You would think that by now men and women would be treated with equality in the workplace. But it’s clear that’s not the case. Just compare the number of men vs women in technology companies, the number of male CEOs vs female CEOs, the salaries of men vs women in equal positions – and that’s just a few examples of workplace inequality.
The first step to solving for equality in the workplace is to bring the different aspects of the issue to light through conversation.
Women in technology and women entrepreneurs
I recently attended the MassTLC unConference. For those of you who haven’t been to an unconference (this was my first), the concept is that although the organizers provide a space for conversation, including breakout rooms and giant sticky pads, the attendees decide on the content and lead the sessions.
I was delighted to co-lead the session about Women in Technology and Women Entrepreneurs, along with the inspirational Bobbie Carlton, PR/Marketing Expert and founder of Innovation Women and Innovation Nights.
The session was packed and the conversation was lively. A few of the questions we discussed included:
- How do you ensure that both men and women are a part of the equality conversation? (Note that there were five brave men who joined this session and including their viewpoints provided great value.)
- How do you encourage the inclusion of women in leadership positions? Is it a matter of women asking for these positions? Current leadership making a conscious effort to promote women? Women finding proper mentors? A combination of these paths?
- How can women avoid exclusion from activities like the after work golf club or bonding over beer? And how can men include women without crossing over the border into uncomfortable situations or starting unfounded rumors?
- Women often want to be known as “good leaders,” “strong programmers,” and “smart people” – not “good women leaders,” “strong women programmers,” and “smart women.” Yet while there is still a question of lack of equality in the workplace, men and women alike need role models who are specifically labeled “women.” How do you reconcile these two lines of thought?
- How can you convince CEOs and other business leaders to re-examine their businesses to ensure equality and inclusion? And how do you help them to rectify the situation once an issue has been recognized?
For more details about the conversation, check out this great unconference session recap.
There are no easy answers to any of these questions, as evidenced by the length and passion of the discussion that ensued. At the same time, some businesses are beginning to make the topic of equality in the workplace a priority. This fact was underlined by the secondary theme of another event I recently attended: Dreamforce 2015.
Words from the wise
During the Dreamforce Women’s Leadership Summit, I was lucky enough to hear from a number of wise women and men on the subject of women in business. Speakers included:
- Patricia Arquette, Award-winning Actress
- Noreen A. Farrell, Executive Director, Equal Rights Activists (ERA)
- Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube
- Jessica Alba, Founder, The Honest Company
- Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO, Salesforce
- Parker Harris, Co-Founder, Salesforce
- Kara Swisher, Co-Executive Editor, Re/code
The one theme that continually came up was that change has to come from the top in order for it to be truly effective. Equality in the workplace comes when corporate, business, government, and other leaders prioritize it. When these folks set the example about the importance of equality, the results will spread to others.
Moreover, support must come not just from women, but also from men championing equality in the workplace. In fact, it was quoted that change comes ten times faster when men back women in business situations.
Support can be shown in a variety of ways, but however it’s done, it must with a conscious commitment to making equality part of company culture. Leaders need to set a clear intention that equality is critical, and all within the company must recognize its importance.
Men and women—speak up!
Not sure how to convince those running the business that gender equality in the workplace should be a focus? Let them know that gender equality is not just about “let’s play nice.” It’s a true business advantage to encourage diversity. After all, having a strong product or solution is vital, but the way your company behaves is the way your brand will be viewed.
In addition, research has shown that women-led technology companies are more capital-efficient, achieving 35 percent higher return on investment. What’s more, another study about female leadership showed that:
At all levels, women are rated higher in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree—taking initiative and driving for results—have long been thought of as particularly male strengths.
Bringing Equality to Business
You might be asking yourself, “How can I promote diversity and equality in the workplace?” Don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed. Take it one step at a time.
Here are a few places you can start:
- Don’t ignore complaints of mistreatment or pretend you don’t notice when someone talks down to the females in your business.
- Look within your own company for bright female talent. Encourage, promote, and champion them.
- Find a mentor or be a mentor for a deserving woman.
- Support wonderful programs like Girl Develop It and Girls Who Code to help grow the pipeline of females in technology.
As for me, I feel very lucky to work for a company that promotes leaders of both sexes, without bias. Yet I also know that this type of attitude is not yet widespread. So I will continue to lead by example, and I hope that others in leadership positions—both men and women—will make the conscious decision to do so as well.
Talking about equality in technology companies and in business in general is important, but actively developing programs to address the issues is even better. Be a strong and wise leader. Make gender equality a priority in your company.
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