5 Actions to Build Gender Inclusive Communities, Cultures, & Organizations
Since 1911, March 8th has been designated International Women's Day (IWD). It's a day to celebrate women's achievements, progress, and power.
It's also a day to pause and reflect not only on where we have been, but where we still need to go. It's a long way, so put on your seatbelt and brace for impact.
In today's world, it's easy to share a graphic, meme, or quote in celebration of IWD - "empowered women empower women," "don't apologize for your strength and power - own it," and "strong women - may we raise them, be them, and become them" are among some of the most popular.
I love all of these quotes, AND, I know we have to push things further and farther through sustained effort and action.
A recent research report by the United Nations Development Program found that:
Globally, 91% of men and 86% of women show bias against women.
40% and 50%, respectively, think that men make better business and political leaders.
And, nearly 30% of people surveyed think it's okay for men to beat their wives.
Moreover, the Human Development Report’s Gender Inequality Index (GII)—a measure of women’s empowerment in health, education and economic status—shows that overall progress in gender inequality has been slowing in recent years.
Estimates suggest it would take 257 years to close the gender gap in economic opportunity.
Talk is cheap. Let's commit to action.
Today, in honor of IWD2020, I am sharing 5 actions we can take in order to build more gender inclusive communities, cultures, and organizations.
Educate yourself, your families, and your communities about the numerous gender biases that continue to persist in our world. We all have them -- even those of us who steep ourselves in this world (aka me!) - the important point is that we build awareness around these biases, recognize them and notice when they're guiding our decisions, and actively work to overcome them.
I'll bring this to life using myself an example: I was recently admiring a woman who I adore - she is a badass business professional who started a female-focused co-working space.
And I found myself briefly wondering: "how does she travel so much with her kids at home?" I was in awe of her capacity to manage her various roles, but this is gender bias, in action. She has a partner at home too. Was I wondering that about him? Not at that moment.
It's interesting because I study this topic, I've lived this very bias for myself, and yet still, the thought came into my mind. Luckily, I noticed it, stopped it, and reframed my thinking.
I share this to highlight the fact that this requires effort and intention. It requires self-awareness. And it's messy as hell. In fact, nothing I'm talking about today is easy - nothing worth having ever is, right?
Two suggestions to expand your awareness and take action to address gender biases:
Check out Lean In's 50 ways to fight bias card deck. You can download for free! From their site: "The cards highlight 50 specific examples of gender bias in the workplace, encourage participants to brainstorm solutions together, and offer research-backed recommendations for what to do."
Start using more gender inclusive language TODAY. Awareness --> action.
Share caregiving and household responsibilities. Despite the number of dual-earner couples and breadwinning women in 2020, women STILL hold the majority of caregiving (for children, aging parents, & other dependents) and household responsibilities.
In order to support gender equality, we need partnerships in which we equally participate in and support one another in the often "invisible work" of childcare and household responsibilities.
There is no "one size fits all" rule for this either - is it 50/50? Maybe. Maybe not.
A recent NYTimes article titled: Young Men Embrace Gender Equality, but They Still Don't Vacuum garnered alot of attention and for good reason.
I'll harken back to what I said earlier: talk is cheap. If you say you support gender quality, but your behaviors don't align with that, it's time to re-assess whether you really support it or not.
So, if you support gender equality, grab the vacuum and get moving.
Address the distribution of "non-promotable tasks" at work as well. Women tend to be responsible for more non-promotable, office housework regardless of level in an organization.
Research indicates this is both due to women’s likelihood to say “yes” in order to contribute to the organization, as well as manager’s inclination to ask women first. In fact, in a series of lab experiments at the Pittsburgh Experimental Economics Laboratory (PEEL), a request to volunteer for non-promotable work was accepted by men 51% of the time and by women 76% of the time. What are non-promotable tasks exactly? “Non-promotable tasks are those that benefit the organization but likely don’t contribute to someone’s performance evaluation and career advancement. These tasks include traditional office “housework,” such as organizing a holiday party, as well as a much wider set of tasks, such as filling in for a colleague, serving on a low-ranking committee, or taking on routine work that doesn’t require much skill or produce much impact.” What’s the impact? Women may have less time to devote to impactful, high visible work to support career advancement and accelerate their potential and development. What’s a solution? Management (not women themselves) need to find ways to distribute tasks more equitably. For example, rotate assignments amongst staff versus asking for volunteers. Ensure there is equal distribution when it comes to the notetakers, the people who schedule people, and those who perform (often thankless) follow-up work.
Create safe spaces for sharing experiences and dialogue that impact gender inclusivity. In preparing for my SXSW talk on how men can lean in as allies to help women rise, I learned a lot about what holds men back / what serves to be challenging in being an ally.
One of the core themes I heard was that while many men have a desire to be allies, they don't quite know HOW to begin.
Some men expressed concern that, if they spoke up to support women (say, in a meeting when a woman is being dismissed or interrupted), they'd be engaging in some sort of "savior syndrome" - as one man noted: "I don't think women need to be saved, and I don't want my behaviors to make it seem like they do."
Again, this is complex and messy.
There isn't a playbook on "how to be a good ally" that gives you all the rules -- you have to have the courage to wade in, have tough conversations, and iteratively figure it out (with both successes and failures like anything in life).
The reality is that men continue to hold the majority of positions of power - and, as such, have to be part of the solution to develop greater gender parity in our world.
So, my suggestion is: create spaces where everyone can discuss these issues, openly and without shaming or blaming one another. For example, you might consider hosting a 3-part "men as allies for women and underrepresented groups" series that goes something like this:
Host a one-hour panel discussion in which women and non-binary persons share their experiences - good and bad - in the workplace. Get really, really specific in speaking to examples of when/how men could have or did help and describe why that was important.
Host a roundtable with the men who attended the panel discussion - men only - and candidly discuss what you heard and learned from the panel. Identify some open questions and concerns that would be helpful to discuss as a next step.
Host a coaching circle bringing all attendees from the two events above back together. Set guidelines and expectations of psychological safety where everyone can feel empowered to share their REAL thoughts - no matter how messy - consider using principles from Amy Edmonson's work on creating psychologically safe workplaces.
And, finally, continue to create more flexible, family-friendly workplaces where everyone can thrive as both driven employees and whole people. I wrote a recent post on this topic with 4 actionable strategies for promoting flexibility at work.
At the end of the day, our actions and behaviors speak much louder than our words.
Together, we rise.