In today’s business environment, we hear a lot about the advancement of women, as well as gender inequalities that persist in the modern workplace. It may feel as if the advancement of your female colleagues will result in less opportunity for you. But this couldn’t be further from reality. In fact, being an ally to your female colleagues is one of the simplest (and often untapped) solutions to accelerate your own success at work.
The truth is, inequality is bad for business, and it’s not sustainable. When women are overlooked at work, we all miss out on opportunities for increased success. PwC partner Andy Woodfield puts it like this: “Progression for women is not a problem for women. It’s an opportunity for business.” A gender-balanced team has a competitive advantage—it produces better results. For men and women to prosper in this new era of work, we will need to work more effectively together. By building a high-performing, diverse team, your results will soon outpace your competition and you will become the type of co-worker or leader everyone wants to work with. And while you shouldn’t need this incentive to be an ally to women at work, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Here are four ways to amplify women at work, and in turn, advance your own career.
1. Interact regularly with your colleagues—ALL of your colleagues.
Since gender-diverse teams lead to higher performance levels, it’s in your best interest to build one. This doesn’t just mean working alongside women, but also collaborating with them as you do your male peers. Oftentimes in the workplace, it’s common to see men working more closely with men—more frequently soliciting their input and ideas—and women interacting more frequently and in the same way with other women. To fully leverage the benefits of diversity, interact and collaborate with all of your teammates. Intentionally seek out your female colleagues, ask for their perspective and meet more regularly with them, both formally and informally, as you do with your male colleagues. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you hear and your broader perspective will expand your results.
Include women in meetings and networking activities, especially ones with clients and executives. Even when impromptu work gatherings occur, take a minute to look around the office and think about your female colleagues. Invite them to join you. If you’re out with coworkers and all your female teammates are not present, postpone in-depth business conversations and decisions until you are all together. When work-related talk does come up, as it is sometimes bound to do, take time reach out to colleagues who weren’t present and bring them up to speed. By doing these things, you will nurture a team camaraderie that will lead to new and improved ideas, boosting your performance and that of your peers.
2. Acknowledge good work and helpful insights, even if they’re not your own.
Diverse perspectives lead to unique strategies, stronger solutions, and better outcomes. By collaborating with women on your team, you are opening the door to new ideas, information, and problem solving that will accelerate results—for you, your team, and your company. But the sad reality is, women’s voices are often overlooked. Women widely report that their input is either unheard or credited to others. When you make sure women are heard and support their perspectives, you’ll jointly come up with better solutions. It’s a win for everyone.
There are many ways to amplify your female colleagues’ contributions. In meetings, when a woman makes a point, verbally acknowledge it and point out its importance. If a woman is interrupted, either stop the interrupter or circle back to her. Encourage your female peers to speak up. And when a woman is speaking, look at her directly, giving her your undivided attention. Make an effort to talk about your female colleagues’ contributions to others. When introducing your female coworkers at a networking event or a meeting with clients, note her title or recent accomplishments. Make a high-performing woman the head of an important initiative. Publicly recognize her for her accomplishments, and encourage her to accept the credit. And if you see your female peer putting in a lot of effort, make sure she knows you see it, even if the project is not yet complete.
3. Be open and honest with your team.
The health of your team determines the success of your initiatives, and a healthy team is one that is open and honest, with frequent feedback and dialogue. However, research from a Stanford University Professor of Sociology, Caroline Simard, PhD, shows that, “women are systematically less likely to receive specific, constructive, and critical feedback tied to outcomes, both when they receive praise and when the feedback is developmental. In other words, men are offered a clearer picture of what they are doing well and more specific guidance of what is needed to get to the next level.”
For the health and performance of your team, give all of your peers, including your female peers the same type of feedback. Don’t be vague or focus on generalities. Tell them specifically what they need to know to excel, such as which skills to build and which specific assignments to take on. Here are some ways to phrase your feedback:
- “Here are a few things you could do to be more assertive in meetings. Be prepared with your point of view. Jump into a discussion when other team members are dominating, even if it occasionally means interrupting. Follow up after the meeting to remind people of their commitments.”
- “Here are a few things you could do to bring in more clients/business. Develop expertise on X topic. Attend XYZ types of networking events and connect with ABC types of prospects.”
- In the future, please do/stop doing this.
It goes without saying, of course, that this type of feedback comes with great trust, and should never be condescending or come in the form of a “mansplanation.”
4. Mentor or Sponsor high-potential colleagues.
You may be thinking, ‘I can’t advocate for someone else’s growth; I need to nurture my own!’ But identifying and developing high-potential talent in others is one of the smartest ways to grow your own career. By using your own influence to promote someone else’s good work, you show not only that you are a team player who has the results of the company as your top priority and that you are smart and discerning, able to spot and develop talent. These are attributes and skills that are most certainly rewarded and promoted within any organization.
Advocating for your high-potential staff, both male and female, is one of the most powerful things you can do for them professionally. There are two primary ways to do so: becoming a sponsor or a mentor. Providing advice, guidance and opportunities help develop both men and women in their careers, especially as leaders, which leads to stronger, gender-balanced, high-performing teams—a benefit to you and your company.
Taking the above actions will help you to create a strong, diverse, high-potential team. Doing this will most certainly lead to growth—for you, for your peers, and for your company. Leaning on your team as a resource, and advocating for them at all times, sounds natural and obvious. But the fact is, most people are not taking these steps to accelerate success or their growth. The difference between most people and a gentleman is that a gentleman is ready to step up and be an ally for his female peers, not just because it makes business sense, not because he wants to “help” or “save” her, but because it is the right thing to do, and by doing so, we all win.
Rania H. Anderson is the author of “WE: Men, Women, and the Decisive Formula for Winning at Work“. She strengthens and transforms the way men and women work together to improve their collective success. Sought after for her unique insights and expertise, she speaks at corporations, coaches business leaders and is an angel investor. Connect @TheWayWomenWork