5 Ways Leaders Can Support Women at Work
Much remains to be done as far as women’s equality is concerned, despite the major strides that have been made in the last few decades. Women are still underrepresented in leadership roles and boards, and they earn less than men in a majority of professions: The ratio of median weekly pay for a woman’s full-time job is 81.9 percent to that of a man performing the same work, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hostile work environments and corporate cultures that specifically exclude and punish women shoulder some of the blame, along with institutional biases that have persisted.
International Women’s Day on March 8th lends an opportunity to discuss issues that are still holding women back professionally. Beyond discussing these issues, there are actionable steps that can be taken that foster a more supportive environment for women and encourage professional development and advancement while celebrating women’s capabilities and accomplishments.
Here are five ways that managers and other key decision-makers can advocate for and support women in the workplace:
1. Take actions that show your organization is actually prioritizing input from women.
There can be several presentations about diversity and inclusion, but they don’t mean anything if changes are not made from the top down. How does management consider input and feedback from women employees? Is the culture a welcoming one that specifically encourages women to speak up and have their ideas heard and that also provides a conduit for discussing safety issues like harassment?
Women need to be invited to meetings and outings, not just the male managers and key employees. If client meetings are typically held after business hours to wine and dine clients while mothers and caregivers need to go home for the “second shift,” adapt to having lunchtime meetings or giving women employees more leeway to take these meetings during business hours.
In a post #MeToo era, there have been concerns about allegations of harassment if a female employee is alone with a male one. All this mindset does is demonstrate that workplace culture is not actually changing, and women employees are seen as a liability instead of an asset. Develop an internal culture that has zero tolerance toward harassment without regard to gender that fosters genuine inclusion as a result.
2. Institute policies that attract and encourage female talent.
Does your organization offer policies that support women, especially working mothers and women with caregiving responsibilities?
Offering on-site daycare or subsidized childcare is an excellent start in supporting working mothers so that they can have a stronger focus on their work. Offering high degrees of flexibility and autonomy by allowing full or partial work-at-home arrangements also helps women get ahead more than virtually any other policy. When you trust women to manage their time and focus more on their results than their physical presence at the workplace, it sharply increases their productivity and has tremendous benefits for the bottom line.
3. Provide mentorship opportunities for women.
A major challenge for professional women is that there are fewer “road maps” for them compared to men in similar positions. With younger generations having a higher share of women working outside the home compared to the past, mentorship programs are a must.
If there aren’t enough resources to develop a mentorship program in your organization, volunteer yourself to mentor other professional women.
4. Be a genuine ally.
This is for everyone at the workplace, but particularly for the men: Providing opportunities for women is just one step. To take a leap forward, make sure that female coworkers are recognized for their accomplishments and receive credit for their ideas. Speak up for women without speaking for them.
This also goes for unseemly behaviors that specifically antagonize women, such as workplace bullying and sexual harassment and intimidation. Talk to the women who’ve had these experiences and ask for input on how these problems should be dealt with. Most of all, call out the harassers and tell them in no uncertain terms that what they are doing is wrong. Providing this kind of validation not only makes for a safer workplace, but it also shows women within the organization who is truly behind them and who is not.
5. Provide additional resources and support specifically for professional women.
Women need other professional women whom they can seek out for career guidance that is tailored to the struggles they’ve historically experienced and still do today. Providing your female employees with additional resources to navigate the business world shows that you are willing to make an investment in them and foster inclusion.
Many larger organizations have developed full-scale women’s initatives that are able to deliver company-wide resources to women. In other cases, a company may invest in a professional membership (like IAW) or training program for a woman.
When you sponsor IAW membership for your female employees, you are demonstrating that you’d like to give them the network, support and resources they need to thrive. Learn more about IAW Membership.