Five essential ways to make your work environment more female friendly

Jean Boler
by Jean Boler

Face it, equality between the sexes is a work in progress. In the history of the human race, female empowerment is a relatively recent concept.

After all, women in this country didn’t get the right to vote until one hundred years ago, and their right to work wasn’t legalized until 1964 when Title VII was passed outlawing discrimination against them.

Today the objective evidence of sex discrimination is everywhere: the lack of women at the higher levels of power in business and government, the #metoo movement and all its fallout, the travesty of the USA Women’s soccer stars being paid a fraction of what the losing male soccer players make. It’s a problem with roots stretching back into history that is often blamed on biology.

And yet, we now live in a country where 40% of households are headed by women and 47% of the country’s workforce is female. We can’t afford to wait for men to voluntary hand over an equal share of the economic pie.

If every working woman did a little bit more to nudge, cajole, and pressure their employers, change might come faster. So what are the 5 things that we can all do to make our work environments more conducive to female equality and advancement?

1. Speak up for yourself. 

This is hard and the only thing that makes it easier is having other women, and maybe even men, back you. If you have been working your butt off to launch a project and out of nowhere the company puts a man in charge, complain about it. If you’ve gotten along great with your manager until you had to brush him off at an after work party, speak up. Go to a trusted supervisor or go to human resources and explain what happened. Nothing may change right away, but you have planted a seed. I won’t lie to you, there are risks that you will be labeled as not on the team, but do you want to work somewhere with that kind of culture?

2. Become a leader. 


No matter what your job is, the powers that be appreciate someone who is willing to take responsibility. If you show you care about the business, you will have a solid platform from which to make suggestions about how the workplace could be fairer. You also model for your supervisors and peers what a confident woman can accomplish.

3. Be an advocate for other women. 


While it’s hard to stand up for yourself, it’s sometimes harder to stand up for someone else. If you are sitting in a meeting where other supervisors are justifying denying a raise to a stellar employee because she leaves work at 4:30 every day to pick up her kids, it is right to point out that she is back on her work computer at 8:00—and that she is more productive than the guy in the next office who is always burning the midnight oil. Taking it a step further to recommend that the company have policies that support caregivers (who are mostly women) is even better. In this era of low unemployment, there are many ways to show that such policies are good for the bottom line.

4. Call in reinforcements. 


There is power in making alliances at work. Studies have shown that men are more likely to take credit for women’s ideas than other men’s. If the woman whose idea has been poached protests, she’s seen as overly sensitive, but if another woman backs her up, with an observation that “Jane made that same point about ten minutes ago,” the dynamic shifts. Networking with other women and men not only means others will have your back, it can give you the confidence to assert yourself.

5. Find a good lawyer. 


Sometimes you have to bring in the big guns. If you have been denied promotions or pay increases that are going to less qualified men, or been fired for criticizing discrimination at your job, it’s time to hold that employer to account. You can try to work within your company first for your own peace of mind. If you’ve tried that route and gotten nowhere, however, there are good employment lawyers who will help you make your case. Slinking away to another job will not help move the equality needle.

Women have made progress in the workplace, it’s true. The pay gap shrank from women making 36 cents per dollar less than men in 1980 to 15 cents less in 2018. Finally closing the gap will take a push from all of us.

About the author: Jean Boler is a lawyer who has worked for decades on gender discrimination issues. She was lead counsel for the first sexual harassment class action: Jenson v. Eveleth Mines, which later became the subject of the book Class Action and the movie “North Country.” She is now at the Schaefer Halleen law firm where she concentrates on sex discrimination and harassment cases. She writes and speaks often about women’s rights. For more about Jean go to www.schaeferhalleen.com/our-team/jean-boler/

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