Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In re-ignited the conversation about women in the workplace when it was published last year. Lean In has spread global awareness and significantly progressed the dialogue about women in the workplace. By now, most of us have heard the statistics and we all know there’s a problem – women just aren’t getting to the top of organizations, worldwide.
This has to change – and I am not just saying this because I am a woman. MSCI AC World index found that companies with a gender-diverse board outperformed those with only men by 25% over six years. Women and diversity are important for the growth and success of organizations. Period.
Certainly, men need to work on creating a more equal and inclusive workplace environment, but it won’t work unless women also take an active role. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s book The Confidence Code, addresses the main tool women need to posses: confidence. Yes, the research says men’s and women’s brains work differently and yes, we have been socialized to behave in different ways, but ultimately women need to have confidence in themselves and their abilities. Andeven more importantly, as Kay and Shipman point out, we need to understand that men and women perceive confident behavior differently. In some cases, what we think shows confidence, men see as exhibiting weakness (and vice versa).
Given all of this, I think companies are mostly taking the wrong approach. Networking groups, diversity training, and company events are the standard programs. These are important to support an initiative, but in my experience, none of these actually facilitate needed change in an organization.
What we need is a revolution in our approach to gender relations in the workplace: something that stimulates change, and truly improves communication between men and women,
Here are my suggestions to take action:
1) Admit it’s an issue. Google and LinkedIn recently came out and publically stated that they had a challenge with regards to Diversity in their workforce. This is an excellent example of companies willing to be vulnerable. Lack of women in leadership is an issue most companies face today (especially in high tech industries) and it’s okay to admit that you don’t have all the answers, yet. However, by making a public statement, Google and LinkedIn are making themselves accountable, an important step in ultimately finding a solution.
2) Identify and suggest specific changes. Diversity training is not effective. We have tried it for years and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. If you want to see change, ask for it. Chances are, management is not going to magically change their unconscious bias. Go to the highest-ranking executives who will listen and offer specific and actionable changes you want to see made. Among other things, suggest they allocate money for a sponsorship program for women. (Contact us for more information on how sponsorship differs from mentorship.)
Ideally we want everyone to understand the issues, empathize, and then take action. However this is just isn’t practical. Social psychology has proven that by changing behavior – even if its mandatory — will eventually change mindset — one internalizes the attitude and then starts to believe in the new behavior.
3) Consider hiring a true expert. This person shouldn’t just be a Diversity trainer, but a strategic consultant who understands gender relations and can take a hard look at your hiring policies, internal promotion, salary breakdown and team communication to give you the hard truth about the source of your challenges. In addition, consider hiring an executive coach to do some leadership development training with the women in your organization. A true expert will understand how a push and pull strategy in the organization will truly foster change, quickly.
4) Look beyond the workplace. Sheryl Sandberg makes several points in her book, but one of the most important (in my opinion) that we often ignore is how we need to look at our relationship with our partner. If men were expected to do as much as women, we might not even be having this discussion. Women often feel guilty about not being the perfect wife and mother, and that ultimately affects our careers. It is important to leave the guilt behind and have an open dialog with your partner about how to share the other responsibilities in your life.
It may not be easy and it may not be comfortable, but at the end of the day women need to take a more active role and ask for what they want. At the same time, men need to recognize that they have unconscious biases and be open to being vulnerable and taking action. If we make actionable changes in our organizations, our minds will be soon to follow.