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6 concrete ways to make your office more gender equitable

Whether you’re a manager or not, these straightforward ideas can improve your company culture.

6 concrete ways to make your office more gender equitable
[Photo: Hero Images/Getty Images]

The workforce isn’t yet gender equitable. Women continue to be paid less than men (women of color especially so), have fewer seats on corporate boards (despite the fact that companies with strong female leadership on their boards perform better), and face the “motherhood penalty” (while men with children benefit from the “fatherhood bonus” of seeming more responsible).

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But those problems are big ones and will require society-level changes. What are some concrete things you do to make your office more gender equitable, starting now?

Push for pay equity

The Center for Talent Innovation, a think tank dedicated to diversity and inclusion, found that equal pay was the single most influential factor for women in boosting advancement and retention. Creating rational pay scales and making them transparent is the best option, but even if you’re not in management, you can still push for these changes in your office.

Ask your coworkers if they’re comfortable talking about what they make so that you can all better advocate for what’s fair. Meredith Holley, a lawyer and founder of a conflict resolution practice for employees facing toxic work environments, stresses that employees have that right. “Federally, unionizing activities are protected, and talking about salary information is a fundamental unionizing activity,” she says. “Policies that prohibit talking about salary are very likely illegal in many scenarios if they are enforced.”

Offer inclusive benefits, and model what it looks like when everyone takes them 

If your company doesn’t currently have benefits like paid family leave, subsidized child or elder care, or flexible work policies, talk to your HR rep about why those are important to you. And if they do offer them, don’t leave them on the table. Jamie Ladge, a business professor and author of the book Maternal Optimism: Forging Positive Paths Through Work and Motherhood, explains, “There’s a stigma associated with people who use [work-life policies like] flexible work arrangements or parental leave that they’re less committed.” She says that encouraging men, especially those in senior leadership, to take advantage of them can combat that stigma.

Focus on team building and team swag that includes everyone

When your team gets together to bond, when and where do they do it? Saturday golf tournaments? Afterwork drinking sessions? Weekend paint-balling trips? Make sure that the activities you choose are things that appeal to everyone and that you don’t exclude team members with family responsibilities, which might mean they have less free time. Try planning a Friday morning volunteer outing or a potluck at lunch hour.

Shantera L. Chatman, a consultant focused on organizational engagement, notes that this spirit of inclusivity should expand to team gifts and incentives. “Promotional items should be appropriate for both men and women,” she says, citing a client who gave out branded polo shirts as prizes and found that the women who worked for them felt excluded, as they didn’t wear those types of shirts.

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In meetings, amplify women’s ideas, and don’t assign them all the tasks 

President Obama’s female staffers’ strategy to be heard in male-dominated meetings went viral when they told The Washington Post about “amplification.” When a woman made a good point in a meeting, the other women would repeat it, crediting the source.

Kelly Ann Doherty, chief people and communications officer for Mr. Cooper Group, encourages this strategy outside of the Oval Office, too. “Be mindful of the role [women] play in your office meetings,” she says. “There is a tendency for women to raise their hand to schedule the meeting, order the lunch, and take notes.” If you’re leading a meeting, consider assigning those tasks versus asking for volunteers, and give them equally to people of all genders. 

Ensure your recruiting process is truly equitable

What do your job descriptions say? Who’s on your hiring lineup? Avoiding gender-biased hiring practices is an important first step to creating a more equitable workplace. Jennifer Brown, founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting and author of How to Be an Inclusive Leader, suggests some flags to look out for: “Look through job descriptions and performance reviews for gendered language like ‘rockstar’ or ‘ninja,’ which have been shown to repel female candidates, and words like ‘collaborative,’ which do the same for male candidates.” She suggests incorporating tools like Textio, an augmented writing program that can help identify and fix gendered language.

Once women candidates are in the door, who are they meeting with? A diverse lineup, or seven men whose names are various spellings of “John”? Push for diverse recruiting resources, both to help candidates see themselves in your organization, and to cut down on unconscious bias.

In the interview, make sure to make people of all genders feel comfortable by not making assumptions about their identity. Rachel Solomon, lawyer and founder of honor code creative, reminds interviewers to introduce themselves by saying something like, “Hi, I’m Rachel, and my pronouns are she/her. Nice to meet you.”

Consider your physical space

Beyond your standing desk situation and the variety of snacks stocked in the pantry, the space you work in is important. It can subtly reinforce an exclusionary environment—or it can subtly reinforce gender equality.

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Rachel Murray, co-CEO of diversity and inclusion training company She+ Geeks Out, sees many ways that this can be acheived. “Look at conference room names. If they’re all famous white men, consider highlighting women in history, including women of color,” she says. “Check your temperature settings. Office temperatures run very cold, which can be particularly bad for women, who tend to run cooler.” She also suggests ensuring that your office has menstrual products available, as well as a gender neutral restroom.

Wherever your company is on the path to gender equity, your participation in the process is necessary. Brown highlights the importance of all people pushing for more equitable workspaces, not just women. “It’s incumbent on people who are not in the affected group to raise issues when they see them, because they can do so with less risk to their reputation. That’s what allyship really looks like: not causing extra emotional labor on people to do all of the work of challenging the ways we’ve always done business but doing it alongside—and sometimes instead—of them.”

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