Disney’s High School Musical was right: We’re all in this together. When women in the workplace amplify each other’s ideas, defend each other’s styles of leadership, and coach the next generation of female employees, everyone benefits.
Here are seven things you can do today to advocate for your work sisters:
The temptation to compete with other women is strong. Fight it. Success is contagious. If you reproduce yourself, you can both move up. Show her by example how to stand up for herself and other women. If you’re in a senior position, take mentorship a step further and look for a younger woman who wants a sponsor. Keep tabs on her performance reviews, suggest projects she can lead, and give her actionable feedback. Lead her to be a good leader.
When coworkers talk about her behind her back, stand up for her. Point out her credentials: “She didn’t get this job because she’s pretty. She got it because she has the experience and skills necessary to do it.” Or, “Taking charge of a situation does not make her bossy. It makes her a boss.” Everyone makes mistakes and women tend to accept a bigger share of the blame when a project flounders. Don’t allow anyone to heap more blame on her than her share.
Work can be hard. Being a working woman can be harder. Don’t let her wallow in self-pity. Nothing will change if she gives up. Something might change if she just keeps swimming. Celebrate her successes. Women are team players and tend to share their success. Men tend to own their victories solo. Be her hype girl: “Did you hear that she caught an accounting error and saved this company $10,000?!”
In meetings, suggest she sit more toward the center of the table when she gravitates toward the end. If she’s presenting an idea and gets interrupted, ask the interrupter to let her finish making her point. Encourage men to work with her at the center of a project. Suggest she take that challenging assignment she’s afraid of.
If you are a manager, strive to equally pay women who are in roles equivalent to men. During pay raise season, are you given a percentage of money to distribute among your team? Is it up to you to decide who gets how much of that pie? If you have two Account Executives, one male and one female, doing the same quality work and they both deserve a raise, but the male already has a larger salary than the female, consider giving the female a bigger percentage raise to start bringing her up to the appropriate level.
Combat second-generation bias: Company policies that seem gender-neutral, but hurt women in real life. For example, companies want a woman to be empathetic, nurturing, and selfless, but when she displays these virtues, she gets passed over for leadership positions because she’s perceived as weak. Women tend to lead through teamwork. Recognize this as a legitimate leadership style and promote her.
Have her identify a male colleague who is willing to have her back and ask him to support her. Give him some suggestions: invite her to networking events the rest of the team attends. When she voices an idea and a team member repeats it as his own, ask the colleague to immediately remind the listeners that the concept was originally hers. Encourage him to ignore her personal life: don’t punish her for having a family, and don’t punish her for not having a family.
Looking out for one another is a choice we have to make daily. In the chaos of our projects’ demands and deadlines, it’s easy to lose sight of long-term goals like moving more women into senior level positions. But when we carry this load together, it will get lighter.