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5 Ways to Make Workplaces Better for Women

5 minute read

A report released last fall by the McKinsey Global Institute shows that, if women participated in the economy at the same rate as men, the global GDP would grow by an extra 26% by 2025.

It’s clear that more gender diversity in leadership leads to better organizational performance. But what if your organization hasn’t caught on? Or if they have but it’s taking time for these strategies to show results? What can you do in the meantime to promote gender equity at work?

Regardless of your role in your workplace, here are five ways you can make it more inclusive for women:

1. Be conscious of how we all hold women to different standards than men
It’s human nature to assume someone is competent if they exude confidence. But unfortunately, the way most of us “read” someone else’s confidence is by whether they behave in ways that are typically more male (authoritative, decisive, assertive, etc). When women behave in these ways, they risk being perceived as pushy or bossy (which is why Sheryl Sandberg started her campaign to ban the word “bossy”). Many women are more comfortable with a style that relies on listening, including other points of view and waiting to contribute to a meeting or discussion until they have something to say. This doesn’t mean that a woman’s not confident in her abilities or judgments—and it certainly doesn’t mean she isn’t competent.

To foster a more inclusive workplace, make sure you don’t interrupt women when they are speaking and that you acknowledge you have listened by saying something as simple as, “I want to pick up on what Sue said…” before you present your idea. If you have noticed that certain women aren’t speaking up in meetings, let them know one-on-one that you want to hear what they have to say. Ask them about their experience and ambitions while you’re at it so you have a better sense of what they can do and want to do.

2. Recognize a job well done
Everyone’s ambitions are sustained over the long-term by both mastery (getting really good at what you do) and recognition (having others acknowledge that you are really good at what you do). Research shows that women are less likely to get recognized for their accomplishments and that their mistakes are more likely to be noticed. It is no surprise, then, that topping the list of reasons Americans give for why there are not more women in leadership is a “double standard for women, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves,” according to a 2015 survey by the Pew Research Center. Make sure you’re giving credit where it’s due. If a woman makes a great point in a meeting, say so in that moment. When I notice a woman doing good work, I also make sure to tell her boss about it

Read more: ‘What I’ve Learned From Working With Strong Leaders’

3. Give women feedback
While everyone needs feedback to improve, research shows that women are less likely to get constructive feedback, in part because of a fear of how women will respond and a desire not to hurt their feelings. The problem with this approach is that women don’t know when there’s an area in which they could improve their performance.

To correct this, make sure you give women feedback about their performance. Be specific, and give examples of both what she did well and what she could have done better. Give the feedback in a timely manner, and be private—don’t voice criticism in public or in front of the team. And make sure to signal that you care about the woman’s career development by saying something like, “What I am about to say is going to be hard to hear, but I’m only bringing it up because I care about your career growth. Please just think about it…”

Read more: 5 Ways to Handle Criticism At Work

4. Rotate “office housework”
On any team, there are administrative tasks that I describe as “office housework”: Ordering the coffee for a meeting, making sure everyone has copies of the presentation or taking notes during a call. Just like with regular housework, women tend to end up doing more than their fair share of these tasks at work, and it’s not because they’re naturally better at them.

Next time one of these tasks falls on you or one of your female colleagues, suggest that everyone take turns doing the office housework. You can even offer to keep the scorecard for the team so that everyone does her or his fair share.

Read more: 12 Ways to Become Happier at Work

5. Acknowledge that life happens
Everyone has a life outside of work, but sometimes people can feel penalized for showing it. To help foster a more inclusive workplace, be explicit with your colleagues about your external commitments and circumstances, and ask others to do the same with you. You’ll be amazed at how liberated you’ll feel.

Anne Weisberg is director of the Women’s Initiative at Paul, Weiss, a law firm based in New York.

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