You can do small things to help women succeed at the office. Here are 5 of them.
Barack Obama is probably the most feminist commander-in-chief we've ever had in the White House.
There are a ton of reasons why that claim is valid.
But I will say — prepare yourself, Obama fans — things weren't always easy for women staffers at the White House on the president's watch.
According to a report from The Washington Post, Obama's White House once looked a whole lot like most other White House staffs before it: a total boys' club.
"If you didn’t come in from [his presidential] campaign, it was a tough circle to break into," Anita Dunn, former White House communications director, told the outlet. "Given the makeup of the campaign, there were just more men than women."
This meant women had to work extra hard just to get a seat at the table (literally) and even harder for their voices to be heard.
Did the few women in the early Obama administration days crack under the pressure? Hardly. They strategized.
Using what they called "amplification," women staffers made a concerted effort to support one another. When a woman would make a key point at the office, another woman would make sure to reiterate its importance and value. This not only put more weight behind the idea, but also placed more emphasis on who voiced it in the first place (read: not a dude).
Their subtle, sort of sneaky, kind of brilliant plan worked.
The president noticed their initiative and began calling on more female staffers to take part in important discussions. Today, his inner circle is split evenly between men and women.
Unfortunately, America's boys' club problem doesn't stop at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Across the rest of the country, women are often overlooked for important roles they need to advance their careers, and business executives (who are disproportionately male) are less likely to try and build relationships with their female subordinates, which can hinder a woman's networking prospects.
You can't dismiss these inequalities when you look at the facts.
We're better than this.
If those stats have you gunning for a punching bag, don't fret. Be part of the solution!
Here are five ways you can change the gender dynamics in your own workspace.
1. Become a vocal ally to the women at work. Heck, you'll benefit too.
I'm sure most of us can name off one or two (or a dozen) talented women we work with. Like the White House staffers learned, fighting alongside these women to make sure their skills and drive are recognized by managers doesn't just help them, it can help you too.
Doing things like, say, tossing out their names for big assignments or including them in important discussions can work out to be a total win-win.
"It will help your women colleagues have access to more opportunities," according to Jennifer Thorpe-Moscon, a director at Catalyst, an organization that advocates for women in the workforce. "And you will be recognized for identifying and nurturing top talent that helps your organization grow."
2. Provide "air cover" for women with risky ideas.
Let's face it: Bringing up bold, out-of-the-box ideas to your boss can be a very scary thing.
But these types of ideas can spur some of the best results and help bolster careers to new heights.
That's why providing women colleagues with "air cover" — protection and encouragement — when they have one of these ideas can be hugely helpful in empowering them to speak up, said Thorpe-Moscon. Let them know they have your support.
3. If you're a guy, be aware that sexism is still a very real thing in the workplace, and it often slips right under our radars.
Sexism is still affecting women at the office — in ways both big and small — and it's probably far more harmful than we even realize.
Men, you can especially help in curbing this behavior.
If you're a dude, don't shy away from defending your women colleagues. Speak up when you hear a misogynistic joke or see a woman getting left out of a critical conversation.
And make sure to actually listen when someone needs your help.
"Men can listen to women and trust their experiences [to promote gender equality]," said Thorpe-Moscon. "When women in your company tell you they’re being excluded, take their concerns seriously and work to fix them."
4. Recognize that women from disadvantaged groups face even more barriers to success, and fight to change that too.
Minority women, in particular, face big obstacles even just getting a seat at the table, let alone climbing their way up to managerial roles. Unfortunately, negative stereotypes and a lack of trust between workers of color and managers play roles in this discrepancy.
Some may call that racism, others may call that unconscious bias (I call it both). Either way, it's flat-out wrong that talented women of color are overlooked for positions and promotions every single day because of the color of their skin.
Even though there are ways women can fight to overcome these challenges at the individual level, we must recognize there's a larger problem at play.
"The leadership gender gap is significant, persistent and systemic," reports a 2016 study from the American Association of University Women on this issue. "Individual choices alone simply will not solve the problem."
In order to rework the systems that leave many women of color out, we may need to start some conversations in our own work environments — and yes, fellow white people, they may even be uncomfortable (we generally hate talking about race, after all). But they're necessary.
Reach out to make sure women of color feel supported and valued in your office (remember #1 and #2 on this list?), and assure them they have an ally in you.
5. If you're a woman, don't be afraid to be yourself — even if the world's suggesting otherwise.
There's a ton of patriarchal pressure on women to act (and look) a certain way, and this pressure can understandably bleed into your work space. Entrepreneur Zeynep Ilgaz, however, learned that simply being authentic can be a real asset — not to mention it's good for business.
"When I started my company, I thought that if I acted tough, I’d achieve more success," she wrote in Forbes. "I wore pants to work and rarely dared to talk about my family. But one day, I decided to stop pretending. I started talking about my family with customers, and to my surprise, people began relating to me, our relationships grew stronger, and the company culture became unbelievably transparent."
You being you can help other women around you be themselves, too.
We have to get better at guaranteeing equal and inclusive work environments for women.
Down the road, this conversation will (hopefully) feel dated and unnecessary. Maybe we'll have equal pay. Maybe we'll have equal representation amongst our business leaders. Maybe we can declare success.
But until that day, we need to keep fighting for what's right. And it starts with us.