During a recent webinar (Women+ at Work: Creating a Gender-Inclusive Workplace – you should totes check it out), a participant asked a question that I’ve been thinking about since I hit the “end meeting for all” Zoom button:
How can we support other women+ in the workplace?
Initially, I thought, “that’s easy! Just show up for the women+ that you work with!” But TBH, it’s not that simple. For starters, the gender pay gap is still a thing and hasn’t changed much in nearly 20 years. So “showing up” for your work bestie when she learns she’s making 82% of what the men at her job earn is nice, but also, “where’s my coin, friend?!” And while researchers tend to explain the disparities in compensation by citing work experience, levels of education, and pregnancy/childcare-related employment interruptions, qualitative data on gender discrimination in the workplace is often regarded as “difficult to measure” (despite close to 50% of working women+ stating that they have directly experienced gender-based discrimination at work).
In addition to taking home less than men, women+ often find themselves one of few as they ascend the proverbial ladder through the tiny hole in the glass ceiling. While 48% of women+ report working in places with more women+ than men staff members, that number starts to decrease the closer they get to the “top.” This significantly increases feelings of loneliness and isolation, with women+ identified leaders citing a lack of support from their colleagues and companies as they gain seniority.
To literally add insult to metaphorical injury, the disrespect women+ experience at work has yet to diminish. Women+ experience nearly twice the amount of disrespect than men at work. This includes gendered microaggressions, frequently being interrupted during meetings, having their ideas reworded and co-opted by men, being mistaken for junior or supporting staff members due to their gender presentation, having their competency and business acumen questioned, and the list goes on.
This short list of the issues women+ face in the workplace illustrates the need for allies and ongoing support. So what does that actually look like?
Leverage your privilege
If you’ve ascended to leadership at your current organization, mentor other women+ with similar ambitions. Intentionally implement policies and procedures that will support the advancement of women+ and be willing to continuously advocate for their implementation. Speaking up once in a crowded room isn’t enough to make change; it’s really just a start.
Amplify the voices of women+
What if you’re not sitting in the C-suite? You still have power, friend! Amplification strategies are a solid way to support other women+ at work. What does this look like? When women+ have great ideas, sometimes they get overlooked or ignored in meetings. But when a man rephrases and repeats the same idea, it’s lauded as a great contribution. When this happens, speak up and redirect the conversation back to the originator of the idea. “Yeah, I agree that’s a great idea that Cynthia came up with! Cynthia, could you tell us more about your idea?” If you prefer to connect online, sharing the perspectives of women+ on social media platforms like LinkedIn can amplify their voices to a larger audience.
Report “bro” culture
Spaces that are dominated by men can be problematic for women+, especially if behaviors like sexual harassment and “locker-room talk” aren’t reported or discouraged. This isn’t unique to physical offices, as experienced by recruiting vice president Whitney Sharpe who, during a Zoom meeting, saw comments men were making about her when someone accidentally shared the wrong screen. If she hadn’t called this issue out, everyone would have carried on with this behavior as part of the cultural norm at their company. If you experience or witness harassment, inappropriate language, and overall exclusionary behaviors, utilize your human resources contact and file a report (also make copies of everything for your own records)
Address your own biases
Because we’ve been socialized under patriarchy, we all have unconscious (and even conscious) biases about people in general, but against women+ in particular. There are ways that women+ are “supposed” to behave and show up in the world that has been shaped by our culture, upbringing, and systems we have to participate in to survive. Start to interrogate your own biases about women+ and reframe them to be more inclusive.
Channel your inner Golden Girl
We all know the Golden Girl’s theme song, “thank you for being a friend…” Start by being a work friend. You don’t have to be besties IRL, but you can def be supportive and hold space for other women+ at the job. This could mean as much as having lunch together on the regular to as little as stopping by (virtually or for reals) to check in once in a while. Doing what feels natural and accessible to you and the folks you work with is key. Don’t participate in office gossip or join others in tearing other women+ down. Celebrate everyone’s successes and be willing to lend support when folks make mistakes or have areas they want to grow professionally. Be open to giving and receiving constructive feedback to help level up.
While we recognize that workplaces are becoming more inclusive for women+ identified folks, the playing field is not yet level. And even when it is (hopefully in our lifetime!), we’ll still need to consistently and intentionally show up for other women+ at work. It’s incredibly empowering to be in solidarity with other women+ and model supportive behaviors to those that may not have been exposed to deliberate allyship. If you’d like more tips, check out a recent webinar from us!