There is more uncertainty for women’s equality now than ever before. But this doesn’t mean we are helpless, it means we urgently need to participate in shaping our own work culture. At the individual level, there is so much we can do to create an equal workplace. While I feel your pain, you are not alone and you are not helpless.
Men are receiving maternity leave with increasing demand. Because they are demanding it. What can we learn from this?
As a female executive and long-time feminist, and in my work in designing corporate cultures, I’ve spotted a few trends that will help you to create a more gender-equal work culture, by demand.
1. Change your rhetoric and context to change your culture.
“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”
I’m quite sure that if Maslow had outlived the 1970s he would be a workplace feminist. Instead, he’s stuck with an un-diverse quote on the internet. Don’t make the same mistake.
Heighten the awareness of your communication, and then strengthen your communication. From an equality stance, I mean. If you are vying for your seat at the power-table, it’s time to speak your power. If you aren’t comfortable putting on a man’s suit and becoming a different person tomorrow (like most of us), the sneaky way of changing your language is by increasing your gender neutrality.
As yogis say, awareness is the key to solving all human problems. Pay special attention. Don’t refer to anything in gender context of “as women”. Use words like “she” when discussing predominately men’s roles in your casual conversations. Mis-define cultural norms whenever possible.
It may not feel like an overt change, yes. It’s not. It’s a behavioral trigger to signal a heuristic misnomer, setting your targets cognitive thinking into action. In layman’s terms: you are planting seeds for change.
2. Reset culturally normative expectations.
“Givers need to set limits because takers rarely do.”
Yes, women are nurturers. Yes, women are more likely to say yes. But your time management is yours. If men at your organization say no; watch, learn, adapt.
You may not have a ton of empirical data on this, but you intuitively know whether your work culture has biased expectations split between the genders. If men are getting faster promotions and expected to work longer hours, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and adapt the same hours. Then speak up when you do.
If men hang out at the country club, invite everyone to a less-boring (I mean more gender neutral) activity. No seriously, if you play golf then kudos to you, but we all know the girls tees are positioned differently so we ladies miss out on much of the informal conversations.
On the other hand, in many organizations the cultural norms have become harder on women thanks to evolutionary nurturer-by-nature behaviors. A key to short-circuit this with language is to begin saying no more when your boundaries are questioned, and counter it with questioning the boundaries of a male cohort. Here’s sample language if you need extra help: “I’ve worked the past three weekends and it would be great to have one to myself. I’m sure that ____ will fill in the time as he’s had plenty of weekends.”
Passive aggressive? Maybe. Effective? Definitely.
But this is where equal begins. With the mindset and the language that acknowledges both men and women are responsible for ourselves, our time and our reality.
3. Learn to keep your head up (higher!).
“Until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter.”