It’s 2017, but the gender-equality conversation continues, with women still facing obstacles in the workplace. Just last week, the tech industry highlighted the major thought divides that persist, when Google fired a senior software engineer.
The engineer had sent a 3,300-word document to the company’s internal networks, slamming diversity initiatives and noting his personal view that women aren’t equally represented in leadership because of “biological causes.” He said men have a higher drive for status than women do.
And in July, a SurveyMonkey poll — not limited just to the tech world — found that more than half (58 percent) of men surveyed said there were no more obstacles for women in the workplace. Sixty percent of women, however, said they do exist.
Michelle Vitus, founder and CEO of Slate Advisers, a career transition and advisory firm based in Sunnyvale, Calif., has experienced the obstacles confronting women for herself. “When I was a junior employee at a Fortune 500 company, I had an executive mentor,” she recalled, via email.
“I heard people ask, ‘What did she [meaning Vitus herself] do to get him to become her mentor?’ If I had been a guy, people would have assumed that he was my mentor because I was smart and ambitious.”
The message from Vitus’s experience is clear: The best way to combat sexism and inequality is by moving the conversation forward and highlighting why gender equality is important for everyone, not just women.
Here’s why gender equality is an everyone issue and how to achieve it:
Gender-diverse companies perform better.
The truth is out — companies that embrace gender diversity perform better than those that don’t. A McKinsey January 2015 report found that gender-diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to outperform companies rated in the bottom quartile of diversity.
As the CEO of DDI, a leadership solutions company based out of Pittsburgh, Penn., Tacy Byham says she’s personally benefited from such environments. “Gender diversity among leadership unleashes the collective genius of the organization,” she wrote via email. “It leverages a broader perspective, which helps you to better understand your potential market, weed out bad ideas and develop new, innovative ideas.”
To encourage its female employees to learn leadership skills and pursue high-ranking roles, DDI provides them with their own leadership-development program. “Our program focuses on helping early and mid-career women step up to broader leadership responsibilities,” said Byham.
However, the program still involves men, showing them how they can be allies in the workplace. “They become critical partners to help overcome the unique challenges facing women,” Byham continued. “We do this to make sure that the men who are in leadership positions set an example [to show] that gender equality is a top business priority.”
When employers provide leadership opportunities to women and men alike, they motivate men to get involved as supportive partners in equal opportunity.
Men benefit, as well.
Despite what many people assume, gender equality is not strictly limited to creating advantages for women. “Gender equality” means simply that every employee has access to the same benefits, which is why equality is an “everyone” issue.
To demonstrate equality for all, some companies, for instance, are now giving men the same parental benefits women receive when they have children, such as child care and parental leave.
At Happy Medium, a digital advertising agency in Des Moines, Iowa, employees all receive the same parental leave. Founder and CEO Katie Patterson said she learned the value of that precious time following the birth of her own child.
“I was the first person to have a child, at my office, and my experiences through that incredible life-changing event [weren’t just] because I’m a woman,” she told me. “They are because a child joined my family. Men also have these dramatic shifts in their lives, and we want to treat them the same.”
As a result of Patterson’s realization, the company now offers 12 weeks of paid parental leave to every new parent. “We wanted to create a place that people think of as an extension of their lives, and when life happens, I want to treat my team members like the friends and colleagues they are, not like burdens,” she wrote.
“With full parental leave for all parents — moms, dads and adoptive parents — I wanted to show appreciation to those who dedicate such a huge portion of their lives to the company’s success and growth.”
Gender fluidity matters, too.
“Gender equality” also means being inclusive of trans and gender-fluid employees. Companies can do this by reexamining their policies and seeing if those policies also benefit these employees.
Alaina Restivo, vice-president of talent for Upserve, a restaurant-management platform based in Providence, Rhode Island, fully embraces her company’s family-first policies as well as its LGBTQ efforts. “We had a staff member come on board about a year ago who caused us to reexamine the systemic ways in which we were signaling to employees that our work environment was both welcoming and inclusive,” said Restivo via email.
“We changed our people-operations systems to include the preferred pronoun, and eventually added a gender-inclusive bathroom to further break down barriers that might keep anyone from feeling fulling embraced or welcome to be their authentic selves at our company.”
In sum, every employee has the right to feel comfortable in the workplace. When employers adopt a mindset of acceptance and inclusion, gender equality finally becomes a possibility.