What Companies Can Do Right Now To Recognize Their Female Employees
The topic of gender diversity is no longer new on most companies' agendas and many employees and mangers are starting to suffer from diversity fatigue — a sense of frustration about conversations on diversity not turning into action plus an overwhelm over the quantity of issues.
In my writing, I always try to counteract the above and focus on specific issues and concrete actions.
If your company is discussing how to invest in its female employees and is looking to move the needle on their participation in top roles, consider the below suggestions:
1. Be transparent about what the company is doing to support women
Women, and especially your top contributors, don’t want to hear once again about gender equality and how your company values and promote diversity. This discussion is no longer new nor inspiring. They have been hearing the same messages for years and want to see concrete actions and results. Instead of sharing slogans and vision statements, share meaningful data about how your company is doing with respect to women’s participation in decision-making roles and what challenges you plan to tackle in the future. Here’s an example of how Pinterest does it.
2. Move conversations about diversity into real actions
Many diversity initiatives are organized and planned by the human resources and communications teams within companies. They increase awareness but often fail to generate engagement and concrete action because they aren't aligned with business needs nor priorities. One way to increase engagement and impact is through organizing employees into task forces to brainstorm and propose actions the company could take to better support women in your organization.
3. Make sure that initiatives aren’t trying to fix or stereotype the women
One female director at an industrial company shared with me her humiliation at learning that the topic of her company’s first women’s group gathering was about how to organize their closet more effectively.
When you pick a theme for your action or event, avoid positions that put women in a mindset of someone who is inferior. Topics like “Learn How to Be Assertive” or “Boost Your Self-Confidence” may sound good on paper but they can easily backfire to make women feel more insecure and reinforce stereotype threat. Instead, focus on things that actively help them overcome these barriers like skill building, stretch assignments and allocating coaches and mentors to help them along the way.
4. If you truly want to honor women, invest in their career development
Professional women, just like men, want to achieve a higher level of success and be recognized for their contributions. But as research shows, women and people of color don’t always get the same level of mentoring and support that men get from their networks. If you want to help women boost their careers, give them the tools to be more successful. Organizing training around strategic topics like leadership skills (negotiations, communications, team management), valuable technical skills (corporate finance, digital marketing, business planning) and important industry trends is a clear signal that you are investing in your female employees.
5. Plan events that consider the diversity of the women in your company
Women aren’t a homogenous demographic. They come from diverse cultural and functional backgrounds and are in various career stages. Minority and immigrant women may face different challenges than white American-born women do. Women who are in front-office/sales roles and those in technical roles don’t necessarily worry about the same issues. Early career women’s concerns are very different from those of women who are in later phases of their career and are preparing to take on executive roles. Recent moms are a very special demographic that needs extra attention, yet those who are not moms or have adult children don’t necessarily want to get together at work to speak about motherhood challenges. It can be tempting to organize just one event or action for all women, but if you want to have real impact consider organizing events for different demographics and interests.
6. Encourage senior women to share their war stories
Many ambitious women, especially in male-dominated industries, are used to being “the other”: she is different from other women because she doesn’t conform to society’s expectations about what women aspire to and are interested in. Yet, since most of her colleagues are men, she feels the pressure to adapt in order to fit in, while trying to deal with various gender-based prejudices. Many of the women I work and network with are often the only woman in the room and have very few senior women to look up to in their organizations. They are, therefore, longing for role models they could relate to and learn from.
To inspire and engage your female (and male) employees, invite women executives to speak about how they tackled great challenges and achieved success. These women can come from inside or outside of your organization. Encourage them to share their life stories, what they have learned, what resources they have accessed and what has inspired and motivated them along the way.
7. Include the men in (some of) the conversations
Currently, about 95% of CEOs and 75% of executives in the United States are men (and the numbers is many other parts of the world aren't that different). If we want to improve women’s realities at work, these decision-makers need to be part of the solution.
Nevertheless, I have mixed feelings about inviting men to participate in women-focused events. Running both women-only and mixed-gender events, I learned that whenever men were present, they asked the majority of questions and made more comments than the women. In a good case, these comments were insightful and added to the discussion but in a bad case, they reeked of bias and shut down women’s voices, reproducing the exact same barriers we were hoping to address.
So men or no men? It all depends on your objective. If the objective is to create a safe space for women to share their unique experiences at work, it’s better to keep the initiative exclusive for women. If your objective is to seek solutions to improving the culture and way of doing things in your company, then you absolutely need to invite men. Important: to make the event more productive, make sure to brief the men participating to be mindful and focused on listening rather than forcing their opinions.
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The original version of this article was published in Forbes Careers.