Welcoming Women – Making the Workplace Equally Enjoyable for All
It is no secret that many workplaces experience a gender disparity in terms of staff, especially in senior roles. Countless companies, including my own employer, are taking steps to rectify this. Effective allyship from male colleagues is key.
One of the many great things about life in the 21st Century is the dissolution of many outdated gender roles. The days of Isabella Beeton, and the division of labour as traditional, “pink” or “blue” jobs, is slowly but surely being eradicated. Alas, as I’m sure every woman reading this is aware, there is still a gender divide in the workplace.
I’m not talking about the worldwide gender pay gap here – although I probably should, as that remains shocking and unacceptable. Instead, I am making reference to the – often subconscious – ways that women are made to feel lesser and unimportant in male-dominated industries.
This is not just an issue for women, and it’s not merely a female-centric issue. It’s a problem for business as a whole. Companies are missing out on a wealth of opportunity and ideas by not taking women seriously.
Sadly, not everybody buys into this idea. The oldest habits are the hardest to break, after all, and for some the workplace remains a “boy’s club.” The men make the decisions with a clear head and logical thought, while the women work behind the scenes and keep things ticking over. That’s the theory, at least – and despite evidence to the contrary, some … let’s be charitable and say ‘old-fashioned’ beliefs still dominate the thoughts of key decision-makers.
This needs to stop, sooner rather than later. The role of a leader is not the same of a manager. A leader understands that the needs of the business come first, and that a successful business needs to strike balance in every area – including gender parity. If women enjoy their work and feel able to reach their full potential through promotion, the very best candidates will rise to the top of a profession.
It’s not about blame, though. Pointing fingers at men or women does not help anybody, especially when education is an approach that will reap more rewards. We all have a responsibility to adapt to the changing landscape of the workplace in the 21st Century. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox discusses this with great wit and intelligence in Augsburg University’s Forum on Workplace Inclusion Podcast. I recommend giving this podcast a listen – and subscribing!
I’m speaking from a degree of personal experience when I discuss this topic. I’d like to make something clear before I really get going, though – in no way am I attempting to, “call out” my employers. The fact is, I am proud of the diversity drives and attempts to make women feel welcome that are undertaken. All the same, women in business face unique challenges every day.
Much of this is a result of subconscious bias. That’s important to note, as I always like to give anybody the benefit of the doubt. Whether conscious or not, however, this bias is still preventing women from feeling at home in the workplace.
Humans will always be humans, and no blog post will be powerful enough to unravel thousands of years of evolution. What I would like to propose, however, is that our male colleagues seek to step up their allyship. Discrimination against women – whether by accident or design – should be abhorrent to everybody, not just female colleagues.
How can you be an impactful ally to women in your office? Well, here are some suggestions to get you started.
Moderate Your Language
I’m not referencing profanity here, though obviously that’s a matter of personal taste. Not everybody enjoys being greeted by a stream of expletives when they arrive at their desk in the morning.
No, what I’m really interested in is how you address your colleagues in the morning. If your team is comprised of nine men and a single woman, you may be tempted to say, “good morning, gentlemen.”
Now, stop for a moment and wonder how that may make your female employee feel. I believe the word we’re looking for here is, “invisible.”
This may be completely accidental. Maybe you worked with an exclusively male team for years, and its habit. Maybe you thought the female employee was out of the room at the time. Maybe you just forget that women have joined your team.
Whatever the reason, try to think about how you address your colleagues and employees. A little thoughtfulness costs nothing and can drastically alter how an employee feels.
Listen to Women
I’m realistic. I completely understand and respect that people in senior management roles with have more personal chemistry with some people than others. That’s just human nature. I also accept that male camaraderie will often lead to a friendship outside of working hours. I’m all for that – the world can be a tough place, seek out anything that brings a smile to your face!
What I’m less understanding of, however, is overlooking contributions from female colleagues in favour of comments made by men. Do not assume that an idea is less valid because it came from a woman, especially one that you do not know on a personal level. Successful businesses are built on suggestions and ideas from colleagues from all walks of life.
On a similar note, nurture the women in your workplace so they feel confident in speaking up. A lone woman in a meeting with eight men can find it a little intimidating to put themselves out there. If you hear a good idea from a female colleague that goes unnoticed, draw attention to it. Encourage your male colleagues to stop and listen to what was said. Do not simply repeat it yourself in a louder voice, reaping kudos from somebody else’s idea.
I am Not Your PA
When a meeting is called, everybody who attends is there on merit. That includes your female colleagues. They have been invited because they have insights to share – not to take notes.
Administration staff are valuable and skilled, so use those skills. PAs and receptionists are skilled note-takers. If your female colleagues are taking notes during a meeting, it’s for their benefit. This isn’t High School – don’t just assume that you can copy my notes after the meeting, and not take any of your own.
It’s Only a Joke if Everybody Finds it Funny
We all enjoy a laugh and a joke in the workplace, when appropriate. In times of duress, it can be the one thing that keeps us sane. Humour is subjective, though – and when it involves belittling woman, it can be hugely damaging.
If you have a witticism based on a female colleague’s hair, clothing, perfume or anything else, keep it to yourself. Even if you’re just engaging in a little gentle teasing, it can be misconstrued. Not everybody will be as tickled as you by your observation.
In addition, be mindful of who is listening. Sadly, there are still people with outdated attitudes toward gender – in and out of the workplace. They may overhear what was intended as a joke and consider it to be open season on insulting female colleagues.
Call Out Inappropriate Behaviour
OK, this is arguably the biggest point of them all. For many women at work, especially in male-dominated environments, pointing out bad behaviour is hugely distressing. At best, we feel like overly-emotional party poopers – as though we’re devoid of humour or charm. At worst, we’re made to feel like pointing out an inappropriate action is career suicide.
If you see a female colleague being treated poorly, don’t turn a blind eye. Speak up. Report it to HR, or at the very least, privately inform your female colleague that you will support them if they decide to do so.
This encouragement can make a huge difference to women at work. Nobody likes to feel as though they are swimming against the tide. If we all pull in the same direction, great things can happen.
Above all, my plea to men in the workplace is simple. Treat women at work no differently than you would your male colleagues. Just like men, we have earned our seat at the table. In fact, in many cases, we have had to work even harder for the same reward.
Your female colleagues are not rare, exotic flowers that need to be handled with extreme care. We just want the same as everybody else – to be respected and taken seriously. If our male colleagues can master this art, we’ll all take a giant step toward a genuinely diverse workforce for the next generation.
- Women just want to get on with the job they’re employed to do. Let us do so, and you may be surprised at how effective the results will be.
- It is not just a woman’s job to point out mistreatment. Anybody being treated poorly in the workplace deserves support.
- Support your female colleagues, even if others do not – ensure their voices are heard.
- Acknowledge women, without losing sight of the fact that – just like you – we are employees doing our best in an ever-evolving workspace.
About LEAD Network Europe
The LEAD Network Europe is a non-profit and volunteer-led organisation whose mission is to attract, retain, and advance women in the consumer products and retail sector in Europe through education, leadership, and business development. The LEAD Network is run by and for its members, women and men, and we value every individual for their unique perspective. With a primary focus on promoting gender equality the organisation strives for the advancement of women of every race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, educational background, national origin, religion, physical ability and lifestyle. Its vision is of a fair, diverse and vibrant industry where everyone can thrive. A diverse workforce where both men and women are enabled to contribute their full potential and lead their organisations to the next level of value creation. LEAD Network accounts for 18,000+ members – both women and men – from 81 countries.
For more information, please visit www.lead-eu.net