In the aftermath of #metoo, the smart companies among us are beginning to seek ways to shift their cultures, to dive into how we came to this place of reckoning and to find methods to help employees begin to advocate for and protect themselves. In addition to new reporting processes, policies and re-vamped trainings, there’s a clear necessity to break the dialogue about diversity in the senior ranks wide open; to get focused on the tactic we know will move the needle: get more women into positions of power. Now.
Given where we are, it can seem a daunting task—and one reserved for a select few in the top rung of our organizations. Also, knowing how strapped we all are for time, you may fear furthering this cause will become your new unpaid side-hustle.
I’m thrilled to report, neither of these statements are true and there’s much we can be doing within our work day to take giant leaps forward to our goal of gender parity in the senior ranks.
Here’s a list of 5 ways you can begin right now:
1. Take your own leadership seriously
Women, whether you have direct reports or not—you can be a leader. You can define the kind of leader you want to be by identifying your values and strengths and creating a leadership or personal mission statement. You can hone your clear communication skills and your executive presence. Read the top leadership books and continue to hone your craft. Dare to laugh while on the job and be yourself. Be the model. Be the example, the boss you wish you had or can have. Ask for what you want. Promote your good work. Believe you are worthy.
2. Stop complaining and generalizing about bad female bosses
All too often, my clients lean in to me and whisper (in my private office), "I prefer to work for a male boss. I’ve had bad experiences with women." Beyond clients, I’ve heard it from colleagues, friends—and hell—I think I’ve said it once or twice in my career, but not anymore. Of course our experiences are valid and it’s fine to talk about your experiences, but just know—you’re NOT helping more women advance with this negative re-telling of history or sweeping assumptions that all female bosses will be as bad as those you’ve encountered. My guess is that you’ve had some bad male bosses as well—so check your own bias when you say these things. Are you holding women to a higher standard? Absolutely give feedback, recommend training and recognize how you want to lead differently, but by furthering these stories and statements, you could be maximizing a false assumption that women don’t lead as well as men. Or you could be adding a level of pressure to the already long list of fears held by women stepping into leadership roles. This pressure could prompt women to avoid choosing "the big job" when it’s well within their capabilities.
3. Give constructive feedback to women colleagues often
The only way employees at all levels will continue to improve and up-level their game is with feedback. I offer tips on how to effectively give feedback for those who may shy away in my post, Give Feedback Like A Pro. Most importantly, you can let the employee know you’re giving the feedback BECAUSE you care and you think they’re good at what they do—not the opposite.
4. Take time to mentor
Build time in your schedule to meet with women who are seeking your wisdom—and believe you have wisdom to share! It could be as little as one mentoring lunch a month and as much as some master mentors—two afternoons a week. If getting more women into positions of power is a top priority for you, make the time. Show other women it’s possible to get where you are, to juggle logistics, to have a position where you’re supported and have some autonomy and flexibility. Show other women that it doesn’t need to look perfect and you need not live in a state of exhaustion. When you can see it, it’s easier to believe it’s possible.
5. Advocate for training and yes, coaching
If you lead a team, advocate for new levels of training and coaching for your emerging women leaders. With my corporate clients, I help them learn to delegate more junior tasks to their capable employees so they can take on more of the strategic work that will get them promoted. We work through the tactical logistics of the work-life juggle so they come out of overwhelm and use their creative muscles for innovative thinking. They learn to communicate with confidence and power, how to own a room—and lead with the best parts of themselves—instead of playing a part. Most importantly, they learn to believe they can demonstrate their value and expertise, while also leading on their terms. More about this in my post, Flexibility and Advancement Are Not Opposites.
Inherent in all of these ways we can further our collective mission, is that we must continually question our own inevitable biases. We must become aware of when we’re bringing our bias to our decision-making, our communication and our leadership. We must create a safe space for the only other woman in the meeting to speak. We must give the woman candidate a chance based on her credentials, not only on her ability to sell herself. The latter can be taught. One wonderful tool, I use with clients and with my own biases is Kristen Pressner’s simple, Flip It To Test It model. The more we open up the dialogue and become aware of how we are contributing on both ends of the spectrum, the better we’ll become at shifting focus and our trajectory in closing the gap.