The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How can you play a role in advancing workplace equality?” is written by Jeffery Tobias Halter, president of YWomen, author of Why Women: The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men, and speaker at the WIN Summit.
Women’s leadership advancement is slowly reaching a tipping point. In industries from ranging from pharma and finance to defense and technology, women’s voices are rising. But so are those of supportive men—especially ones in senior leadership positions. Smart progressive companies are finding ways to incorporate both men and women into the process of attracting, retaining, and advancing women in the workplace. These companies have embraced four key approaches:
Listening to women’s concerns
Are you genuinely listening to the issues, concerns, and workplace issues of your female employees? I encourage senior male leaders to take a female coworker to coffee and ask her about the experience she’s having at work. Chances are, she’s not going to tell you initially because most women don’t want to be the flag bearer for all issues related to the status of women in the workplace. You’ll need to form close relationships with your female colleagues if you want to get to a point where they can talk to you openly about their difficulties in the workplace.
Through these discussions, you’ll find out that men and women are having significantly different professional experiences. One in two women (versus roughly one in four men) believe gender bias is alive in organizations today. While the workplace has evolved from Mad Men’s 1960s depiction, gender bias exists today in much more subtle terms and actions. Have you noticed that women are more likely to be interrupted in a meeting (even by other women) than men? Or that there’s an assumption that women will take notes, plan, and follow up—even when among colleagues at the same professional level? By understanding your female colleagues’ experiences better, it will be much easier to recognize and correct gender bias as it occurs.
Recognizing gender differences
It’s also important to understand that men and women behave differently at work. Research on brain functions demonstrate that most men have a more focused and linear thinking approach that favors decisiveness in words and actions. Women tend to focus more on intuition and collaboration. This research highlights the way men and women solve problems, network, and negotiate.
This has huge implications for organizations. For example, a Deloitte study on gender in sales teams demonstrated that women are much more attuned to reading non-verbal buyer behaviors, and therefore better at developing deeper relations with customers.
Developing diverse talent
Leaders need to ask tough questions and hold others accountable for creating a diverse workforce. Over half of DiversityInc’s top 50 companies for diversity tie executive compensation to the development and retention of diverse talent. Senior leaders need to regularly review their staff to ensure that talented women are being identified early in their careers.
If you don’t have enough women applying for positions, ask your managers and human resources team why not. Perhaps your managers aren’t developing and retaining people with different backgrounds. If that’s the case, find new managers. Or perhaps you can pursue alternate avenues to find women with strong potential. No matter what you do, make sure that your message of promoting a diverse team is clear.
If gender issues are present in your company, you must address them. The first step to fixing a problem is to find out of it exists. If you don’t make the effort to look at your company honestly, nothing will really change.
Once you’ve done so, you can start to take specific actions. For example, does your company review pay equity by gender and job grade? If not, request periodic reports on this, and if you detect and issue, assign someone to fix it.
You can also work to demonstrate visual advocacy on women’s behalf. If you see a woman being talked over in a meeting, call it out and make sure her voice is heard. Finally, encourage women to apply for assignments beyond their current job title, in order to develop them further.
Companies that embrace these approaches are going to win the war for women in the workplace.