Diversity, inclusion and equity are three critical areas of focus for women in the workplace and in this article I want to spend some time talking about the importance of inclusion. As we’ve celebrated March as Women’s month, a friend reached out to ask “how can I be an ally for you?” Not only did I truly appreciate the magnitude of that request and gesture, I really had to think about the answer.
Being an ally for women can have meaningful impact in two key areas:
- Micro-inclusions in the workplace
- Balance of unpaid work in the home
In the home life, an ally can be supportive to women in their life through the balance of unpaid domestic work and domestic mental load. The data shows that Covid-19 has had a disproportionate impact on working women. This is something personally close to my heart that we, in our family, work really hard to balance. With the juggles of little children, for me, having a balanced domestic life and mental load regarding our family means I’m able to show up to work in a healthy way and spend meaningful quality time with my husband and children. I swap stress for laughter and I’m eternally grateful for a partnership striving for family balance with dual careers. But not every woman has an ally in the home today and perhaps unintentionally, we just aren’t fully aware of the role we can each play in removing gender expectations from the home.
In work life, a small micro-exclusion that happens may not even be easily spotted by most, builds up to cause impact to the women’s experience over time. Micro-exclusions don’t just affect women, they also affect men in environments where they are not equally represented too.
Intent doesn’t supersede impact
Was the micro-exclusion intended? Probably not. Does it impact women? It really does. Intent does not supersede impact. The impact is real and valid. Spotting and working to prevent the micro-exclusions matter. Are you an ally Situational awareness for allies is really key.
Inclusion tips in the workplace:
- Banter and small talk: at the top of a meeting chat about a hobby or interest everyone can affiliate with to avoid silent listeners who may feel excluded.
- Be mindful of home life commitments: Do both men and women feel comfortable and safe to push back if a meeting time doesn’t suit them? Sometimes our unpaid domestic workload isn’t a considered data point when scheduling meetings and yet women may not feel as safe to push back to ensure the organizer is aware.
- Watch gender-loaded language: Diffuse any gender identifying or excluding table talk with a comment about clothing or hair, no-one needs to feel self-conscious. Watch emails and introductions for “Hi Gents, and [insert woman].” Instead, include all: Hey Gang; Hey Folks; Hey Team.
- Psychological safety: Does everyone in the meeting appear to be engaged equally and have a voice? Is everyone’s videos on? Is someone unusually quiet? Has anyone’s body language changed? Why? Did we miss a micro-exclusion?
Benefits of getting inclusion right?
- Get more out of the women at the table
- Hear a more diverse experience and opinion to create a better decision
- We, as women, invest more of our brain power on the challenges and opportunities in front of us, instead of unnecessary energy, psyching ourselves up, back-channeling our points of view or worrying
- Women feel more confident, safe and resilient as working individuals
- We live happier, healthier and more fulfilling lives
- Businesses perform better
In my opinion, any ally serious about paving the way for inclusion for their women colleagues will focus on micro-inclusive gestures in the every day working environment and it will help inclusion at all levels. This is imperative to ensuring we create a psychologically safe working environment for women, encouraging them to stay in the workforce, which, under the backdrop of Covid-19 has caused a mass retreat from the workforce for working mothers in particular. More women in the workforce means we have a stronger pipeline of women executives to send into the elevator, to the top leadership circle, which in turn drives stronger business performance.
What an opportunity for all of the women allies out there!
Will we make mistakes on our diversity & inclusion journey? You betcha. But the sooner we start, the sooner we learn. As leaders, as allies, how could we open up the conversation with our teams, our circles, our communities about creating a more inclusive environment for them? Can more people ask how to be an ally? What about when we layer in culture, race, sexual orientation, what then of inclusion allies? Can we stop to reflect on our own behaviors, overlay the lens of gender and ensure all people feel included in the way we do business? How can we do better? Thank-you Friend, how can I be an ally for you?
I love that we are having this conversation and very grateful to have been asked this question. I don’t think our road to a better future needs to be confrontational, we all have the power to make an impact if we truly want to.