By Carina Cortez, Chief People Officer at Cornerstone
As a Chief People Officer, I often get asked what organisations can do to make the workplace more inclusive for women.
Across industries, geographies, income levels and more, women continue to face larger hurdles than their male colleagues. We see this imbalance appear through pay gaps, fewer role models, lack of advancement opportunities and uneven representation in key decision-making moments. Women, especially those in a marginalised group, still have further to go to achieve equal representation in the modern world of work. There are, however, a number of ways I believe we can create real change in the workplace, encourage more women into leadership roles and ensure organisations are striving towards systemic change.
Amplify women’s voices
In the workplace, we all have valuable ideas to contribute. However, many women feel like they need to work harder to feel heard. Their ideas may not be taken seriously or, when they are heard, the credit can sometimes be laid at the feet of someone else. While this certainly does not happen at every company, it is, unfortunately, an experience that will resonate with most businesswomen. It can sometimes seem difficult or intimidating to share our ideas in large meetings, but it doesn’t mean our ideas are not worth putting on the table.
The truth is, women are just as ambitious in their careers, and their own personal development, as men. As such, women need to find their champions, those who will hear their ideas, repeat them, and give credit to the voice they came from. This is known as Amplification, and it is one of women’s most powerful tools in the workplace. This strategy was first implemented and created by Valerie Jarrett and Susan Rice from the Obama/Biden administration. When a woman spoke up in a meeting, Jarrett and Rice would repeat her key points while giving her credit for the idea. Over time, the number of women representatives in the Obama administration grew substantially.
Women, as well as all underrepresented groups, have ideas and insights that are just as valid, thoughtful and strategic as their male counterparts. While you don’t have to agree with everything every woman says, you do need to listen to their voices and hear what they have to say.
Recognise your own biases
In addition to finding champions within an organisation, leaders need to take their own responsibility for ensuring that equal and fair opportunities are given to all. Leaders should evaluate their own inherent biases and take steps to ensure those preferences don’t impact their employees’ growth and development opportunities. This is easier said than done, as all humans have preconceived notions that influence our decisions and judgements, even if we are not aware that it’s happening. In fact, around 98% of our thinking is done subconsciously.
Gender bias is arguably one of the most common forms of unconscious bias, whereby a woman who is strong and assertive is deemed “aggressive,” while men with the same attributes are seen as “confident.” Women may be passed up for promotions simply because of this notion. Not only should organisations educate leaders to recognise and minimise these judgements, they should take it a step further and encourage leaders to designate an accountability partner in every team meeting – someone who can recognise and interrupt bias in the moment. This can be uncomfortable at first, but once it is a regular part of how meetings are conducted, it will naturally encourage more women to speak up and receive the same opportunities as their male counterparts.
Create a sense of belonging
The easiest way that I like to describe belonging is a feeling that results from your diversity and inclusion efforts. To expand upon the famous quote by Verna Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Belonging is being asked what music I would like to have played. But to foster a true sense of belonging requires real work. It is not enough to simply hire a 50:50 ratio of men to women and call your organisation “equal.” There’s more work to be done. Leaders can and should be involved in the work a company needs to do to ensure their incentives and policies support all individuals within the workforce.
Leaders should also encourage the formation of employee resource groups and mentorship opportunities, giving employees the space to feel seen, heard and supported. Open communication will allow leaders to spot areas where initiatives can be strengthened, as well as allow employees to share their experiences in a safe space. By carefully nurturing an environment that fosters a sense of belonging, leaders will benefit from a happier, more motivated workforce.
The gender discrimination conversation can often sound like a broken record. Considering the strides we have made from the age where women were placed inside a box of what they could and could not do, many feel that the fight for equality is a thing of the past. However, today, with the wealth of data available to us, gender issues are still permeating the business world. Amplifying women’s voices, tackling unconscious bias, and creating a sense of belonging are all critical ways – and immediate steps you can begin taking today – to continue the fight towards true equality in the workplace and greater female representation across all levels.