Will any of us see true gender equality in our lifetime? According to the 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, the unsettling answer is no and, not just for us, but for our children as well.
The report examines the progress of 153 countries in the areas of economics, education, health, politics, and professions of the future. While women are gaining parity in education, the report reveals that it could take a century or more for the other areas to show real gains. The findings come despite a growing body of evidence, such as this report by the Boston Consulting Group, that demonstrates that diversity boosts economic innovation and success.
The recent COVID-19 shutdowns may further global gender disparities. As business owners and CEOs grapple with economic losses, the issue of gender equality may not seem to be a priority. However, the time to close the gender gap has never been more urgent than now. More hands are needed to make decisions that affect the entire world.
We all need to play a more active role as advocates for women in the workplace. Even if we are working from home, our unified actions can make a difference. Here are five ways you can promote gender equality in the workplace, no matter where you are in the world.
1. Mind What You Say
Have you ever prefaced a point you wanted to make at a meeting with an apology? You might say, “I’m sorry, but perhaps I misunderstood but…” or “Correct me if I am mistaken, but…” Women tend to apologize more than men do. However, apologizing when it is not necessary can undermine our authority and minimize the strength of our points.
Neuroscientist Dr. Tara Swart, author of the book The Source: Open Your Mind, Change Your Life, asserts that people who over-apologize do so mostly out of habit. She says that saying you’re sorry when you have done something wrong reveals strength but that “compulsive apologizing presents as a weakness at work and in personal relationships.”
Another way we can undermine ourselves with our language is with the overuse of “I think.” In an interview with diversity.com, JuE Wong, CEO of the skin care company StriVectin, admits that she had to learn to be more assertive in the workplace, even though it ran counter to her upbringing. She says that she was taken more seriously when she stopped beginning her points with the phrase “I think” and replaced it with “From my experience, this is what I have seen.”
With each unnecessary apology, we undermine our own voice and give away our power. Stop apologizing or undermining your opinion with your words. Your ideas are just as important as the next person’s.
2. Be Proactive in Your Career Growth
“Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world,” Hillary Clinton said in a 2012 interview with Elle magazine. “It is past time for women to take their rightful place, side by side with men, in the rooms where the fates of peoples, where their children’s and grandchildren’s fates, are decided.”
Yet, according to a study published last year by catalyst.org, women hold only 29% of global senior management roles. How can you take more of an active role in your professional growth? Mentoring and sponsorship can make a real difference.
According to a 2019 study by Payscale, women who have sponsors earn 10% more than women who don’t.
Another way to get ahead is to speak with your manager about your performance and your future in the company. If an opportunity for a promotion or taking the lead in a small project comes up, clearly express your interest. Resist the urge to wait for someone to put your name in the running. Speak up for yourself or someone else less qualified may get the position.
3. Stop Second-Guessing Your Skills
A frequently referenced Hewlett-Packard Internal Report says that men will apply for positions even if they’re only 60% qualified while women won’t do so unless they meet 100% of the requirements.
Sheryl Sandberg mentioned that statistic in her book Lean In, and it has made its way into the leads of many business articles. In a 2014 article for Harvard Business Review, Tara Mohr decided to do her own research on the confidence issue for women.
After surveying more than 1,000 U.S. professionals, Mohr found that one out of four women said fear of failure was the reason for not applying for jobs for which they were not fully qualified. Only 13% of the male respondents gave that response.
Whether it’s an issue of confidence, caution, or simply an aversion to risk-taking, women need to stop doubting their skills. Just because you don’t tick off all the technical requirements, it doesn’t mean you’re not qualified to do the job or you’re not the best person for it.
Focus on building your strengths and unique talents and asserting your place in the room. If you know you can do the job — and do it well — go for it.
4. Realize that Your “Feminine” Traits Are Powerful
What qualities make a leader successful? Today’s corporations are recognizing that traditionally feminine traits, such as empathy and collaboration, are beneficial to the workplace. In fact, a study published by LinkedIn found that 57% of senior leaders consider soft skills to be more important than hard skills.
An empathetic leader promotes cooperation and increases commitment in the workplace. The Wall Street Journal reports that empathy has become such an essential trait in the workplace that many companies are offering specialized training in developing this skill.
Women also excel in time management skills. In her book, I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time, Laura Vanderkam demonstrates how women who are used to juggling the many tasks of home and family are well suited to business leadership roles. Female business leaders also are often better equipped to handle everyday workplace stress than their male counterparts.
It’s time to embrace your feminine traits as your superpower. Use them to lead and inspire your team to greater heights.
5. Empower Other Women
“When you know there’s another woman in the room with a superpower, and she’s not speaking up, you should call on her,” advises Aileen Lee, the founder of Cowboy Ventures.
“The one thing I ultimately want to see, especially with young women, is advocacy — women standing up for each other,” says restaurateur and real estate developer Adenah Bayoh. “We’ve all been at a table where a woman is marginalized. I’d like to see more of us at the table make more room for each other and speak up for each other.”
Whether it’s when we are in a meeting in the boardroom or at the hardware store buying a drill, women are accustomed to getting “talked over” by men. While we still need to push men to act as true allies and help amplify women’s voices, we also can take a more active role in supporting each other.
If you witness a female co-worker being interrupted during a meeting, speak up, and redirect the conversation back to your colleague. We can only have more women at the top if we collectively lead the change.
So much is being said and written these days about the setbacks of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we can also use this challenging time as a proverbial line in the sand.
We don’t want to wait another century or more for gender equality at the workplace. If we each do our part — no matter where we are and what our profession is — we can make a difference. Let’s speak up, trust our skills, and help each other be the best we can be.
Ebere Akadiri is an accomplished entrepreneur and an advocate for women in leadership. Her passion to inspire others to achieve their goals drove her to found Rise and Lead Women along with her co-founder, Poonam Barua. Their mission is to inspire women to take the lead in closing the gender gap in workplaces and in business.