Honored, excited and a bit anxious – those were the first three emotions I had when I was asked to join a group who had been working together to solve an important health care issue facing their association. My boss, Elaine, told me ‘...with your knowledge and background, I think you would be of great value to the group.’
I was early in my career – ambitious, hardworking, and excited to learn and contribute to meaningful work. This was right up my alley, I thought.
But when I walked into our first meeting, my niggling anxiety overtook my excitement. A group of men arrived and began chatting with each other about the football game the night before.
When we all took our seats around a large table, I could see that I was the only women among 12 men who had been working together for years.
Every meeting for months I tried to speak up. Tried to contribute. But more and more, I felt like an outsider. I beat myself up for it. Maybe I should network more one-on-one with members. Maybe I should watch football or take up golf to have more common ground. Maybe I am not assertive enough.
I knew they weren’t purposely trying to exclude me, yet, I still felt as though I didn’t belong. I didn’t feel like my voice mattered and I slowly began to disengage and withdraw – just the opposite of how I showed up and contributed in every other aspect of my work. And it felt awful.
When someone doesn’t feel they belong, they don’t feel free to contribute their ideas, and those magnificent ideas stay bottled up.
None of us wake up in the morning with the intent to create this experience. In fact, many of us put in an enormous amount of effort to prevent this from happening because we know that innovation flows from diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. But too often, inequity slips into the workplace without us even realizing it.
Signs your organization may be leaving women behind
There are often subtle indicators that an issue requires greater attention. Some are more obvious than others, but things to look out for include:
1. How diverse are your meetings?
When you walk into a meeting room or start a Zoom call, whether it’s a leadership team meeting, a committee meeting or a working team meeting, is it a diverse composition of people that includes a balance of both men and women?
2. What does employee turnover look like?
Are women leaving the company at a disproportionate rate to men?
3. Is there a trend in your promotions?
Do women get promoted at a comparable rate to men?
4. How vocal are women in meetings?
Do you see and observe women speaking up? Do they appear engaged? Are their ideas and input being heard and considered in decisions?
5. Do your benefits skew to some?
Is your company flexible and supportive to those with caregiving responsibilities? Do you offer flexible work arrangements and programs that support those balancing child/elder care responsibilities so they can fully contribute to the organization?
5 steps to improve gender equity in the workplace
1. Measure and monitor the numbers
I worked with a CEO who was one of the biggest advocates for women. Half of his own executive team was made up of women and as a result, he didn’t believe that his organization had a gender parity issue.
But none of us really know until we look at the data.
Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce has been very transparent about his own surprise at finding a lack of pay parity after three hard years of tackling this issue. To this end, Salesforce conduct an annual pay audit and make adjustments to close gaps every year. And Marc challenges every CEO to do the same.
Indicators for gender equity and inclusion in the workplace
- Gender distribution by leadership level
Are leadership roles at every level of your organization evenly held by men and women? This is an essential measure. Leadership makes most of the company decisions. To ensure diverse perspectives, every level within an organization needs to be diverse. When this happens, people across the organization can see someone like them, which inspires them to give their best and believe that their voice will also be heard.
- Salary by role, by gender
Are pay levels consistent by role regardless of which gender occupies them? Organizations instill a sense of trust and respect when they pay and treat everyone fairly, regardless of gender.
- Turnover by gender
Are you losing more women disproportionately than men? While a lagging indicator, Turnover may signal a need to evaluate your workplace environment and whether all people believe they can fully contribute. During the pandemic, more women than men have left the workplace to care for families. Do your organization’s programs effectively support working parents?
- Promotions by gender
Promotion data is another essential measure of how well your programs and practices ensure everyone has opportunity for advancement. Are you promoting people based on their tenure or hours logged instead of their contributions? Is your system excluding women from mentoring opportunities or exposure to senior leadership? You might need to rethink how fair the path to promotions is at your company.
- Employee feedback
Employee surveys, interviews and focus groups provide real-time insights that enable you to gauge progress and opportunity. Six statements in our Trust Index™ survey monitor gender parity on more than just tangible gaps such as pay – they explore elements of psychological safety and total well-being, too.
2. Lead listening tours
Get curious about the experience of women in your workplace – both what the experience is like at its best and the challenges that get in the way. Gather ideas and feedback on how it can be improved. Actively involve women in your organization with developing solutions and monitoring progress.
3. Raise awareness through transparency
Elevate awareness by being transparent about how the organization is performing with the measures listed above. Among Best Workplaces™, CEOs who take a strong stance and speak openly about diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) are the most successful.
When it is a true priority to a CEO, they talk about it, they recognize and communicate the business imperative, and as a result, the organization rallies around this priority.
4. Turn empathy into action
Taking a public stand on DEIB is important, but Best Workplaces™ go further than statements of commitment. These companies take an in-depth look at their practices, culture and leadership, and use that knowledge to make tangible changes, whether that’s directly addressing gender pay imbalances or more leadership development opportunities for women.
In my own case, I knew that each of the men I was working with had only the best intentions. They went out of their way to try to have more diversity of thought, with the understanding that as a group of 12 men, they needed it.
But as shown by my experience, and the experiences of so many other working women, intent isn’t enough. Measurement, transparency, communication and action are the keys to delivering real DEIB results in the workplace.
Measure gender equity in your workplace