The #MeToo movement, which went viral in October 2017, has ignited global conversations about the treatment of women in the workplace. While the topics of these conversations existed long before the hashtag appeared, the movement has opened the door for change.
The organization I lead, Inforum, has been at the forefront of major issues impacting women in the workplace for more than half a century. Our work with individuals and companies leads us to view the #MeToo movement as an opportunity for women – and men – to work together toward common goals. This is why we worked to bring Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, to Grand Rapids in November. Ms. Burke’s constructive message has created important conversations and opportunities for learning in the workplace.
Our experience shows that there are specific, concrete steps women and companies can take to improve workplaces for everyone.
If you are a woman:
Take time to mentor, act as a sounding board, and support great ideas that are presented by your colleagues – men and women. And make sure that credit goes where it is due – women often find their ideas ignored or appropriated by others. When you hear a woman present a strong idea or make an important point, repeat it, give credit for it, and add specific reasons why you believe it should be supported.
Dare to apply.
Research shows women are less likely than men to raise their hands for a new opportunity if they aren’t sure they have 100% of the skills needed. Jump in and grow!
Include men in the conversation.
Women cannot advance without the support of men, who hold most leadership positions. And our experience is that men want to be engaged. Our Men as Allies roundtable brings together male executives to create initiatives that help promote diversity in company leadership. Find out if there are ways you can influence and support your company’s initiatives to foster productive professional conversations and relationships between women and men.
If you see something that is unjust or that is making members of your team uncomfortable, be sure to say something. Taking the time to express your feelings to someone in a trusted leadership position or human resources may seem scary or risky, but it is an important step toward creating more positive, comfortable, and fair work environments.
If you are company leader:
Plan for diversity and start at the top.
Diversity and inclusion initiatives fare best when they have the visible, vocal support of the CEO who calls for an optimal mix of backgrounds, experience, skills and perspectives at all job levels, including on the board of directors.
Retain your best women.
Ask the talented women in your organization what makes them stay. Research shows flexibility, generous maternity and family leave, and professional coaching all help. Mentoring and sponsorship also matter. Women with mentors are more likely to apply for promotions. Women with sponsors are more likely to get key opportunities.
Examine promotion policies.
Research shows men are more likely than women to be promoted based on potential vs. specific accomplishments. Identify and address hidden biases like these.
Be a secure harbor.
Have a process for team members to report unsafe or objectionable behavior, publicize it, and make sure that complaints are taken seriously.
Workplace culture does not change overnight, and it takes effort and forward thinking for real progress. Leaders and team members should work in concert to create strategies, timelines, and action items. Some steps can be simple. A new advisory committee or a monthly lunch series with guest speakers can help to start moving the needle.
Even though substantive change won’t happen immediately, having an organized way to lay out goals, share expectations, and create action around supporting women in the workplace is a crucial investment of time.
Amazing things happen when women support other women and when companies work to unleash all of their best talent.