Last month, I was meeting with a new client. I was especially excited by the prospect of working with this company, as I believe they are entirely disrupting a market, are female founded, female led and predominately female funded. I am a female-first recruiter, and so my business is built around placing the brilliant women I work with in future-forward companies where they can not only grow, but thrive. Because of this, I am more discerning when it comes to taking on new clients, and when I meet with such a unique client? I am thrilled.
Upon arriving, the only freelancer I've ever had to fire greeted me. Before launching the constellations ( my company), I worked for an advertising agency, and part of my role included staffing various projects with freelance talent. My boss had strong-armed me into hiring this creative who I believed was charging an exorbitant day rate based on his skillset, turned up late, left early and texted me one morning from his chair in the office (I was in a conference room) to tell me the surf was great and he was leaving to catch some waves. It was the straw that broke this camel's back.
I smiled sheepishly, wondering if he recalled our last conversation — er, voicemail. It had been a few years. But to my surprise, I was immediately met with a "Do you remember me?"
I had a few minutes before the start of my meeting, so he and I sat down to chat ( luckily, no hard feelings). As he settled into his seat, he mistakenly put his elbow in a bit of jam. He looked down at his arm, wiped off the jelly and then smeared it back onto the table. I felt the familiar wave of contempt wash over me as I wondered why this adult sharing a communal space with his colleagues would not excuse himself, walk the six or so feet to the sink behind him, grab a paper towel and tidy up the jam.
We finished up our chat as my meeting was to start, but his behavior stuck with me. I recalled all of the times where female employees took notes regardless of title, or set up the conference room for client lunches and then, of course, cleaned up after. I stewed over watching men pour giant bowls of cereal and then leave them wherever they happened to finish, and office bros dipping out for long boozy lunches.
How was this cavalier workplace attitude so easily achieved? And while I believe white men are the group in dire need of behavior modification across the spectrum, we as women can take a page or two from their book.
First and most importantly: we should take their lead on mentorship. I have seen it time and time again. The men in the office naturally established mentor/mentee relationships, and as a result, there was this organic opportunity for growth on both sides of the aisle. The mentor was able to hone leadership skills, and the mentee extended a chance to acquire new (valuable) information.
If you are in the position to mentor a female colleague, you must. So many women are hungry for the learnings of someone who has forged a path within a company or built a business on their own. Failing to share one's knowledge does a collective disservice. And if you are in need of a mentor, find a leader whom you believe you could learn something from or even admire and ask them to a coffee. Create and hold space for growth.
Next, let's drop the office gossip. Speaking poorly about another woman is something you have been conditioned to do. While you waste time concerned with the behavior of another, somebody else is working towards your raise or your promotion. And if what you are whispering is something that could potentially help her, you have a responsibility to offer feedback. It will not only help the subject of your interest grow, but will help you as you practice having uncomfortable conversations.
We also need to better develop camaraderie. I do not mean form a clique, but establish a rapport with the women in your office. If you work in a large office, make an effort to say hello to someone new each morning. One of the things I most looked forward to at my last office job was the afternoon walk around the block I took with my co-workers. We often sat at our desks for lunch, but each afternoon whoever was able would meet downstairs for a walk. It was a great way to connect with coworkers and get some fresh air.
Finally, do not immediately accept the responsibility of "office chores." I am not advocating you leave coffee cups and half-eaten donuts lying around, but step away from the dirty dishes and don't you dare write that passive aggressive note you were going to tape above the sink. Instead, use this as an opportunity to discuss gender bias. A male employee is just as capable of tidying up as a female. And while on the topic of creating new precedents, if you naturally take notes in a meeting or another female colleague does, try suggesting everyone take notes (or share the task). Say something like, "Moving forward, I'd love for us to take turns with meeting notes. Sound good?"
There is an equality learning curve. And while we work towards establishing equilibrium in the workplace, we must remember male entitlement and our collective complacency was not born overnight. Every micro-change we make or behavior modified is a step towards bridging the gap.
Jeni Lambertson is the founder and CEO of the constellations, a female-first procurement service. She's passionate about bringing diversity to future-thinking companies while simultaneously doing her part to close the wage gap.