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How to Advocate For Women in the Workplace

Here are three steps you can share to help others advocate for women in the workplace in ways that actually make a difference.

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Three woman standing next to a megaphone

More than ever, organizations are trying to create environments that are inclusive to both men and women. And with good reason. A McKinsey Global Institute report found that a scenario that allows women to reach their full potential could add as much as $28 trillion (roughly the equivalent of the Chinese and US economies combined) to the global annual GDP by 2025.

If women are a trillion-dollar opportunity, we should start investing. If this was a game of blackjack, men would be doubling down. So why aren’t they?

The challenge is that institutionalized discrimination is a complex system that’s difficult to change. And in many cases, men don’t know where to start. That’s why it’s important that we enable and empower the men in our lives to be an active part of this change.

3 steps to take to advocate for women in the workplace

Here are three steps you can share with the men in your life to help them promote equality in ways that actually make a difference.

1. Acknowledge the invisible

Sexism is real and before you can do anything about it, you need to see it. Even the most progressive organizations are largely constructed by and for men. This means every day women navigate places filled with double standards, gender-biases, microaggressions, and socially engineered behaviors that ostracize, diminish, and demean the women around them. Feeling skeptical? Spend a week observing the behavior at your office.

  • Who welcomes guests, gets the coffee, or loads the dishwasher?

  • Who drives conversations? Does everyone share an equal voice in meetings? Who is talked over?

  • How many women are in supporting roles to senior men?

  • How many women make less money than men in similar roles?

  • Which gender most often requests support for their family/childcare responsibilities?

2. Ask, then listen

Being an ally means advocating. But before you can speak up, you need to listen. It’s important for you to ask the women around you what they’re facing. Not only will this help inform you about what they are facing, but it will open the door to future conversations and improve your relationships. You can ask:

  • What does your day-to-day look like?

  • What impacts you most in your role?

  • What are your concerns when it comes to diversity and our company culture?

  • What are the things that make you feel ostracized or alienated?

How can I help? How can I best advocate for you?

Please know, you may not understand right away, and not everyone will want to share their answers with you. That’s ok. What you do need to do is empathize and support their truth, when they feel comfortable sharing it. After asking someone for their perspective, simply listen and take their words at face value. Resist the urge to justify or downplay the situation. This is not about you. If you’re uncomfortable, that’s ok. It means your beliefs are being challenged – and that’s a good thing!

3. Push for change

The #MeToo movement is exactly that, it requires people to move – change, take action, speak out, advocate, learn, and support. It’s no longer enough for anyone to be a silent witness. It’s time to surface wrongdoings, create safe spaces, and help effect change. Every day you can choose to say something, or not. You can choose to change your own behavior, or not.

If you’re unsure what this can look like, look to some people who are doing the work. I highly recommend following @mattmcgorry on Instagram and his initiative Man Enough for an example of how men can be strong feminists and advocates for the women in their life.

Here’s a few more things you can do:

  • Be aware of the contribution of each member in meetings, and open up the conversation so female colleagues have space to contribute.

  • Sign up for initiatives that promote workplace equality.

  • If you’re in a position to hire, commit to hiring more women and improving diversity at your organization.

  • Call out bad behaviour when you see it. Use the channels at your disposal to address the behavior and rectify it.

  • Encourage processes that have greater transparency.

Though the institutionalized obstacles women face are numerous, we can transform how we work together and increase the respect we share.

This article first appeared on the Canadian Women’s Foundation blog.

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