March is Women’s History Month, which means that over at FIG, we have been talking a lot about being an ally to women in the workplace.
While there have been significant strides to make the workplace a more inclusive and equitable place, the current state is still far behind what it should be. There are currently more Fortune 500 CEO’s named David and John than women in executive positions. Considering that women hold more college degrees than men and are hired at similar rates, they are clearly not promoted at the same rates. ….why is this? Why does looking at the current hard data and numbers make me think I am looking at a report from the 1950s?
The word “Ally” has been a buzzword for a while. But what does it actually mean to be one? Being an Ally means understanding the double standards and biases women face. 64% of female employees reported that possessing the stereotypical “female” traits such as attention to detail and strong administrative skills led them to being viewed as strong managers, but not strong enough to be leaders. Women often face the issue of being painted as emotional or unstable if they show anger or “too much emotion”. Ironically, many working women also serve as the primary caretaker for children, elderly parents, or family members in addition to their full time job. Emotion and empathy are considered to be essential components of being a caretaker. Why do we expect emotion to play a vital role in that capacity, but somehow leave it at the door when it comes to business? Emotion is a strength. Empathy is a strength. Being passionate is a strength. In order to be an ally, we need to start seeing this.
On the other hand, when women DO embody traditionally “masculine” traits, such as decisiveness, straightforwardness, or lack of emotion at work, they are considered “mean” or “cold”. This double standard is even worse for black women, who have to face the awful stereotype of “Angry Black Women,” simply for expressing anything other than passive niceness. Becoming an ally means examining ways in which you perceive others who are simply being themselves and reconsidering the way you respond.
As a businesswoman, one of the areas I find most disappointing and challenging is tone policing. This happens to women extremely frequently, and describes the phenomenon in which someone feels the need to correct or “police” a woman’s perceived “tone.” A woman who is sure of herself or expresses disagreement has an “angry tone.” While a man who does the exact same thing is considered “strong” or “no nonsense.” Not only is this double standard extremely frustrating in and of itself, but it’s something that is well known and documented. So why are we still dealing with it? Allyship means digging deep and understanding how our own bias plays into this, and how we as individuals can work on correcting it.
There are other challenges women face that are less straightforward and will require systematic changes in order to level the playing field for women. Women are more likely to take breaks earlier in their careers, they are less likely to apply for a senior position in the first place, more likely to doubt their talent, and they are less likely to reach a director position before the end of their career. They are less likely to apply for a job if they don’t meet every single requirement as posted on the job description. Understanding the challenges women face instead of forcing women to defend themselves is one of the most important ways to become an ally.
Being an ally is a buzzword. It gets thrown around a lot without any actionable plan. But allyship is an action word. Women can (and should) examine what they can do for themselves if they want to climb the corporate ladder, but it means nothing without support and allyship. A few years ago, I sat on a board here in Las Vegas that consisted primarily of men. One of the members of the board, speaking frankly, was a pig. At one point during a meeting, he put his hand on my waist and said, verbatim, “Wow your body is amazing. You remind me of a black Marilyn Monroe.” As gross and out of line as that is, the worst part was looking around the room and witnessing the complete lack of support from the FULL room of men. They just stared; some even smiled. When I brought this up, the response was an eyeroll and a casual dismissal. This is the complete opposite of allyship. This situation may seem jaw dropping and extreme, but it is actually very common. Many women unfortunately know this from experience, and ALL women deserve better. We need to create workplaces that are allyships in action, not just in theory. Take action in your workplace and community. Be supportive. Be willing to learn and be uncomfortable. Be an ally to all women.
Need help setting up a plan for allyship in your organization? Give me a call at 800.834.4946 or click here.