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You Go, Girl: How to Empower Your Female Workforce

In the age of #MeToo and female U.S. presidential candidates, gender equality has captured the spotlight. Women seem to have more power than ever—and yet, this can make navigating the minefield of biased expectations and gender equality issues in the workplace even more difficult.

Whether you’re a woman or you work with at least one in the workplace (let’s be honest, that’s all of us), the following guide can help to traverse through sticky situations and create an empowering, equal work environment that enables everyone to succeed regardless of gender. We don’t want to brush our shoulders off too quickly, but this guide is kind of an HR professional’s dream.

Great Expectations (Towards Women): The Unknown Dickens Classic

Do women really face different expectations than men? Let’s take a look at just a few statistics about gender bias in the workplace:

  • An assessment of nearly 250 performance reviews found that negative personality traits (like “abrasive”) appeared in more than 80% of female reviews and only 2% of male professionals
  • A Yale study determined that when identical applications were submitted to six major institutions, applications submitted by men were found to be more hireable and offered a greater starting salary than those submitted by women

Doesn’t exactly give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, right? These statistics don’t mean that every workplace is full of sexist or misogynistic employees, though. Most people don’t even realize that they’re affected by unconscious gender bias or that it is often a hidden (and unfortunate) part of their workplace culture.

Realizing that there may be a problem is the first step toward creating a better workplace, even if it is a bitter pill to swallow. The second is to use the strategies below—applied to common situations you may encounter in a modern workplace—to resolve these problems.

The Situation: You’re a Driven Female Professional Facing Opposition From Male Coworkers

Ambitious women have to walk a fine line. They can often be labelled as too assertive or face opposition from men in the boardroom, especially as they move up the ladder. When these situations arise, it is important to address them head-on. For instance, if you feel that someone has belittled or shushed you in a meeting, pull them aside and explain that you don’t appreciate their behavior. Then, suggest a method for moving forward.

The other person may not even be aware that their behavior offended you (remember unconscious gender bias?). By explaining the situation calmly one-on-one, you bring it to their attention without embarrassing them in front of peers, while continuing to empower your female employees. If the situation continues to be a problem, consider making it an official HR matter. It’s not “telling on” your coworker if the behavior is inappropriate.

The Situation: You’re Expected to Not Mention the Gender Issue

Most workplaces try to avoid the “gender issue” in order to avoid stirring the pot, but equality doesn’t happen by sweeping things under the rug. In fact, it could breed resentment and employee disengagement faster than you can say “#MeToo.”

As an HR professional, it’s up to you to lead the charge and broach the topic from a positive standpoint. Rather than complaining that women are treated differently than men, for instance, host informative trainings or programs aimed at identifying and eradicating unconscious bias.

Try implementing a rubric designed to assess resumes objectively. Assign point values to certain criteria that are important to your organization, such as education level or years of experience. That way, there’s no way that a name (Jane versus John, for example) can unconsciously sway any hiring decisions. All in all, positive steps forward are the best way to broach a potentially awkward topic without putting your foot in your mouth.

The Situation: You Want to Support Your Female Coworkers, Subordinates, or Employees

Female professionals can’t make progress alone. Building an empowering workplace culture that supports women takes all types—men and women, introverts and extroverts, senior leaders and entry-level employees.

In fact, many of your own coworkers are probably already allies; they want to better your workplace just as much as you do. Perhaps they just don’t know how. Here are a few ideas for leveraging their interest and strengths.

  • Establish a mentorship program aimed at promoting positive interactions and establishing strong female role models: this could include senior female leaders mentoring younger female hires or co-ed mentoring groups that encourage employees from diverse backgrounds to work together.
  • Encourage everyone to support programs or benefits to empower working mothers rather than forcing them to choose between family and career. This can make a huge difference! After Google increased paid maternity leave to 18 weeks, working mother turnover decreased by 50%. (Don’t forget about offering paternity leave as well—gender equality goes both ways!)
  • Bring IT, recruiting, and HR together to crunch numbers on essential employee statistics, such as the percentage of women hired out of those interviewed (compared to the percentage of men who are hired out of the total number interviewed), and the number of promotions handed down to women versus men. The data may surprise you… and then kick the entire team into collective action toward improvement. (Tip: If you need to grow your HR team’s influence in order to land a budget for these types of cross-departmental efforts, use these effective strategies.)

Empower your organization’s female employees and create a culture of encouragement and equality. Develop an effective onboarding process that is customized for your organization!


Topics: HR
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