The days of female rivalry and “one seat at the table” are over. It’s time we encourage women to stand up for themselves and each other. As a female leader, you can role model what this behavior looks like. Women in positions of power are ready to take the lead. Here are some proven techniques to help accelerate that movement:
Stand Up and Speak Up
When you hear or witness something inappropriate, you’ve got to speak up. Silence is no different than condoning bad behavior. Choose a phrase like “I didn’t find that funny” or “I’m surprised to hear you say that.” This shows women and men what behavior is and is not acceptable. When a woman gets interrupted (which happens twice as often as is does to men), try saying “Hold on, I’d really like to hear Mary finish her thought.”
“Hepeating” is where a woman’s idea doesn’t get noticed until her male peer repeats it. Then suddenly it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Women can work together to combat this through amplification. That’s when women reiterate and build on each other’s ideas, making sure the woman responsible gets the credit. You can call out hepeating by asking, “How is that different from the suggestion Jennifer just made?”
Use these techniques yourself, and teach them to the women around you so they will have a greater sense of control. Women can work together to fight everyday sexism without calling people out, and without shaming or blaming.
Demand Diverse Candidates
Ensure your hiring process is fair and unbiased by training recruiters and hiring managers in behavioral interview skills and unconscious bias. Tell HR and recruiting teams that you expect to see qualified people of all genders for every open role. Don’t accept the excuse that there’s a lack of qualified women candidates. Once you have a diverse pipeline, measure the success rate of female candidates to make sure it’s on par with others.
Female candidates are often understated compared to men. They may sound less confident and be less outspoken about their skills. This is because women are raised not to brag or self-promote. It doesn’t mean they’re less capable, less passionate, or have less potential. Teach everyone involved in hiring to assess candidates fairly, taking style differences and gender norms into account.
Take Bets on Women
When I was a recruiter, one hiring manager passed on a brilliant young woman hardware engineer because “she wasn’t passionate.” I wish I had known then what I know now about gendered feedback. I knew she was an excellent candidate, but they couldn’t see past their own stereotypes. Because of this, the team lost out.
Society teaches us (wrongly) that confidence and charisma correlate strongly with good performance. It’s easy to get charmed by the wrong candidate. When I interviewed my operations manager she seemed like a quiet, serious young woman. She said in a soft voice “What’s made me successful is that I anticipate what executives need, and I get it done before they even ask.” I later learned her nickname at work was “the killer” because she was so productive.
Pay Women What They’re Worth
In the past, equal pay didn’t receive the necessary scrutiny, and today, women are still paid less than men. Women of color are paid less than white women, and parents are paid less than those without children. When companies ask for a person’s salary history, it perpetuates a system where women are paid less. Paying people according to the job they’ll perform vs. what they made in the past is one way to disrupt bias in compensation.
My company has six staff members and over 30 consultants, about two-thirds of whom are women. I’ve noticed men on average ask for higher salaries. Sometimes women say salary doesn’t matter to them as much as the quality and impact of the work. My response is to pay people equally for the work they perform, regardless of what they expect. I would encourage you to do the same.
While we won’t wake up tomorrow in a world that’s bias free, we’re moving in the right direction at work. Women leaders in particular are creating teams and organizations where women can bring their whole selves to work and live into their full potential. The more you role model strong leadership and create inclusive policies and practices, the more all of your people will thrive, regardless of gender.