Man-to-man… what our female colleagues need from us!

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I have debated with myself many times over the last few months about whether to even broach this subject, but here we go anyway. Ladies, please feel free to read this, but I am writing primarily to the men today.  (I owe a huge thank you to four of my trusted female coworkers for helping to keep me on track for this piece.)

Guys, I am concerned that our female colleagues have a substantially more difficult time navigating the trials and challenges of corporate life than we do. For example, we never have to worry about what we wear.  I choose what pants I wear each day by which ones already have a belt.  Grab a shirt and off I go.  On the other hand, our female colleagues have many more decisions regarding what it means to dress for success.  They have to be concerned more with the overall message they want to portray, what others will think, and what exactly “business casual” really even means.

Our female colleagues also must be much more careful about what they say and how they say it. By not speaking up, she may be viewed as timid.  If she does speak up, she might be called bossy or worse.  Finding that perfect balance is challenging and, frankly, something we probably think little about.

Let me give a few other examples of what our female colleagues must deal with that we simply do not or rarely do:

  • It is often assumed that men are more competent and capable than women
  • Women must prove that they are capable, competent, and skilled
  • Many men are resistant to follow a woman leader or see women lead successfully
  • Women have a tighter “specification” for what is acceptable, whereas, men are usually given the benefit of the doubt
  • Women often wonder if they could have done more or better – they frequently wonder if their efforts were good enough 
  • Women must often cut corners at home to overcome the “need to do more” belief
  • Asking for help or leeway is often viewed as a sign of weakness for women, but is seen as “being collaborative or inclusive” for men
  • Women are often underestimated, especially if they are younger or seen as less experienced
  • Women must act more cautiously and take fewer risks because they are typically given less runway than men
  • Even in this day and age, our women colleagues still have to deal with sexual harassment or subtle inferences that make them uncomfortable

Over the course of my forty years in business and industry, I would include many women colleagues on my own “top ten most competent ever” list. Women have the ability to achieve anything we can achieve and, sometimes, better.  They are just as capable as men when given the same opportunities.  So, I thought it would be good to discuss exactly what we can do to help make corporate life better for these colleagues.  What can we – their male colleagues, bosses, counterparts, and teammates – do to level the playing field for them?

Please also keep in mind that the competent women I have worked with do NOT want any unreasonable accommodations or advantages in the workplace. They resent efforts to “give them an edge.”  Most women in my life simply want their abilities and accomplishments to speak for themselves.  So, with that in mind, these are the things I believe we can do to help:

  1. Our female colleagues do not need rescued, they need our support – I think there is a natural tendency to try to “fix things” for our colleagues. We want to be helpful and often try to overcompensate for issues they face. I have heard my male colleagues say, “I want to treat female colleagues just like I would treat my wife or daughter.” Nice sentiment, but that is not helping our colleagues. They do not need us to rescue them from challenges they face. However, we must be supportive. Listening more than talking is important. Offering our thoughts and opinions WHEN ASKED is supportive. In short, we should support our female colleagues in the same way we would support their male counterparts – no more, no less. What can we specifically do? Let’s look at a few examples:
    • Advocate for talented female colleagues openly in meetings and presentations.
    • Offer our specific assistance when we see colleagues juggling too much.
    • Though serving as a mentor is nice, our female colleagues need sponsors – individuals willing to take a potential career risk to advance the career of a capable female colleague
  2. We must stop being condescending; just be fair and give them an honest chance to excel When we understand and recognize that our female counterparts are strong, competent, and capable, we will, perhaps, begin actively seeking their input, following their lead, allowing them flexibility, and recognizing their “right” to take risks. The thought that we need to help them avoid tough decisions or avoid the potential for making a mistake, is simply not what they need from us. We must free them to be successful in the same ways that are available to us. We must expand the “acceptable specifications” for our female counterparts to the same level we frequently experience and allow for other men.
  3. We must be respectful of our women colleagues in what we say and do – Our female counterparts deserve to be treated with respect in all matters. They should not have to deal with unwanted touching, looks, or comments. Let’s give them a break and simply treat them as the trusted, competent coworkers that they are. With all the challenges they already face, we must not put them into the uncomfortable position of needing to deal with that! There is still a significant problem with male leaders attempting to take advantage of younger female coworkers. This must stop! We need to “cut out the boys club crap,” as I heard a colleague once say.
  4. We must realize that most of our women colleagues are heroes and men would be challenged to balance everything they do in their lives – Women must deal with issues outside work that few of us have. For example, though many women have spouses that share home duties, the burden falls on many of them to coordinate transportation for kids, dealing with all home scheduling, meals, etc.  Let’s realize that we need to allow some flexibility and understanding as we work to help them achieve proper balance. After all, when they feel comfortable that things at home are OK, they can focus better on achieving success at work. Let’s give them a hand!
  5. When we fail to properly consider a woman for a typical “male” position, we not only harm them, but we possibly fail to hire the best possible candidate – Why are women often excluded from typical “male” positions, such as in manufacturing management, engineering, maintenance, etc.? Don’t tell me that they are under-represented in these areas because there are not enough qualified candidates! By excluding women in these roles, we fail to hire the best candidates, in many cases. Women bring much to the table in highly complex and technical roles. We must ensure that any hiring decisions at least ensure that we make an intentional effort to have a broad pool of qualified candidates that includes women.
  6. We must not let our male colleagues overtly or covertly disrespect our female colleagues Not only must we treat our female counterparts with respect, but we must ensure that our male colleagues do so. (Note: Many authors have highlighted the fact that women often disrespect other women. We must also do our part to prevent this and take action to stop it when it occurs.) We have the power to stop much of the covert disrespect that occurs toward women. By allowing it or not stopping it, we are, in effect, endorsing it. Let’s be more active and put an end to it!
  7. Our female colleagues must be free to have a voice, an opinion, and a place – We can play a significant role in ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to speak, the ability to have input, and a place of respect and dignity in the workplace. By taking an active role of advocating for our female colleagues, we enhance fairness.

Again, I am not advocating special advantages, quotas, inequalities, or anything else that would advance an unqualified individual over a qualified one, regardless of sex, race, or anything else. However, men, we do have an important role to play in eliminating the ongoing disrespect and unfairness that often creates barriers for our female counterparts.  And, we need to step outside our comfort zone and take a chance on a talented female coworker.  Why not make an intentional effort to personally advocate and sponsor a talented female colleague in the New Year?  The rewards to her and the company will be significant!  And, it is rewarding to any leader to see someone you sponsor excel and contribute.  Give it a try!

In short, we must simply be fair and treat our women colleagues with the same respect we desire; allow them full opportunities to contribute; and publicly support them and their contributions. This is really true for everyone.  However, it is especially true for our female colleagues.  Guys, let’s do what we can to level the ENTIRE playing field for our female colleagues in 2017!  One last thought:

“An honorable man will deliberately work to ensure the respect, dignity, and opportunities for our women colleagues.  It is what you do, not what you say, that reveals your heart.”

 

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