Inspired by 35 Practical Steps Men Can Take to Support Feminism, here are some practical steps men and women can take (and are taking) to make the workplace better for women that go beyond the obvious of don’t touch, harass, or sexually harass them.
Even if some of these seem bizarre or outlandish, I am including them because I’ve witnessed them occur several times and/or heard stories from other women about these things happening perpetually.
1. Listen to women when they speak.
People have a habit of ignoring what women say, or assuming that they don’t know what they are talking about. Sometimes it seem like men in a meeting are just waiting for women to shut up so they can talk. Women will also undersell how good their ideas are. But women can offer just as much to a conversation as a man. Listen to what they are saying. Especially if they are talking about sexism.
2. When you praise women, praise them for things other than “feminine” behavior.
There is nothing more defeating than working really hard at your job, only to ever get praise for being “nurturing” and “making people smile” and attending to the needs of others. Praise women for being actually good at their jobs and praise them for the things that make them assets to your team/company. Don’t praise them for performing gender roles and for generic qualities that have nothing to do with their job.
3. Don’t make jokes about your female coworkers being pregnant. Especially around clients or guests!
While there is nothing wrong with a woman being pregnant— whether she’s single, in a relationship, or married— women still face a lot of stigma about their sexuality. Making jokes about a woman being pregnant (especially if she is unmarried) can imply that she is careless, unfit for work, promiscuous, and possibly sexually available in ways that she isn’t. People who are not familiar with the woman (clients and guests) will not understand the nuances of the joke and may draw unfair, harmful conclusions about your female coworker. It may also imply to the woman that her coworkers spend their time thinking about her sexually rather than professionally, and that they are ok advertising this. This can make the workplace uncomfortable for her.
4. Don’t police women’s appearances.
I’m stealing this straight from Pamela Clark’s article . .
“Women are taught to internalize intensely restrictive beauty norms from the time they are small children. Don’t do or say things that makes women feel like they aren’t meeting this norm, or create pressure on them to meet it. At the same time, it is equally not a feminist response to do or say things that pressure women to use their body to resist these norms if they don’t want to. Recognize that there are significant social sanctions for women who disobey beauty norms and they shouldn’t be expected to act as martyrs and accept these sanctions if they don’t want to.Whether according to your personal aesthetic or ideals you think she wears too much makeup or too little, removes too much body hair or not enough, it is none of your business how women choose for their bodies to look.”
5. If you think a woman is dressed inappropriately, don’t call her out about it in front of other employees. And only call her out about it if you have the authority.
If someone has done something wrong, it is ok to correct them and ask them to modify your behavior. However, if you choose to this in front of that person’s colleagues and clients, you are working to make an example out of them and embarrass them, rather than making a sincere attempt to resolve an issue or help someone modify their behavior. Accusing a woman of dressing inappropriately in front of coworkers is nothing more than an attempt to shame her and assert dominance over her.
Women already have enough hang ups about their bodies and enough difficulty managing the demands on their bodies. Criticizing their bodies touches a lot of different nerves. It is cruel to put a woman through this in front of other people (or at all), especially if they are people that she needs to respect (and not objectify) her.
If there is an issue and if (THIS IS IMPORTANT) it is your place to address these issues with her, afford her the courtesy you would afford anyone else whose job performance you are appraising and speak to her privately. And also be aware that most of the time, unless your company has a strict dress code, you are probably wrong about someone being inappropriately dressed. More likely you simply disapprove of their choice of dress based on your personal preferences and hang-ups.
6. Stop interrupting women. Don’t silence them.
People like to interrupt and talk over women because they don’t respect them or think they have anything important to say, or they simply think what they have to say is more important. But women deserve a change to speak. Pay attention to whether you are constantly interrupting your female coworkers, and practice patience and listen when they talk. If you constantly find yourself as the only one speaking in a group, as the women slowly fall silent, check your behavior. If you disagree with a woman, she still deserves to be allowed to finish her sentence. Shouting her down, eliminating opportunities for her to respond, and talking over her until she shuts up is sexist behavior aimed at overpowering and silencing her and making sure she doesn’t try to speak again.
7. Make an effort to give women credit for their work and ideas.
Ever been in a meeting when someone proposes an idea you offered 15 minutes earlier and suddenly everyone loves it? Imagine this happening at nearly every meeting you attend. Not only do men seem blindly comfortable in taking women’s ideas, but people generally fail to give women credit for things they have done. It is fine to use or build on a woman’s idea, but it is really nice when you give her credit for her good work (especially if her boss or upper management is in the room)! Women are also often loathe to brag about themselves. The credit you give her could go a long way to not only encourage others to respect and value her, but also to boost her self-confidence.
8. Mentor women.
As I said, women tend not to brag or to demand attention and guidance from their superiors, especially male superiors. They may feel like they do not deserve mentorship, be afraid to ask, or just assume that their male colleagues are not interested in mentoring or bonding with a women. However, if you see potential in a female employee make an effort to nurture that potential, especially if you are in a discipline where women are underrepresented Often a little encouragement and guidance can go a long way to helping women awaken to their own abilities and ambitions. Plus, encouraging women’s success can promote gender equity in your company as a whole, and also in society in general.
9. Defend women against sexist behavior you witness from others.
It is exhausting and scary to stand up for yourself, especially if you have to do it a lot. It is so great when someone else stands up for you without needing to be asked. Women have to make choices about whether to “make a fuss” or “cause a scene” over things that offend and hurt them in the workplace. They have to weigh and balance whether slights or attacks to their characters, identities, and principles are worth alienating coworkers who will think they are overreacting, sensitive, or ‘playing the victim,’ being a b!tch, or otherwise retaliate against them for demanding a workplace free of sexism. When someone else, especially a man, stands up for a women against sexist behavior— it not only lends support and validity to their experiences, it shows them that they have allies in their workplace who care about stopping sexism and it shares the work of making the workplace less biased. Men can provide models of equality to other men that may need a little education, and it promises women that they don’t have to always be the one fighting for gender equality.
10. Avoid blocking women’s “means of escape.”
Don’t physically block a women’s ability to get in and out of a room, especially if you are alone with her, especially late a night. I have heard so many stories from women about uncomfortable situations being made more frightening because the man bothering them was physically blocking their ability to leave the room. Even if a man isn’t being threatening, but rather is just being rude or long-winded, it is a lot harder for a woman to confront a man, ask him to leave, and risk making him uncomfortable, if he can physically trap her in the room, even it it is her office!
11. Ask for her time. Don’t just take it.
This may sound harsh, but a lot of men are used to getting what they want. And a lot of women are used to catering to the needs and demands of others. This can lead to an imbalance in who is willing to share time with each other. I have noticed that women will often ask someone if they have time to talk, check if it is a bad time, or ask if they should schedule a time to discuss something later— they are very attentive to the time of the other person. While men definitely do this too, men also seem more likely to simply saunter into a woman’s office without taking a moment to consider that they are interrupting her work day. Some men even plunk themselves down in a chair without being asked. It would be nice if you demonstrated to a woman that you understand that her time is just as valuable as yours.
12. Share stories about your family life and responsibilities.
We all know that women tend to do more of the domestic and carework than men. That means, when they are not in the office or at work, women are often spending time caring for their families and trying to balance their work-family conflict. It can reduce stress and stigma about these things to know that others in the workplace are having the same experiences. Men certainly care about their families and spend time with their children and parents. Instead of just chatting about sports or Game of Thrones, consider swapping a couple stories about family life or domestic work. This can signal to a women that its ok for her to talk about her children or other family obligations at work without people being suspicious that she is letting her family life interfere with her job. It also signals that she is working in a place where the issue of work-family balance is respected and shared by all genders. It may even help men to feel less closeted about their own work-family balance and willing to ask for help when these things become a stressor for them.
13. Don’t discuss her relationship status if she hasn’t brought it up.
Women, just like men, are at work to work. If she isn’t discussing her romantic status with people at work (or with you) that means she doesn’t want to discuss it. Bringing it up with her when she hasn’t demonstrated that she is voluntarily willing to share this information is a blatant disrespect of her wishes and right to keep her private life private. The same goes for discussing why a women doesn’t have children.
14. Don’t make fun of ‘political correctness.’
99.9% of the time, the people I hear complaining about political correctness are white men. It makes sense that culturally sensitive language and attitudes are not important to them because most of the time their ideas, opinions, behaviors, bodies etc. are acknowledged, included, and respected. Making fun of political correctness indicates to women (and other protected classes) that this work environment is not a safe place to talk about things from their non-male (and non-white) perspectives, and where offenses against non-white and non-males are not considered fairly or respected. Rather these jokes tell women that if they have a problem, they should just keep their mouths shut.
15. Avoid describing other women in your office/company catty, difficult, bitchy, unable to work with other women etc.
Describing women in this way perpetuates harmful stereotypes about women and demonstrates that you don’t respect women as full human beings. If a woman hears you saying these things about other women, she will assume that you take this same attitude towards her.
16. Avoid characterizing women as irrational, hormonal, hysterical, crazy, or possessive.
This goes with #15, but be careful not to describe women as crazy or irrationally possessive in any of your language, even in jokes or praise. Characterizing a woman as a controlling dominatrix when explaining that she is the only one who gets people to come to meetings on time or adhere to a safety policy, for example, perpetuates a stereotype about her gender rather than showing that she is competent at her job. A man who expects his employees to be punctual would probably not be described in such a peculiar manner.
17. When a woman is impassioned about something, especially if she is angry, making a complaint, or expressing frustrating, do more than hand her a box of tissues. (In fact, don’t hand her tissues unless she’s asked for them).
Crying in the workplace is hugely complicated for women. Women are generally more likely to express emotions than men (because of the way we have all be trained to perform our gender). Therefore they can be somewhat more prone to tears than men. However, women are aware that crying at work has a severe stigma and can instantly destroy their credibility as competent workers, supervisors, project leads etc. As such, crying at work can be just as upsetting for a women as the thing that inspired it! Most women have taken a unspoken vow to never cry at work.
By assuming that whenever a woman is demonstrating strong emotion over something she needs tissues or time for a good cry, you do her a double insult of demonstrating that you equate a woman’s passion with irrational crybabyism, and that you think that she will be unprofessional enough to lose her self-control and weep. Even if you think you are just being sympathetic, first try listening to what she is saying and understanding what has happened and how you can address her concerns.
18. Allow women to be proud of themselves.
If a woman is feeling proud of an accomplishment, don’t see this as an opportunity to put her back in her place. This is not your job. No body likes a show off, but it can be difficult for a woman to consider her work worthy of praise and attention, let alone brag about it. If she’s sharing her happiness over a project or award, let her enjoy it! If you are tempted to knock her down a few pegs, consider if it is really worth raining on her parade, and what your true motivations are for doing so. Why do you think she doesn’t have a right to express her pleasure at having done something with excellence? Try to suffer through it just like everyone. You can be sure that women often quietly endure men talking about how great their accomplishments are.
19. Include women.
Pretty self-explanatory. If you want women to experience a better workplace, show them that the people they work with value their contributions and expertise. Include women in projects, plans, meeting, and water cooler conversations. Everyone will benefit!
Did I miss anything? What additional steps would you suggest?