It’s 2019 but, sadly, gender inequality and sexism are still rife in the workplace and women must work together to eliminate the epidemic of discrimination, says entrepreneur Rita Trehan. She offers some useful strategies which women – and men – can use to help achieve genuine gender equality
This is an edited version of an article which first appeared in Elite Business Magazine.
Institutional sexism has, unfortunately, plagued workplaces all over the world since the conception of business itself. While sexism exists everywhere, this doesn’t mean that policies and regulations exist in an inherently sexist way – but that work cultures and attitudes have a similarly detrimental effect for women.
Working towards ending workplace discrimination needn’t be intimidating. In fact, with a few like-minded employees and some simple steps, moving towards it could be easier than you think.
Empower female members of staff
It’s common practice for female employees to assume that sexism applies to them as individuals. It’s important to remind them that, as wrong as this is, this is, historically, how it’s always been and not necessarily a reflection of their capabilities.
Thankfully, the boys’ club mentality that has monopolised many industries is showing signs of dying out, but more work needs to be done to start levelling out the playing field. Ensuring that management, mentors and leaders give female colleagues the opportunity to reach their potential, and the ability to voice their opinions, will make a monumental difference in redressing the balance and creating a more comfortable environment for everyone.
Most female professionals would admit that their greatest critic is usually themselves and that, accompanied by the difficult environment the workplace can provide, it can be hard to thrive. Helping them to hold their own in the office is an invaluable weapon in the fight against institutional sexism. Being able to stick to their guns and articulating a solid argument can help them work towards being considered an equal.
A report suggests that two-thirds of women in the UK suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ at work. Such strong feelings of self-doubt and insecurity can make them feel as though they’re not worthy of their positions at work which, in turn, can deter women from going for more senior roles, with the result that gender balance within management is harder to achieve. Other than promotions, and climbing the ladder, combatting workplace insecurities can, of course, improve work performance, as well as giving female staff the confidence to trust their instincts and to pursue their ambitions.
Encourage female staff to back each other
Implementing an informal networking group, and assisting women to find allies in the workplace, can help them become more confident and can also start to solve the issue of women being forced into the background – because it’s a lot harder to ignore five women than one! It certainly isn’t a quick fix but having professional support helps women to be heard in the workplace and can be beneficial for their wellbeing.
For instance, during the Obama administration, women within the White House would use their amplification strategy to ensure women were being heard in meetings and in group settings. If a woman offered an opinion or idea that went unnoticed, other women would echo it until it was acknowledged by the chair. This technique doesn’t need to be performed solely by women, male employees can also support this initiative. Just having someone who can help convey a message when it could get lost in a busy work environment can make all the difference.
Celebrating strong women in the workplace, and using them as role models, can help address the imbalance within institutions as well as allowing teams to lead by example. Capable, bold women in the workplace may feel like a novelty to some but, as the number of these role models increases, not only will more women shine but it will become the norm, as it should be already.
It doesn’t end with promoting more women to senior roles. Asking for feedback, or inviting staff to give their ideas on how to tackle the diversity problem, will highlight that there’s an issue and will encourage staff to think of creative initiatives to solve the problem.
Being transparent about wanting to make a change is essential for decision-makers. Remember that some people can be resistant to change, especially if ‘it’s always been that way’. Ask staff direct questions like ‘Why should we make a change and how can we make it?’ and witness their motivation to drive that change soar.
Call it out
Don’t be tempted to laugh along with any jokes that could considered discriminatory, or to ignore anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. These passive acts can often be just as bad as outright sexism. Encourage your staff to take direct action and discuss the issue with their colleagues in order to get them to realise why they’re wrong and/or to stop their behaviour. If the thought of confrontation is worrying to them, perhaps take the responsibility into your hands.
Just because workplace discrimination exists doesn’t mean that it has to. Everyone deserves a workplace to feel comfortable in – let’s help support each other to thrive in workplaces and help the workers reach their potential.