewhat over-discussed these days and has subsequently lost some of its power. When it comes to addressing gender bias, however, it needs to be a priority. Unsure of how to get started? Here are some tips.
Listen to your colleagues
Naturally, this means your female team members, but also you male ones too. Find out what their experiences are, what they are most worried about, what they think you are doing well and what they think you could be doing better. Create a space where people can be genuinely honest. If this seems like a big ask, you could provide an anonymous feedback channel, though openness is usually a better option.
This shouldn’t be a one-off exercise, but an ongoing one. The more you all listen to each other and learn together, the more you will understand the different points of view and how to tackle the evolving challenges.
The fact that you have taken the time to read this article demonstrates you care about supporting women in the workplace. Now’s the time to do review your efforts so far, listen to your team, think about what you could be doing better and ultimately ensure you are playing a vital role in promoting gender equality - now when it is more important than ever.
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