Women are underrepresented. They are underrepresented in specific industries, they are underrepresented in leadership roles, and they are underrepresented in board rooms. This unfortunate fact is a widely accepted truism in places of business. Change is needed. Too often we treat gender inequity as a burden for women to solve, Men are the majority and are in places of power to make an impact, and are needed as change agents and partners to advance women in the workplace. The women’s gap is for everyone to solve together.
But how do you become part of the solution when you’re not part of the women’s community?
The initial urge is to jump in and act, but it’s important to ground yourself in cultural understanding first. Don’t. Do. Anything. Leaders who act before truly understanding may find themselves taking missteps that may be hard to reverse. Instead, do the important and necessary work and immerse yourself in women’s issues and women’s communities that will naturally help increase your empathy and knowledge. There are several ways to learn – attend open women’s events as a trusted partner, listen to women-centric podcasts, watch TedX testimonies on gender equality, or follow women leaders on social media. By authentically and intentionally learning, you can hone your compass to have a clearer understanding of where action is needed to move the needle and better support women.
Once you’ve done your own homework, the next step is to listen to women. Listen to hear perspectives. Listen to hear experiences. Listen to hear challenges and obstacles and frustrations and pain. There are several ways to listen – hold small listening sessions with women on your team if they are amenable, find a trusted female mentor to have candid conversations, or connect with family members to support you on your journey. Remember that women often have not had their voice heard or worse, had their voice interrupted. In these listening sessions, suspend your comments or solutions or feedback and instead use your time to ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand their perspectives. There is no shortcut to this important step, and you will find yourself remembering these voices and testimonies throughout your career.
It’s time to take action. The action you take needs to be based on what you learned. Did your team tell you they want more women on their team? Then the action you take is installing best practices on diversity recruiting like diverse slates and diverse review teams. Did you get feedback that your language may be outdated and may appear sexist? Identify those non-inclusive words that are part of your routine language and intentionally replace them with modern words suggested by your female friends or colleagues. Did you hear women are having challenges getting promoted to higher levels within your organization? Stand up for talented women by highlighting their accomplishments in talent reviews, recommend them for special projects, and amplify their voice in meetings when they are not heard or are cut off. You did the important work of learning and listening, and the goal is to act on the insights you have gained to advocate for women, with the goal of becoming an impactful, modern, inclusive leader.
Armed with the knowledge of women’s issues and desirable solutions, you can advocate as an authentic leader committed to continually learning and driving change. To make positive change towards gender equality, we need an army of advocates, and that is your next step. Be an advocate. Become a trusted ally. Stand up for what is right. Support women. Demonstrate to women that you are with them in their fight for equality. How? Use your social media platform to amplify gender issues. Be vocal when you hear a sexist comment, intended or unintended, to chip away at unconscious bias. Reinforce women’s voices that are often unheard or not valued in business settings. Volunteer to share your journey with your friends or colleagues so that they can start their own journey. Let’s grow our army of advocates!