6 Action Steps for Advancing Women in the Workplace

a businesswoman standing, looking at her colleagues

How can this be?

A young boy and his father are on their way home from soccer practice when a distracted driver crosses the center line and hits them head-on. The father dies at the scene of this horrible car accident, but the boy is still alive when the emergency medical technicians arrive. The injured boy is transported in an ambulance to the hospital, where he’s taken immediately into surgery. However, the awaiting surgeon steps out of the operating room and says, “Call Dr. Baker stat to the operating room. I can’t operate on this boy. He’s my son!” – Outsmarting Human Minds

Our brains make automatic associations and can be influenced by potential blind spots fed by unconscious bias. We all have blind spots; however, the challenge is self-management around your reaction to your bias. The doctor couldn’t operate on the boy because she was his mother.

How can we check our biases at the door and create a ripe environment for women to excel in leadership?

When it comes to women’s advancement into senior management, beware of prototype bias – preconceived notion based on stereotypes of who we’ve seen succeed in a leadership role in the past. In most cases, in the role of senior leadership, we have been exposed to women reporting to the men that lead at that level. According to the Harvard Implicit Association Test, the majority of us think of men, as opposed to women, as having traditional leadership qualities and therefore assume that senior leadership is more befitting for men. Our biases shape our beliefs about who is qualified.

According to Grant Thornton’s Women in Business: Beyond Policy to Progress, the percentage of leaders in senior roles is declining globally. Unfortunately, this is not just a challenge in the USA. Additionally, Catalyst points out that women face the “glass cliff” where they are often placed in leadership positions in economic crises limiting the chances for success.

In S&P 500 Companies, the higher up the corporate leadership ladder, the fewer women.

a chart showing Women in leadership in S&P 500 companies

Clearwater Consulting’s interest in the subject goes beyond our past career experiences, and those years when we struggled to make it into the upper ranks of different industries. Our firm finds this subject highly relevant as we work with women leaders and companies focusing on more diverse and inclusive cultures.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 women were nearly half of the labor force and yet white women held a third of all management positions at 32.5%, followed by Latinas at 4.1%, Black women at 3.8% and Asian women at just 2.4%. 

So, what are successful companies doing to address their culture and ensure that women have the option to stay, contribute and grow in their organizations?

  1. Creating an inclusive culture of appreciation for women leaders
    While all leaders can be collaborative, women tend to have very strong skills when it comes to understanding how to work across silos and functions while encouraging teams to work together. Intentionally invite them into the conversations.
  2. Addressing unconscious bias through leadership training
    Afford leaders an opportunity to learn about unconscious bias and the potential negative impact on the entire organization. Make a commitment to encourage valuing differences.
  3. Fostering a culture of networking supplying women mentors, coaches and opportunities to connect
    Men have long made use of informal connections that come natural to them: the golf game, the sports connections, the hunting trip. Women need powerful connections at work and need not be afraid to ask for a sponsor, mentor or coach to grow their careers. Be mindful of inclusive functions that allow women opportunities to connect and build networks.
  4. Allowing women to own their choices around family issues and prepare to allow them flexibility and a safe and easy way to opt back into the organization
    Nurturing talent who may take time off to spend with young children or ageing parents requires creating new ways of doing business: job sharing, part-time work, flex hours, work arrangements from home, nursery and senior service care arrangements.
  5. Studying the pay of women vs. men in similar pay grades
    Have you set your company up for resentment, or worse, lawsuits? Challenge assumptions made about women with children – that they can’t take on more or they shouldn’t take on more.
  6. Taking a system-wide view at micro-inequities
    Micro-inequities are subtle, often unconscious messages that can devalue, discourage and impair workplace performance.  Some examples may include conference rooms named after men only; team outings revolving around traditionally male activities; inviting only male voices into the discussion; assuming that women with children can’t travel to a sought after conference while inviting men with children to attend, etc. Be aware of the subtle (and not so subtle) messages being sent within your organization.

“Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

– Verna Myers

Learn how Clearwater Consulting has helped organizations create cultures of engagement through leadership development training, team development and individual coaching. We can help you, too. Contact us at (404) 634-4332.