Women in the Workplace: How to Champion Women as a Community
Shifting the narrative from ladder kicking to collaboratively and communally investing in the success of women.
We say it proudly: Women have made mighty inroads in the workplace. And today, we make up almost half (47%), doubling our presence since 1970 (source).
And we're not just showing up in quantities. Qualitative studies show that women in leadership positions help companies reach over 50% greater return on equity than men and see at least 40% higher returns in sales. That’s documented progress on how women elevate the success of the workplace — yet we make up only 15% of executives and 5% of CEOs in companies nationwide (source).
So, how do we bring more women to the leadership table?
First things, first: Choose community over competition.
Come together as one unified force. Reject the myth that positions are scarce, and embrace women as your community, not as competitors. Refuse to accept the scarcity-of-talent tale when it comes to recruiting practices or elevating women — particularly women of color.
All boats rise with the tide, and a buoyant community lifts not only others’ success but also your own.
Expand and diversify the community.
We can’t have only women helping other women. The responsibility of lifting women into leadership spaces should be a joint effort between other women, men, trans folks, non-binary folks — everyone in the workplace.
It's a notion of intersectional collaboration. It’s only going to work when we do this together, as a community. So we have to get buy-in at every level of the community to turn the conversation into something actionable.
Pave avenues for women to showcase their talents.
There’s no lack of talent — rather, a lack of opportunity for talented women to show off their chops. Start by exposing women to senior conversations regardless of rank or title. Leave plenty of seats in the room, and invite them to pull up a chair. Give them the opportunity to take on new work projects or team up with more senior and seasoned professionals.
Incorporate metrics to measure success.
Just as businesses craft missions, visions, and goals to illuminate their paths, individuals should also have a space to declare their personal and professional aspirations. Well-supported people build better businesses, and creating growth plans with tangible benchmarks can help make the objectives actionable.
What are some practical ways to help women advance?
Rather than tasking women to rise through the ranks on their own, we can help with a few practical ways to send the success elevator back down.
Create circles of women around you.
Assign multiple women to new projects or initiatives. Establish diverse affinity groups based on interests and disciplines. Encourage experienced or senior-level males to mentor or sponsor their female teammates. Make yourself available for coffee meetings and mentorship opportunities. Check out Women Who Create, We Are Next, or Unlock Her Potential for a few more ideas on how to get started.
Amplify, spotlight, and make space.
When it feels like there’s no room at the proverbial table, help make space and oxygen for others to join. How? Publicly give credit where credit is due. Put women at the center of the conversation. Give women a stage and the mic. Don’t interrupt. Yes, there’s immense power in giving someone a platform, but it can be a lonely scene if we don’t give them the tools required to amplify their voice effectively.
Elevate, mentor, and commit to supporting women of color.
Women of color continue to fall short of white women and white men in the workplace, from entry-level through leadership positions. The percentage gap of women of color in leadership positions further widens as they advance through positions and titles (source). Close that gap. Equip women of color with the proper resources and tools to realize their potential.
Address the pay gap.
It’s no secret that women get paid 10%–20% less than men on average (source). Defuse the smoke and mirrors by promoting transparency, which helps female employees and nurtures a healthier work culture. Acknowledge that salary negotiations can stereotype women as being too demanding — hold your company and managers accountable for those biases.
Address the confidence gap.
The confidence gap is the well-documented trend in which women underestimate their competence while men are inclined to overestimate themselves. Based closely on findings from the Dunning-Kruger effect: The more qualified a person is, the less confident they are in their abilities. The less competent a person is, the more they overestimate their abilities (source).
Dig into the root issue from two ends. Mentor and educate women to set their self-perception straight, and identify and eliminate factors in the workplace that reinforce the confidence gap. For example, codified language such as “bossy,” “pushy,” “cold,” and “aggressive” often penalizes women for their assertiveness. Additionally, a lack of representation of women in leadership positions reinforces the notion that women are not qualified to hold such roles.
How do we practice what we preach?
Building and investing in an equitable workplace requires starting small and continuously cultivating it. Sure, it’s easy to question the investment and speculate about its impact on the workplace, but persistence will pay off.
At Thesis, our equity journey started as a seedling vision in 2015. Years later, we’ve steadily inched our way toward our ideal state.
- We envision a diverse workplace: We have the stated internal goal of embodying 50% BIPOC employees by 2024. As of 2022, 41% of Thesis employees are BIPOC, including 56% of those hired in 2021.
- We’re leveling the gender gap: 62% of Thesis employees are women and women-identifying,* including 60% of our leadership positions, and 66% of new employees hired in 2021.
- We’re creating diversity, equity, inclusion … and belonging: We’ve established six employee resource groups dedicated to representation, corporate responsibility, and sustainability efforts.
*Thesis contains and values trans and nonbinary perspectives within our agency. Their percentages are not reflected in this data.
We know there’s plenty of work left undone. Still, we’ve found that setting an intention and collectively approaching the clear goal with candor, grace, and grit has made our working environment — and the diverse groups within it — thrive.
How do you join the community of champions?
Just ask yourself, “What is my company doing right now to champion women?”
The answer may be unclear; it might read like a blank page or look like a series of already established action plans. Critically, no matter how you slice it, it’s about follow-up. Continuing to improve current initiatives, investing in new initiatives, and always systematizing support for women in the workplace.
It won’t be perfect at first — but progress is more important than perfection.
The road to leadership for women is not solitary. And if you want to create a more diverse friend group, team, or company, then start with the women and those around you. Create safe spaces to build community and conversations. Then advocate for every step of women’s journeys with strong policies and company practices.
And when they get to the top, their success will be your success.
Olyvia Chac Nguyen
Associate Director, Project Management
Margaret Park Bridges
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