As women continue to consider exiting the workforce, the question on their minds is: Does my workplace work for me? While many organizations are attempting to redress the inequities women face, there are plenty of new policies and actions that have served to undermine women’s certainty that they belong. Let’s discuss a few examples and positive ways to retain women leaders.
1. Be thoughtful with mentoring pairings.
Consider a leader who would like to increase her assertiveness. Like anyone who is working on this, she appreciates that it has an impact on her relationships and how she is perceived. It takes experimentation to express assertive behaviours to the right degree. Too little, and you aren’t standing up for yourself and expressing yourself sufficiently, too much and you’re perceived as hostile. In an effort to help, a more senior leader selects a mentor for her who is overly assertive. She and others perceive him as aggressive. The thinking behind the match was that pairing a leader who overdoes a vital competency with someone who underutilizes it would work. Instead, it sends the wrong message and creates confusion for the mentee who is looking to find the right level of assertiveness.
Get 360 feedback about potential mentors before involving them in facilitated mentoring programs where they will be role models. In my experience, leaders who overplay their strengths are not good mentors to a mentee who is looking to practice the competency.
2. Make growth opportunities count.
Advancing women in their careers by giving them opportunities for growth is moving in the right direction. So when one woman earned the invitation to participate in a next-level leadership team meeting, she naturally accepted. When the meeting started, she was asked to take minutes for the group.
When a mid-level manager is given an opportunity and then assigned an administrative task, it doesn’t advance them in any way. They want to be free to be actively engaged because they want to maximize the occasion. Playing the role of the scribe is a sensitive issue for women as it relegates them to assist in an administrative function, long ago perceived as a woman’s rightful job and as far as her career could advance.
3. Reserve your praise for a job well done.
A director in a design studio in the technology sector prepared an outstanding strategy. Her manager asked her to present what she and her team had accomplished. Many more people came to the call than were expected and in the banter before the presentation began, her manager noticed that the director was a little nervous. His response was to tease her about the colour of her lipstick thinking it would provide her with the confidence she lacked by telling her how good she looked. It had the opposite effect. Instead, it made her feel self-conscious.
Women want men to be great allies when they face challenges at work. What some allies don’t know yet is that commenting on women’s makeup, clothing or physical appearance redirects attention to how a woman looks instead of focusing on their competence. Calling out a woman’s physical appearance is a challenge for women working hard every day to gain credibility.
4. Recognize that one rule can’t fit everyone.
Among the new measures brought on to slow down the increased expectations for work since the pandemic, is the “no emails or work calls past 7 p.m.” rule to show support for parents who have family obligations. But instead of freeing people up from work obligations, it serves to levy new pressures to get everything done before the witching hour. This is the matching bookend of obligatory early morning meetings for those with childcare responsibilities.
The best ideas are rigorously tested before they become rules. This rule disproportionally disadvantages moms with family responsibilities immediately after the workday. Encouraging leaders to have conversations with their teams in order to tailor the right limits for everyone is preferable to a blanket rule. Flexibility not uniformity is preferred.
5. Build on what came before.
A committee was put together in a public sector organization to support women’s leadership. When the office responsible for developing policy and programs to advance women’s equality learned about it and wanted to be involved, the chair communicated that she had no interest in collaborating and preferred to work without dialogue.
When leaders go it alone and don’t leverage the people, processes or work that’s come before, they forfeit lessons from the field, efficiencies for disseminating communication through established pathways and the opportunity to build momentum.
6. Promote for real.
Being promoted means an increase in responsibilities. Yet when there is no actual increase in decision-making power, the promotion is in bad faith. A recently promoted leader’s decisions had to be run by her male senior management team each time. It wasn’t long before this director understood that she wasn’t set up to succeed. She also came to doubt that her pay was on par with the men at her level since she was only permitted to function as Team Lead.
Research shows that early on in careers, men on average, are given more people to supervise and lead larger teams. As a result, they gain a wider span of control even at the same organizational level. Getting a change of title with more responsibilities but no increase in decision-making power is the oldest cheat in the book. It looks good to promote a woman but it’s demoralizing for everyone it affects.
The problems that are leading to the great resignation didn’t start today. Yet we have the opportunity now to re-imagine work and normalize new ways to ensure women are supported and valued. It all starts with listening to women’s experiences to know where to make changes so that women know they belong.
(This article is written by me, and was first published by Forbes.com)
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com