Women have carried the burden of extra emotional labor as they adapt and maneuver through a work environment designed by men, for men. There’s not just the actual work to think about; women also need to take time to think about how to say, write and ask for things in exactly the right way. This dynamic has held women back in their careers.
When it comes to a woman’s day-to-day experience at work, one key player has the power to change that dynamic: her boss. A manager can clear obstacles, provide opportunities, and influence how others speak and interact with women at work. Managers need to play an active role in creating working environments that support women.
Here are five things that every woman should expect her manager to do to create a better working environment.
Spell it correctly, pronounce it correctly, and don’t make a nickname out of it if she didn’t introduce herself with one. Remember her new name if she changes it after marriage (and she doesn’t need your opinion on whether she should change —trust that she thought about it a lot). If she earned a Ph.D., call her Doctor. Never call her sweetheart.
You don’t have to be a woman to relate to a woman. You have to be an authentic human who takes interest in others. Everyone has things in their life that they care about— talking about these things helps to find common points of connection. People are happier at work and more willing to work hard when they know their boss and feel like they can be themselves around them.
Returning from maternity leave is hard: when she is feeling most needed at home, she returns to a workplace that figured out how to get by without her for a few months. Too often on that first day back, co-workers don’t make space for her re-entry, continuing to go about their daily business—sometimes even continuing to use her office or chair that they borrowed while she was out! Be thoughtful about quickly re-engaging her in substantive work so she feels important rather than unnecessary.
People react more negatively when women negotiate vs. men. Women are less likely to ask for what they want at work—statistically, they know that they are less likely than men to get a positive outcome when they do negotiate. You stack the odds meaningfully against women when you set up dynamics on your teams that require people to aggressively self-advocate. Instead, proactively offer opportunities to those who deserve them.
One of the biggest mistakes managers make with women is being too careful, as if she can’t handle negative feedback. In most cases, equality is better than chivalry. Being tough on a woman and pushing her to be better at her job can be a good thing and shows that you believe she’s worth the effort. It allows her to show others what she can do.
If every manager genuinely supports women, it will lead to a better workplace, one that allows women to focus on their work—instead of on how to fit in and be accepted in a workplace that wasn’t made for them.
Kate Eberle Walker is the author of The Good Boss: 9 Ways Every Manager Can Support Women at Work, and CEO of PresenceLearning, which provides teletherapy services for special education programs in K-12 schools.