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Given the intense news events of the past few weeks, it’s clear that gender inequality remains a major obstacle women for in the workplace.
Related: 15 Things Men Say That Get on Women’s Nerves
Women in the Workplace annual report to give leaders better insight into the problem.
The report unveils one particularly interesting overlooked area: strategies for empowering managers to drive change. Many executives think that if they unveil a gender equality policy, improvement will naturally follow. But, the report’s creators found that managers are failing in this area in multiple ways.
Only 35 percent of women surveyed, for example, thought that their managers considered diverse candidates when filling positions. Even worse, only 34 percent said their company addresseed disrespectful behavior toward women.
Of course, these percentages leave room for companies that are getting things right. Here’s how some of them are helping managers be agents of positive change:
Drill the message in.
While senior leaders write the policies, managers make thousands of small decisions that impact these initiatives. They need to hear over and over why gender equality is important. That way, it becomes ingrained and a natural part of how they act.
“This isn’t about quotas and targets,” Arlington, Va.-based Don Rheem said by email. He’s CEO of employee engagement platform E3 Solutions and author of Thrive by Design. “This is about deeper understanding and self-awareness,” Rheem said, “of how managers fall prey to conscious partiality and unconscious gender bias in the daily and weekly personnel decisions they make.”
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The CEO went on to say that repetitive communication is key. A one-time memo isn’t enough. Furthermore, when leaders speak to employees, their words should reflect gender equality. This means avoiding gendered words.
For instance, calling male employees by their first names but women as “Ms. Smith” isn’t a sign of respect. It shows the leader views men and women differently.
Stop scaring away female talent.
Gender equality shouldn’t start on a woman’s first day at work. From the moment she thinks about applying for a job, she’s judging whether she’s being treated fairly.
Hiring managers need to meet these expectations. As women applicants’ first human interaction with a company, hiring managers should understand how their behavior reflects their company’s level of dedication to gender equality.
“To prevent unconscious biases from impacting hiring decisions, use gender-neutral language in job descriptions that will attract a diverse pool of applicants,” advised Kelli Dragovich. She’s the SVP of people at San Francisco-based recruiting platform Hired.
Language is especially important when companies list the desired traits for a vacant role. Some words actually have a gendered connotation: Consider eliminating those typically associated with male behavior — like “assertive” or “analytical.” These words will result in fewer women applying.
Holly Caplan, the Dallas-based author of Surviving the Dick Clique, explained that by not attracting female talent, hiring managers are limiting diversity and creating an unhealthy work environment.
“We have to set the expectation with managers that women need to be part of their teams,” she said in an email. “This will change behavior and give us the power to hire the right talent.”
Make men allies, not enemies.
As it stands now, most managers are men. If males aren’t on board with gender-equality initiatives, those policies will fail. Men need to understand their role in turning policies into action.
“When I look back at the path my career has taken, in many cases it has been men who have sponsored and supported me,” Jocelyn Mangan, COO of Oakland-based job search platform Snagajob, said via email. “Many of the male executives I speak to on a regular basis want to help women; they just don’t know exactly how.”
So, if this is the case at your company, help male managers see what women face in the workplace. Provide training so they know how to mentor female talent. Most importantly, start a dialogue.
“Women need to feel comfortable calling out bias when they see it. And men need to be able to express the impact of this, even if it is frustration or discomfort,” St. Paul, Minn.-based Angela Beranek Brandt said by email. She’s president of the National Association of Women Lawyers.
“If the conversations are real,” Beranek Brandt added, “there will be better understanding, which will lead to a more comfortable workplace for men and women.”
“There is a collective loudspeaker in the workforce today that creates a consistent level of doubt, and conditions women to think that they can’t move forward or lead,” Austin-based Autumn Manning, co-founder and CEO of employee recognition platform YouEarnedIt, told me.
Manning went on to point out that when she was young, a stream of discriminating phrases played in her mind. This led her to doubt her abilities. It took a strong female role model — her mother — to get her to stop listening to those thoughts.
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Managers can do what Manning’s mother did: When they are supportive of women’s strengths and skills, those women can see their own qualifications more clearly. This undoes the conditioning that undermines women’s self-confidence and also boosts the company as a whole.