Here are small actions anyone can take to chip away at cultures and habits that prevent women from contributing fully to their organizations’ success.
In my job creating partnerships between my employer and other organizations, I work primarily with large alumni and professional associations. Their members are college educated, and the female members often lament the difficulties they experience climbing the corporate ladder. They report that their voices are not heard, that their contributions are devalued, and that they often are overlooked for promotions. They struggle to find mentors, and they do not have a male sponsor advocating for them with their senior executives and boards.
The problem sounds daunting, but there are easy ways to effect real change for women in the workplace, actions that don’t require more dramatic steps like complaining to HR or engaging in political protest. A variety of small but powerful behaviors can bring about what I call “easy equality.”
Here are eight actions I take both inside and outside of my company to help elevate women (and men) in corporations and associations. They’re easy to apply in almost any workplace.
1. Offer encouragement. When an introverted person speaks up in a meeting, send her a note of encouragement immediately afterward. Example: “Great job speaking up today in the meeting. I really liked what you said about [fill in the blank]. Keep it up!”
2. Publicly praise women’s accomplishments. Women are harshly criticized for bragging about themselves. So do the bragging for them. Example: “Did everyone see Stacey’s sales numbers? She is crushing it!”
3. Be a coach. When a woman allows others to take credit for her work, pull her aside and coach her on ways to promote her own accomplishments. Women often need permission to shine. They also need to know someone is in their corner. If she allows it to happen again, publicly point out her contributions. If that fails, tough love may be called for: In a private coaching session, call her out for not taking responsibility for her own success. When she sees you are passionate about her success, she will realize she needs to be, too. Trust me, she will change.
4. Provide backup. When a woman is interrupted in a meeting, redirect attention back to her. Example: “Sheila was saying something and we interrupted her. Sheila, were you finished?”
5. Set the record straight. When a woman presents an idea in a meeting and it is ignored, only to be accepted when another person presents it later, point out that she came up with it first. Example: “Yes, that is a great idea! Maria suggested it a while ago. Maria, did you have more to say about your idea?”
6. Speak up about stereotyping. When people criticize a woman for being a “prima donna” or for being “too quiet” or for being “abrasive,” coach them on why that isn’t okay. The Ban Bossy campaign has some great tips for navigating these conversations.
7. Knock the wind out of office bullies by making them feel like they are five years old. Example: “That wasn’t nice. Why did you say that?”
8. Change who’s at the table. If you notice you are always in meetings with the same people, shake things up and invite someone else to join the discussion. Let her know ahead of time that you are inviting her because you want (and need) her input.
Small actions add up quickly. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell cites example after example of seemingly small actions that, taken together, produced huge changes in society. You can be a part of great change by taking these small steps.
Will you try some of these at your organization today? Do you have more ideas to add to the list?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this call to action is for women only. Men are invited to the party, too. Let’s take action together. The more we lift up smart and talented women, the more they will actively contribute to our organizations’ success. Then everyone wins.