Everyday gender biases and barriers remain a persistent problem in office culture. But men with an awareness of how women experience the workplace and how gender inequities torpedo profitability and mission outcomes can deploy strategies to create a fairer and more equitable environment. In the in-person work environment, these strategies include ensuring that women have a seat at the table; confronting other men when they make biased or sexist statements; and validating and normalizing women’s experiences. Men now have to adapt these strategies for the remote workplace.
Consider the obstacles working women are dealing with during the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual work has exacerbated gender inequities at home, which in turn has had ramifications in the workplace. Mothers are more likely to do most of the household labor, child care and home schooling. Women report feeling they need to be “always on,” concerned that their job performance will be negatively evaluated otherwise and unable to confide in colleagues about these challenges. All of this leads to increased stress, burnout and job uncertainty.
Being an effective male ally at this moment requires an understanding of how and why women are uniquely affected in the remote environment.
Here are four strategies that men can use to empower women right now:
INCLUDE AND SPONSOR WOMEN: Many women in male-centric environments receive subtle — or sometimes overt — signals that they are not part of the team or that no one has their backs. Diminished face time during remote work may exacerbate this sense of isolation. You can practice inclusivity by sharing your time generously with the women you work with. Reach out and inquire how they are faring in the pandemic. Be purposeful, too, in your sponsorship and advocacy. With more women considering leaving the workforce, more men need to talk about the great work women are doing to reinforce their value to the organization.
ENSURE WOMEN’S VOICES ARE HEARD IN MEETINGS: Be aware of the tendency for men to dominate the conversation in virtual meetings and everyday discussions. Next time you are in a meeting, look for an opportunity to toss the conversation over to a woman on your team. Or, notice when a colleague hasn’t contributed to the conversation and include her in it.
PRACTICE TRANSPARENCY: The nature of remote work requires a deliberate communication plan to provide regular updates on key business decisions and the company’s status. When intel is less accessible to women, whether it concerns flexible time arrangements or promotion opportunities, this perpetuates gender inequities. If such intel is being transmitted in private meetings, be sure to pass it along to everyone. More broadly, consider how this information could be discussed in open settings such as virtual town halls.
EVENLY DISTRIBUTE VIRTUAL OFFICE HOUSEWORK: Research shows that women are far more likely than men to volunteer and be asked to take on "nonpromotable tasks." Be attuned to who gets assigned office chores like note taking and organizing virtual events. Say something when office housework is regularly directed to a female colleague, or volunteer to do it yourself. Work to develop a fair and equitable approach to distributing mundane administrative duties.
Male leaders and workers are at a crossroads. We must take personal action to be better allies in remote workplaces so that talented women are retained and advanced. Anything short of this commitment will undermine recent gains in gender diversity.