The #MeToo movement has created the permission to be vulnerable about the dark truths many women have kept hidden for decades. From entry-level assistants who were mistreated by older male managers to C-level women who still face discrimination no matter their level of accomplishment or respect–everyone knows someone who has come forward.
Or is a “someone” themselves. I understand their stories, not only due to the parallel experience of being a woman, but because I have stories of my own. Ones that created those titles. At the start of my career in college, I was afraid to speak up following my rape by a fellow staff member at the campus newspaper, worried that it would prevent my trajectory in journalism–or my ability to earn internships or jobs. I’ve been asked to dress less sexy by a boss. I’ve been harassed by experts as I trembled asking questions during an interview, wishing I could be invisible. It took time and confidence to reach a point where my voice mattered more than my fear, but once I started writing about my experience, I realized the responsibility I had to help younger generations.
Much like I’m one of millions in the era of #MeToo, many female executives are working tirelessly and relentlessly to inspire, support, and challenge women to speak up. To be heard. To propel the conversation, and more importantly, the change of workplace dynamics. Here, nine executives share how they are mentoring women during this pivotal era:
Create a network of mentors–not just one
As the saying goes, it takes an army to create the battlefront behind a single warrior. As someone from a culture that expects women to marry and stay home, the chief strategy officer at Tradeshift, Sarika Garg, credits female relationships as propellers for her upward mobility. She says she is often the smallest, darkest-skinned and only female executive in a room, and by fostering bonds with other women, she has been able to make fundamental shifts in companies and in the lives of new employees. That’s why she encourages those she mentors to not only seek her advice, but that of many across various industries and professions. “Today’s business and cultural climate requires a smart network of mentors: a collective group of people who will advocate for you, and help you learn how to advocate for yourself,” she says.
Aim for gender parity in hiring
There are still very few women at the top of companies. But for the ones who are holding their position steadfastly and surely, creating an equilibrium between sexes is not a nice thought, but rather, a priority. Jennifer Tejada, the CEO of PagerDuty, has achieved gender parity in executive leadership and engineering, which she credits to improved levels of employee retention and productivity. Though, by law, hiring must be fair to all applicants, ensuring there are female-led initiatives and opportunities for growth throughout every sector of the company fosters a healthy attitude toward equality and balance.
Make men part of the conversation
#MeToo has constituted a new standard of respect for women at work, demanding men treat them as true peers and professionals. Overcoming decades of accepted comments and badgering toward women however, takes time to become widely accepted and instituted. For those men who have walked the straight and narrow and valued female colleagues for their intellect and not at the advantage of their bodies, the #MeToo movement can feel confusing. And make them hesitant or nervous about how they are perceived. So much so that founder and CEO of Career Contessa and creator of The Salary Project Lauren McGoodwin says the number of male managers who are uncomfortable mentoring women has tripled–from 5% to 16%.
This is a negative by-product that is disadvantageous for women and men alike. “Men pulling back from mentoring women means there will be fewer opportunities for women at work, they’ll be left off important projects more often, and their names won’t make the short list of leadership potentials,” she explains. McGoodwin says female executives should ensure they bring men into the important discussions surrounding women in the workforce. “Women in leadership roles can not only help women, but they can help men take action in gender-parity programs and open the dialogue around how men and women can thrive in the workplace together,” she says.
Allow remote work
Before she started her own company—The Content Factory—Kari DePhillips worked in advertising, where she said sexual harassment was commonplace. She reported her manager for inappropriately touching her thigh during a meeting, and was still expected to work under him afterwards. As her own boss now, she allows her entire staff to work remotely and encourages other entrepreneurs to follow suit. Though this might seem counterproductive to mentoring since she isn’t in the same space as her employees, DePhillips believes the choice not only skips the office environment entirely, but the sexual advances that too often come with it. She is readily available for any and every employee, and can spend more time imparting wisdom than helping them to recover from a traumatic event. “It also saves women the unpaid labor of “getting ready” to do a job they’re already ready to do. I ran the numbers, and it works out to 500+ hours saved per year,” she adds.
Urge women to be their own author
When any type of retaliation or uprising is happening, it creates not only a fast-forward, but a rewind and a pause. #MeToo has encouraged women to deal with the demons that have haunted the workspaces of past or present, and to stand up against the cruelties they suffered at the hands of those who were meant to guide them. As both a chief talent officer at MONO and a mentor, Julie Vessel, explains executives should support younger generations to take the helm of their careers. Sure, it is advice that all are given once they throw their graduation cap, but now, more than ever, women should feel entitled to their own vision and definition of success. In other words: Choose for yourself, and don’t wait for the approval of anyone–perhaps, especially, a man.
“You are the author. Which means you are entitled to talk about your career, to talk about your opportunity, and to have ideas on what you want to do, be, experience. Raise your hand. Let your intentions be known. Double down on your strengths. Write your own story,” she says.
Don’t be intimidated by the time commitment
To hold an executive title takes plenty of work, sacrifices, and battles. Many women in leadership might be intimidated by the time commitment of becoming a mentor, especially when there are sales goals and quarterly expectations to meet (and exceed). Shareholder at Littler Jennifer Robinson urges executives to turn the conversation around to the mentees and ask them what they need. Not only does this position them to speak for themselves, but it means you can spend your time with them more strategically and effectively. It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture–in fact, most are merely seeking the brutal honesty and frank, tactical advice to exceed.
“Take a young woman out to lunch and find out what you can do to guide and help her. Maybe she wants advice on how to pitch to a prospective client. Maybe she is walking through political landmines in her office and just wants guidance from someone who has navigated her way in the past. Maybe she is thinking about quitting because she is being asked to attend too many events at night and she has young kids at home she wants to spend time with,” she says. She finds these conversations are important and not taxing on her schedule–typically only requiring an hour per person a month, at most.
Teach them when it is time to speak up
Growing up in a Chinese household, Gladys Kong was instilled to keep mum with her opinion, especially as a girl. She didn’t agree with it then, and doesn’t now, both as the CEO of her company, UberMedia, and as a mom of three. But for Kong, it is not only about feeling empowered to voice thoughts, ideas, and perceptions. Rather, it is about how and when to state a perspective so it has the best chance of impact.
This means teaching young professionals to think through answers and to create an environment where they are encouraged to talk–and expect to be heard. “How do you not talk yourself out of the need to have challenging, sometimes uncomfortable conversations? How do you decide when it’s time to speak up? And how do you do that with a clear goal–not to just complain but to drive action and resolution?” she says. “When you learn these skills, the idea of participating in challenging discussions doesn’t seem so scary. Over time, you learn how to use your voice and how to listen, which sets the tone for how you interact with almost everyone you cross paths with.”
Nominate a secret keeper
In response to the #MeToo upswing, CEO of Beeya Ladan Davia created a safe environment where communication is not just okay but mandatory. Since many are uncomfortable speaking with human resources about situations that can happen, Davia nominated someone on her team to be a “secret keeper.” If something is too serious to share publicly, a young woman can go to this person to share anything big or small. From there, the issue can be addressed and handled to the comfort level of the employee, ensuring her concern is taken with the utmost seriousness and sincerity.
Give them a seat at their own table
One way to support younger generations of females is to give them a seat at the table–even if it isn’t the boardroom table. The CEO and founder of YEAY and creator of WOM, Melanie Mohr,says the most powerful way to revolutionize the place of women in the workforce is to, well, listen to them. As an advocate of today’s teenagers of all races and gender identities, she created a Young Entrepreneurs Advisory Board with an even mix of 10 girls and boys around the world. From a 16-year-old programmer and creator of a crypto price tracking app to the founder of an IT software solution, she not only asks for their advice, but takes it. “They continually advise me and guide my business directions and the board even led me to develop WOM, a cryptocurrency that empowers young women and young men to be creative and entrepreneurial and turn their honest word-of-mouth content into a currency,” she says.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that PagerDuty, has achieved gender parity in all departments.