Career / Speaking Out / Work Culture

Don’t just be a colleague, be an ally to the women in the workforce

. 4 min read . Written by Vanshika Goenka
Don’t just be a colleague, be an ally to the women in the workforce

All our lives we have been told that if we work hard, success will follow naturally. Passion, drive and dedication are integral to succeed, but unfortunately our institutions are set up in such a way that some groups face more roadblocks than others. Gender bias in the workplace still runs rampant all over the world, and it should be our duty to correct that imbalance when we see it. Whether you are a man or another woman, it is important to step forward and be an ally to your women colleagues. After all, united we stand!

Happy employees who feel valued and recognised, are the foundation of any prosperous company. Here are a few tips that can make you a better ally to the women around you and help them thrive, because you know they deserve it.

Rephrase your language and reform your attitude

Gendered language in the workplace is the sly, unseen part of everyday sexism. Whether it may be performance reviews, delegating roles or just casual conversation, the attitudes towards men and women are clearly reflected in the language we use. For example, if a man is described as ‘assertive’, the same trait in a woman would be ‘bossy.’

Stereotypes play a big role in propagating gender biases in the workplace language. Women are considered to be nurturing or emotional, in need of a man’s protection and care. For example, we expect women to take charge of notes and planning or focus on personality and not capabilities (warm, caring, etc). This sort of chivalrous attitude (also called benevolent sexism) can lead to softening a woman’s professional standing and undermining her competence.

It is difficult to recognise and awkward to call out, but maintaining these small stereotypes, only unconsciously reinforces these notions. Acknowledge the bias of gendered language not only in yourself, but also correct it in others.

Listen when they speak

It should not come as a surprise that women are more likely to be ignored at work. A study published in the Academy of Management Journal shows that while men are rewarded for speaking up during meetings, women tend to get overlooked or snubbed.

Elizabeth McClean, lead author of the study, has said that it all comes down to the legitimacy of men versus women in a workplace. According to her, it is seen as culturally more appropriate for a man to engage in assertive behaviour than a woman. This can be linked once again to benevolent sexism.

So, how can you combat this? For starters, turn off your phones and put away your laptops. There is nothing more disrespectful than glancing at your devices when someone else is speaking to you. Listen to and respect what your colleague has to say, and give them your full attention. You know you would like others to do the same for you!

Girl, interrupted

I’m willing to bet that every person that has clicked on this article has experienced the frustration of being interrupted mid-sentence, talked over, or just cut off entirely. Both genders may have gone through this, but it happens far more often to women. Further studies have shown women are also more likely to be interrupted by men, even if they are their explicit subordinates.

While overlaps in conversations can be unavoidable, it’s essential that we stop not just ourselves from interrupting someone, but also others. If you catch yourself interrupting someone, apologise and immediately revert the conversation to the speaker. If you witness someone being cut-off, don’t stay silent! Make sure to stand up for your colleague and bring the conversation back to her. You could say, “Rani, could you finish what you were saying?” or even a simple, “Sorry, please continue.”

Give credit where it’s due

There are few things as infuriating as having someone else take credit for your work, but the unfortunate reality is that it happens to women all the time. A study published by Science Daily provides data, that proves that women get less recognition than men in the workplace. Kyle Emich, assistant professor of Management at the University of Delaware, has said, “Men are given more credit than women when saying the exact same thing.”

An easy way to offset this is by acknowledging your colleague’s work or backing their ideas during meetings. Making the effort to vocalise and celebrate their success can also have a huge impact on them and boost their confidence.

Call out the others

We may all be guilty in participating in the behaviours mentioned above, or in perpetuating some of these stereotypes. It is important to learn from our mistakes and remedy them. Being conscious of the problem is the first step to fixing it. However, as uncomfortable as it may be, it is also important to stand up for your colleagues and call out others who may be doing the same. Being silent is being complicit, and if it is within our power to help out anyone who feels underrepresented or unsupported, why shouldn’t we?

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