Despite the advances we’ve made in workplace equality, we have so much further to go. According to the Women in the Workplace 2018 study, only 48% of the entry-level workforce is female, despite more women graduating with Bachelor degrees, over and beyond male colleagues. This trend continues to narrow throughout professional development, with only 34% of Director-level roles being held by women. Beyond pay and title equality, there are underlying beliefs and dynamics that can make it unbelievably difficult for a skilled woman to advance in the workplace.
I know exactly what this report is talking about. I’ve lived it, I think most women have lived it in one form or another. A scene that has played out regularly over my career is one where I am sitting in a conference room, the only woman on the team, and one of the Executives asks me a question. I answer the question. My answer is dismissed. The gentleman sitting next to me proceeds to answer the question, with my exact answer. He is praised for his thorough answer and sound strategy. I remember walking out of the meeting enraged, discouraged, and completely exhausted at the ridiculous games I had to play to do my job well. It felt like a scene from a movie, something almost hysterically scripted. We joke about it, but when it happens in real life, it’s infuriating. When it happens over and over again, it’s enough to make one feel like they’ve gone mad.
Our tendency is to stay quiet, to shrug our shoulders, to discuss it in our groups and never address it with leadership, and really, just be happy that we aren’t the ones being disregarded. We’ve all got goals and speaking up may just risk our own seat at the table.
However, as I’ve advanced up the proverbial ladder, from analyst to CEO, I’ve learned the workplace needs women who advocate for each other. As leaders in our fields, it’s our responsibility to advocate for and mentor women coming up, without the fear of losing our roles. Operating from a place of deficiency doesn’t secure our roles, it actually minimizes them.
So, what’s a girl to do? If you’re in a leadership role, speak up and use your position and experience to mentor, coach, and advocate for the women around you. You’ll find it doesn’t take away your role, it actually makes it more. And for the woman just starting out, here are a few practices to help you along the way:
- Give credit where credit is due. That scene from the conference room is a regular occurrence. As a woman sitting in the room, we can reroute those conversations by saying something like, “Totally agree, I think Sarah’s idea was right on target.” Rerouting the credit back to the woman, requiring everyone in the room to acknowledge the original owner of the idea. This can be applied outside of the conference rooms. When ideas and contributions are praised, you acknowledge where the contribution came from.
- Use Your Voice. If there are policies and procedures that you know your workplace is missing, ask for them. If you don’t need them personally, but you know another woman could use them, all the more reason to ask for them. The thing is, if you’re noticing it’s missing, then other people are too. People are often more open, more accepting when we advocate for other people. And we often feel far more comfortable advocating for others in need than we do ourselves.
- Seek Out a Mentor. Ideally in your workplace or place of study. If not there, then somewhere. You want a mentor that you can bounce ideas off, can coach you through hard conversations, and push you out of your comfort zone. If you’re looking for a mentor, reach out to me directly, I’d love to chat with you.
- Establish a Network. A mentor can help you do this or you can build one organically, but a good network is a group of diverse, like-minded individuals that will sharpen your skills, open doors for opportunities, and generate growth. When we do this as women, we open doors that may otherwise remain shut. Consider starting a network in your area or a group that meets up after work.
Speak up, be a voice of encouragement, be unafraid to push the boundaries or ask why not, and recognize early on that we’re in this together. We find power in our voices when we use them to advocate for others around us.