By Rayona Sharpnack, CPS Partnership Community
No one is born with bias. Male and female, we each come into the world with flailing little limbs and open little minds. Then the cultural conditioning starts. It’s inevitable. No matter which institutions are promoting their stereotypes – our family, religion, school, the media, or “tradition” – we get conditioned to think the way they do.
Many men have been conditioned to regard women as less important, less intelligent, less ambitious, and less serious-minded. The thing we often forget is that this conditioning affects everyone who is exposed to it, women included. Which means that women, too, grew up bombarded with messages that women are “less than.”
For example, research has shown that women are just as likely as men to show bias against women in hiring practices, salaries, and mentorship. And, you have probably witnessed women who put down other women based on their appearance, their much-envied success (on the job or in social circles), or their outspokenness, unabashed self-promotion, or unapologetic use of power.
How can we stop undermining other women and start supporting each other? Think what our workplaces would be like if we all “leaned in” on behalf of other women.
Here are three actions steps you can take to lean in on behalf of other women. All are focused on developing awareness about your unconscious mindset regarding women without judging yourself for how you behaved in the past. Doing so can change your life – and it can change that of the women around you.
Step 1. Become aware of your current mindset about women you work with by making a list of what you believe about them, in general. If you don’t think you have any bias in this area, explore what might be hidden by taking the Implicit Association Test.
Step 2. Create a new mindset. Here are some examples.
- Choose to operate on the principle of 100% responsibility: If something (like bias against women) is happening on my watch, I probably have something to do with it, whether by acts of omission or commission. What am I doing that is perpetuating it?
- Choose to be the solution: If I own the problem, I have the wherewithal to change it by changing my behavior. I can consciously choose to act with and for other women every time the opportunity arises. I can give someone a hand up or go the extra mile to clear her path.
- Choose to take a higher path: I am going to be an encouragement, a support, and a warrior for the other women in my organization.
Step 3. Choose a practice or two to put your new mindset into action.
- Speak to another woman’s virtues so she doesn’t have to. This is critical because the research is clear that women in business get penalized for what’s considered boasting. But you can say something like, “Wow, did you hear what Kathryn did last week? She aced it at that meeting with _________.”
- Help another woman get credit for her ideas. When a woman suggests something during a meeting and it’s ignored until a guy repeats it, you can say something like, “You know, when Ana first mentioned that, I didn’t see the full implications of her idea, but now it makes sense.”
- Advocate for another woman to be given a stretch assignment. “Hey, we should give Alexis a shot at that Director role. Even though it’s not something she’s done before, she’s so good at creative problem solving and so good with people, we should give her that assignment.”
- Welcome the new woman on board. Poke your head into her office or cubicle and say hi. Invite her to lunch. Introduce her to your work buddies.
- Acknowledge and compliment other women on their work. Be specific and genuine. Send a congratulatory email. Often, no one else will, and you will find yourself with a new ally.
- If you’ve made it into a position of power, pay it forward (and demonstrate your leadership skills) by offering support to your peers, not just to those below you in the hierarchy.
Actions like these will contribute to an organizational culture of women for women – and it will help your company attract much-needed female talent.
Rayona Sharpnack is the CEO and founder of the Institute for Gender Partnership as well as the longstanding and widely admired Institute for Women’s Leadership. IWL is renowned for its 25 years of groundbreaking work throughout the United States, Australia, and Canada. Sharpnack has been unstoppable in her commitment to pollinate Gender Partnership in Fortune 500 companies and associations across industries.