It was March 5, 2018, when Frances McDormand during her Oscar acceptance speech for Best Actress sent a powerful message: women have ideas and, to put those ideas into action, they need a seat at the table. (See below for a link to her speech.)
This message goes beyond Hollywood and the film industry; women in the workplace today should be equal with their male colleagues. And it’s not just about representation for the sake of it; it’s not about striking gender balance in numerical terms. Of course, that’s a good start. But, to elaborate on McDormand’s point, what’s even more important is to bring gender balance in leadership roles, in the decision-making process, and in the strategic part of the business.
And it’s equally important to understand the daily, unequal, and dehumanizing nonsense women face every single day at work that undermines success – for everyone. Behaviours and attitudes that grind women down also thwart organizations from cultivating a comfortable, creative, and thriving work environment that allows everyone to do great work.
Inclusion does or doesn’t happen in millions of moments each day and leaders need to stop denying the reality for women and become aware of all the ways they enable inequality to unfold in their teams.
Consider the following common and inequitable behaviours and attitudes:
- Gender stereotypes create a no-win scenario for women:
- The male leader stereotype is someone who is strong, decisive and assertive. When women leaders take charge, they are seen as competent, but disliked.
- The female leader stereotype is someone who is nurturing, emotional, and communicative. When women take care, they are liked, but seen as less competent leaders.
- As a result, women leaders are seen as competent or likeable, but rarely both.
- The “think leader, think male” mindset creates an invisible barrier for women.
- Women spend additional time during work hours:
- Proving they are competent leaders…again and again.
- Monitoring, and compensating for, stereotypical perceptions of them as leaders.
- Women are held to a higher standard for competency and often reap smaller rewards than men.
As Michelle King, Director of Inclusion at Netflix and the author of The Fix: Overcome the Invisible Barriers That Are Holding Women Back at Work. says, “Inequality is a practice — it’s something employees do, which is why leaders need to continuously manage behaviors that cause inequality in the same way that they manage safety, costs, and productivity. It doesn’t matter how many policies or diversity and inclusion initiatives companies have in place if leaders and employees cannot translate equality into a set of behaviors, norms, and routines.”
In practice, this means leaders call out inappropriate or exclusionary behaviors, especially when they happen in informal interactions; give employees direct one-on-one feedback outlining how their behavior marginalizes other employees — whether intentional or not; and explain the impact these moments have on the team. They should not, as too many leaders do, ignore the incident or downplay its impact in the hope that it goes away. The most committed leaders can also use these experiences as opportunities for collective learning with their teams by sharing what happened and what will change as a result. When leaders do this on a regular basis, they raise employee’s awareness of the problem and encourage everyone to solve the issue by changing their behavior.
The call for leaders to advance gender equality at work, regardless of whether they lead a start-up, multinational, or public-sector organization, is in reality an invitation for them to lead.
Here’s how they can do that:
Interrupt bias: Speak up if you notice colleagues using words that reinforce gender stereotypes. Phrases such as “she is abrasive” “she is emotional” “she talks too much” can undermine a woman’s perceived confidence and ability to lead.
Use the same standards for women and men when evaluating employees. Challenge your thinking by reversing the gender of the person you’re evaluating to see if it makes a difference in your language and your assessment.
Be a visible champion: Promote the accomplishments of women and actively advocate for their development and advancement. You will serve as a powerful role model for others to do the same.
Even though managing discrimination can be challenging for leaders, it’s a lot harder for employees to work in an environment where their identity is devalued. Being in a position to tackle inequality that you yourself may never have to experience is the ultimate privilege.
It’s on the most powerful people in the organization to set the standard for the types of behaviors they want employees to adopt and to give them the skills and feedback they need to practice equality as part of their day-to-day job so that it becomes a fundamental way of working. That’s the only way organizations will become truly equal.
- Women spend additional time during work hours: