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Hold the door open: To achieve gender equality in the workplace, women must help women

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When it comes to striking a balance for gender equality in the workplace, men play an important role, but what responsibility lies with the women who have achieved positions that afford them the chance to advance other women? Are we overlooking this critical element when we talk about gender equality in the workplace?

Sometimes, it really feels like it.

I was fortunate enough to attend NewsCred’s ThinkContent event in NYC, where their CEO, Shafqat Islam delivered the opening keynote wearing a sweatshirt that read “the future is female.” That image resonated on social media, and his employees were quick to offer up the fact that he doesn’t just talk about advancing women, he does it.

Beyond a hashtag: A helping hand

We now seem to be living in a time where gender equality is at the forefront of marketing conventions and social media campaigns, but when we look beyond those things, is change happening? Are organizations truly allowing women to lead; are they hearing their ideas and allowing those ideas to come to fruition?

While in New York, I went to dinner with a woman who is the head of digital for an international medical company, and we discussed with complete honesty the environment that professional women still face in the workplace. She said something profound, and it really stuck with me. She said,

“The thing is, when we make it ‘to the table’, there isn’t enough representation to drive change. Women who get there should hold the door open for other women, but in reality I’ve found that they close the door behind them instead.” 

SAP CMO Alicia Tillman echoed this thought when speaking about gender equality in the workplace, “We, as women, we’ve got to support each other.”

How women can help achieve gender equality in the workplace

What does helping other women in the workplace look like? What are some things that women can begin doing today to drive change for tomorrow?

Advocate for other women in your current role, and mentor those who are coming after you. Your job and title might seem quite small within a world of very big fish, but if you search for a way to advance women, you can usually find one.

Support and encourage other women. This might seem obvious, but it doesn’t happen enough. We must begin treating other women as our equal if we want men to do the same – this means not viewing them as competitors, but as allies.

Try to envision yourself as part of a team that is working for the greater good. Women are far more harsh to other women than they’d ever dream of being to men. We have to change this. Start with yourself and work from there.

Speak up and speak out. If you see active gender discrimination happening, say so. This sounds much more simple than it is. In reality, women tend to believe that speaking out against inequality can cost them their own careers, because traditionally, it has. Begin using your voice, even if it’s shaking – chances are, you’ll inspire others to do the same.

Recognize there is room for everyone. One theory of why women don’t hold the door open for their peers is that the roles for women in the workplace have been limited – they believe there are X number of jobs that a woman can do within an organization, and they view other women as direct competitors for those jobs, rather than as allies.

Evaluate yourself. Self-assessment is difficult, but it’s necessary to grow. Think about the last time you lifted another woman up, or made an effort to support other women. Are you acting as an enabler of the male-dominated workplace by not supporting other women as much as you could?

Hammer in one hand, holding the door open with the other

Circling back to my experience at ThinkContent, after years of feeling the most stinging form of rejection from other women, I was encouraged and inspired by what happened there instead. Women were connecting with other women, and we were all discussing how we can help propel each other forward. There wasn’t a sense of competitiveness, but rather of unity and togetherness.

Stacy Minero, Head of Brand Strategy for Twitter, closed the day with a gripping segment on the power of purpose. Speaking with clear, unapologetic emotion, she emphasized that consumers prefer brands that stand for something, and brought down the house discussing how we can achieve a better world for all of us.

In order to smash the glass ceiling, we first need to reach it.

Thankfully, the entryway to this barrier is now within plain sight: Women, #HereWeAre – let’s hold the door open for each other and shatter this thing together.

Jenn Vande Zande
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June 14, 2018
Jenn Vande Zande

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