It’s been a long time since women entered the workplace. As of 2015, women’s employment rate in Canada was 69%, compared with 47% in 1973, back in Interval House’s early days. And over the years, women have broken into more and more sectors. Just a few generations ago, women’s career options were pretty limited to childcare, teaching and secretarial work. Now, there are women in all major sectors and every day we hear of the new heights career women are reaching.
Still, there are strides to be made for women in the workplace. The #MeToo movement that gained momentum last fall and continues to dominate headlines a year later really drew attention to the fact women still face harassment and mistreatment in the workplace. And Canadian women still only earn 74 cents on every dollar earned by a man.
It is not enough to simply have women in the workplace. We need to go further to ensure women are also safe and valued at work. This should be addressed at a governmental level to ensure there is equity across the board. But there are things individuals can do — particularly men — to make space for women in the workplace. Here are five ideas to get you started:
Stop interrupting women
In the summer of 2017, a few publications ran stories that confirmed what every woman already knew to be true — men interrupt women at alarming rates. A study out of George Washington University highlighted that when men speak with women, they interrupt 33 percent more often than when they speak with other men. In a three minute conversation, women would interrupt only once on average, while men interrupted women 2.1 times. To contrast, men only interrupted other men 1.8 times in the same span of time.
Setting gender aside for a moment, I think we can all agree that being interrupted is annoying. It can disrupt a good thought process and can make one feel minimized. It’s generally good practice to let others finish before you speak. When discussing things with colleagues, be mindful of your listening skills and hold back if you feel the urge to interject. Keeping a notebook on hand to jot down thoughts as they arise is a good practice to ensure you remember them when it’s your turn to speak.
If you often feel the urge to jump in when women are speaking, unpack why you might think your comments are more important. Active listening is an essential skill that can make the women in your life feel heard and respected.
Give women credit
Another study that came out in 2017 demonstrated that women get less credit in the workplace than men. The University of Delaware study showed that when men spoke up in group settings, they were perceived as leaders. When women spoke up, they were not perceived as leaders any more than women who remained quiet. The study also found that men are given more credit than women when they say the exact same things. This is a bias towards viewing men as leaders and women as followers at work.
Now that you’ve made a conscious effort to stop interrupting women and to start listening, try paying attention to who is bringing up new ideas. If you notice Bob getting credit for something Anne said just a few moments ago, say something and give Anne credit for it. Commend the women you work with for bringing innovative ideas and thought-provoking comments to the table just as much as you do with the men at work. It takes actions like these to shift the culture in a work environment. The results of giving credit where credit is due will have far-reaching impacts on women’s wellbeing in a workplace.
Recognize women on significant dates
There are many special days to commemorate women and the strides they’ve made in the movement towards equality. For so many women who are still actively fighting to get ever-closer to a day when there is true gender equity, these special days can be reassuring that the efforts are paying off. Whether it’s International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, or any other special days marking women’s achievements, it’s a great idea to show the women you work with that you stand with them in celebrating these important dates and the achievements of women through history. Knowing they are surrounded by true allies goes a long way towards making women feel safe and appreciated at work.
Be respectful with compliments
A few months ago, I saw a post online that offered a good rule for paying compliments. It suggested that one should only comment on things a person can control. For example, rather than commenting on a woman’s figure, comment on her unique sense of style.
Commenting on a woman’s appearance can definitely come across as objectifying. Avoiding appearance-based compliments altogether is a good way to ensure you won’t cross any boundaries and make women uncomfortable. If you appreciate your colleague and want to let her know, here are a few great compliment suggestions that have nothing to do with physical appearance: you always have such great ideas, you come across as very confident to me and I really admire that, I’m inspired by your work ethic, you make people feel very comfortable, I appreciate the energy you bring to work with you every day.
Don’t be shy about commending your colleagues and letting them know they’re appreciated, just make sure you’re being appropriate. After all, receiving a compliment is supposed to feel good.
Create woman-friendly policies
Gender equity in the workplace is about creating work environments that allow men and women to equally thrive. An equitable workplace will have policies in place that take women’s needs into account. Last week, we posted a story about how workplaces should have domestic violence policies in place to protect survivors of abuse and allow them to maintain their employment. This is just one example of how companies can instate policies to create more woman-friendly environments. Employers can also have guidelines in place that allow parents of young children flexible work hours to accommodate childcare, and additional personal days for menstruating people.
If you are an employer, review your policies and consider whether they are in step with the goal of creating a more equitable environment for women. Are you a man in the workplace? Be bold and ask about these policies. When men demonstrate that gender equity is important to them, it makes a difference. As we’ve already seen in this article, men are noticed more when they speak up. Why not use that privilege to further the gender equity agenda in your workplace?