You’d be hard-pressed to find a modern organization in today’s workforce that doesn’t in some way express goals to empower women and create a more equitable environment. Many companies have pledged to increase recognizing women at work, while supporting their growth, improving visibility and actively seeking to level the playing field in the workforce. We admire their strategies, and in many industries, we have seen increases in equity and women in leadership as well as resources and tools that prioritize development for women professionals.
So, with our laser focus on DEI&B and the commitment to equitable treatment of women, then consider:
- Why do some organizations still use the term “Chairman?”
- Why is it 9 out of 10 times a woman will plan the birthday events at the office?
- Why after a lunch meeting in the conference room, is the last person standing, clearing the table, usually a woman?
- Why do some people celebrate that a woman may have been promoted with a caveat that it is because a company values diversity? It’s critical to value diversity at work; however, it’s not the reason why someone received a position. Having a plan to increase diversity and inclusion in a company may have removed the barriers that were blocking a qualified individual from gaining an opportunity in the first place.
It's counterintuitive to say we recognize and support women if we continue to fall into these behaviors. If we are going to make a difference recognizing and elevating women at work, let’s start fixing the little things.
These smaller microaggressions have consequences. They are often overlooked and minimized, as they are not viewed as the most egregious examples of gender discrimination. When left unchecked, however, they are significant, because they chip away at the progress towards gender equity in the workplace. Over time, these instances can erode a woman’s confidence in her own professional abilities. Plus, microaggressions can become considerably more concerning, progressing to outright sexual harassment, insults, and discrimination that affects hiring, wages, promotions and more.
Language matters when recognizing women at work
In a recent Forbes article, just THIS YEAR IN 2023, women shared their experience of comments directed towards them at work. Honestly, it can leave your jaw hanging open that these words are STILL said out loud, despite the amount of cultural sensitivity training and workshops that are attended. Some examples include:
“I said I was a web developer in a social media environment, and a man told me that ‘cutting and pasting a man’s code doesn’t make you a developer.’”
“He said, ‘I hired a woman, and she is doing a really good job. I never expected this. I might hire more.’”
“A man I manage told me, ‘You are not a real executive, you’re just checking a box.’”
If not simply for the sake of someone else’s feelings at work after being on the receiving ends of these comments, even selfishly consider how these statements sound, and how one even jeopardizes their own job with these types of comments. Pay attention to what is said. Avoid words that conjure negative connotations or define someone’s ability or role by their gender during interactions.
For example, “Boss Lady” comes to mind – how about just “boss” or better yet, the person’s name. Interestingly, the tech industry is often associated with gender-bias language concerns, and it’s not surprising that tech overall struggles to increase female representation.
As managers, peers and colleagues, we must work together to positively recognize women at work by being mindful of the terms used, and calling out concerning comments when they are said. When it comes to recognition tools, awards and rewards, take considerations on how awards are named and what is posted publicly on social recognition tools, on certifications and more. Recognition is supposed to make someone feel appreciated; a back-handed compliment that devalues someone because of their gender defeats the purpose.
Recognizing what women value at work
Studies show that women value culture at work, and specifically the opportunity for flexibility, manager support and the ability to grow. The latest McKinsey study “Women in the Workplace 2022” in conjunction with Leanin.org, tells employers that by not aligning with what women value, they will move on, as many already have started to do:
“Women leaders are significantly more likely than men leaders to leave their jobs because they want more flexibility or because they want to work for a company that is more committed to employee well-being and DEI. And over the last two years, these factors have only become more important to women leaders: they are more than 1.5 times as likely as men at their level to have left a previous job because they wanted to work for a company that was more committed to DEI.”
(McKinsey “Women in the Workplace 2022”)
Valuing the well-being of female teammates extends further, regardless of gender; ignoring the need for commitment to DEI and flexibility could leave organizations competing for all talent, not just women, since most studies point to those value factors as top job attractors for the next working generation as well.
The need for flexibility at work is further supported by an IWG survey suggesting that hybrid work environments are the ‘great equalizer’ for women at work.
While there was positive change in the balancing of home and work-life and shared responsibilities between men and women, the pandemic and its aftermath shined a great big spotlight on the idea that women still manage the lion’s share of home responsibilities, particularly child-care and elder-care, while trying to balance a full-time job.
With the drastic shift to remote work, it is still challenging to manage family life and work life, even from home (like knowing when 9-5 begins and ends); but some level of flexibility is welcomed and has since become a non-negotiable for many women. Companies seeking to align with and empower women in their workforce must be willing to listen, and formulate the best working solution for their teams in this regard, not only to engage high performing employees, but to retain them as well.
Recognizing women at work deliberately increases retention
A well-thought out employee rewards and recognition program should inherently be fair: you do good work; you get recognized and rewarded for it. Yet human nature often steps in, and human beings tend to gravitate towards who and what they know. We far too often hear that in a meeting, a male’s perspective will take center stage, even after a woman was the first person to lead the conversation. It’s easy to feel defeated when someone takes credit for your great idea, especially when the hill to climb to recognition and promotion is already so high.
Unfortunately, contributions to projects at work, successful outcomes and new ideas from women often go unnoticed. In fact, one survey shows 65% of women feel underappreciated at work, in addition to feeling underutilized and underpaid, all of which are catalysts to women leaving an organization. Women leaving the workforce for reasons that we can— and should— address is truly a sad step backwards.
“It’s a shame really, that women in some workplaces feel this way,” says Alex Alaminos, CEO, Madison Global, “because research shows that ‘having more women in the workplace actually makes an organization a better place to work, for people of all genders.’” “It behooves an organization to be proactive in increasing engagement and satisfaction as well as contributing to the well-being of female employees—all of which can be positively affected by a good R&R program—because they will see overall employee happiness and productivity increase. We have the tools and the knowledge to make the difference, we need to be intentional about it.”
The Center for Creative Leadership “found that having more women in the workplace was also positively related to employee engagement and retention.” A highly-regarded and enviable corporate culture was reference by those surveyed, when, in fact, their workplace included a higher quantity of women on the team.
Starting Small to Make a Big Difference
The issue of gender equity in the workplace is a complex topic that spans many areas of the work market – pay, policy, advancement, education and more. As we strive to generate solutions requiring the coordinated efforts between industry, legislative and financial leaders, it can seem that management and other employees can do little effect change. However, we challenge that notion. For instance:
- If a woman is promoted, refrain from trying to justify it, and just congratulate.
- Focus on language. Use tools available to check biases in writing (AI has come a long way in helping us recognize language that is biased).
- Take advantage of training and curriculum that explore gender inequities and the routes we need to take to course-correct. Make a deliberate effort to attend women-focused events and seminars to hear different perspectives.
- Utilize recognition programs to their fullest for recognizing women at work for their contributions and achievements. Be specific and intentional.
By recognizing smaller, often overlooked infractions and negative interactions with women at work, and calling out those instances to correct behaviors while being cognizant of our own actions, we can start to turn the tide from within. It’s practical common sense and general humanity.
At Madison Recognition our work is rooted in the belief that unleashing the productive potential of employees with reward and recognition programs and empowering individuals will help us stay ahead of workforce trends. To learn more about how you might be neglecting women in the workforce and the steps you can take to correct that, download our white paper here.