From Inclusion to Support: How to Build a Better Workplace

A Workplace for Women

To recruit workers, tell your story. Business leaders need to communicate why their companies are great places for women to work. This can include talking about family-friendly policies and their commitment to elevating women. They should also hold up women in their company, particularly those in senior roles, as examples of the type of people they want to hire.

Workplace culture needs to be filtered from the top: Chief executives should be leading the conversation and speaking publicly about their companies’ efforts around gender diversity. Transparency is important for showing that words are being backed up by actions. One way to do this is to regularly collect and release data on company hiring practices.

To retain workers, offer options. Flexibility and a sense of autonomy are crucial for retaining women, especially mothers with young children. Performance metrics for all employees should be based on results, not hours spent in the office. Allowing them to work remotely and set their own schedules, when possible, should replace the outdated structure of working Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

Managers should be upfront with their expectations: Be explicit about how work gets done and about communication preferences when employees are remote. There should be regular check-ins and re-calibration when necessary. In offices where employees are generally expected to be present, employers should give examples of when it is acceptable to work from home.

“Leaders should try to frame ‘what women want’ as ‘what people want’ so that workplace changes get implemented. Men and women often want similar things, such as getting paid, promoted and evaluated fairly. But companies also need to collect and act on data around important differences, like the way women’s personal lives and responsibilities can create tension with their work.” – Georgene Huang, C.E.O. and co-founder of Fairygodboss


Men as Allies

Help Personalize men’s involvement in the conversation around diversity and inclusion. As conversations about gender equity in the workplace continue, it’s important to make sure men who have retreated post-#MeToo understand the value of the movement for them. When men ask “Why do I need to care about this?” leaders need to be able to frame the ethical importance and the larger economic benefits of gender parity. The dialogue needs to take place across the organization and be framed as part of larger institutional goals. The goal is to eradicate zero-sum thinking to make it clear: Men don’t lose anything by participating in these initiatives.

Create a culture that enables “interruption” and provides incentives for action. For years, businesses have emphasized training that raises awareness, but those programs often turn employees into spectators who are aware of bias issues but feel unmotivated to change them. Leaders should work to develop a culture that encourages employees to turn their awareness into concrete behavior and to speak out and disrupt a problematic workplace culture. Part of the goal is to communicate about these new expectations and bring them into everyday workplace culture.

Companies have historically made it the responsibility of minority groups to help bolster employees in the minority. But they need to build partnerships; men should be more involved in structured mentoring and diversity programs and invited to join conversations in which they have been ignored or rejected. Similarly, create a space to allow men to openly discuss their work in these initiatives, to normalize these efforts for reluctant male employees and to provide incentives for them to engage in similar behavior.

“For years, organizations incentivized inclusion with a carrot. They rewarded participation, but they didn’t hold accountable a lack of results. They were like, the program is enough. But now, we have to hold people accountable for results. We often say, ‘What gets measured gets done.’” – Michael Chamberlain, vice president of strategic partnerships at Catalyst


Beyond the Lactation Room

Make paid family leave truly universal for your employees. Leave should be gender-blind, not just for new mothers, and available for employees at all levels.

Everyone you work with has a personal life, and this should not be a benefit that is associated only with biological mothers.

Subsidize childcare, and do it in a way that allows parents to make the choices that are best for their families, whether that means a stipend, access to backup child care memberships or bulk discounts on care.

Make sure that parental leave does not set off a financial penalty. Account not only for base income, but also for hidden costs like lost bonuses, stock vesting, billable hours and commission.

Eighty percent of the gender-wage gap can be attributed to motherhood, and rooting out these hidden costs would help close that gap.

“The burden of correcting the ‘motherhood penalty’ should not have to be on the women impacted by it. And yet, we will, one working mom at a time, if we have vital support for concrete policy and culture change from our employers.” – Lauren Smith Brody, author, “The Fifth Trimester”


Humanizing Inclusion

To make real progress with diversity and inclusion in the workplace, we have to consider the human experience. If you put people in human and immersive experiences, it will help them to be more vulnerable and to understand the challenges that women face in the workplace. It will also increase the likelihood that they will take action.

CHALLENGE: Women make 80 cents on the dollar of white men.

IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE: Have men take only 80 percent of their salaries for six months and donate the other 20 percent to organizations focused on helping women.

CHALLENGE: Being talked over in meetings and having (mostly) men introduce your ideas as their own.

IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE: With your team, identify one person who for three meetings will be ignored and repeatedly talked over, and whose ideas will go unacknowledged and then taken by someone else.

CHALLENGE: Complications of being a mother in the workplace.

IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE: Have men work from home for a day with children and no child care. If they don’t have children, children will be provided. Have men experience what it is like to have to pump breast milk throughout the workday, with a set of alarms that requires them to excuse themselves from meetings. They cannot use the time in the lactation rooms to nap or go on Netflix!

“Policies alone will only get us so far.” – Damien Hooper-Campbell, vice president and chief diversity officer, eBay


Shaking Off Biases Against Women

We are socialized from before birth to conform to gender roles. How can we disrupt that socialization in the workplace? Look at what roles men and women are asked to play within a team.

Ask men to help in support roles, too, and take on some of the burden that is often placed on women. They can help redefine those tasks as not just “women’s tasks.”

We often do affinity groups where women come together to talk about their struggles. But if we don’t expose men to the challenges women face through cross-group integration, the socialization doesn’t change the mentality of the privileged group.

Create accountability and share failure. Address implementation failure. Often organizations have policies in place, but the failure comes in putting them into action.

Try to be tactical; after all, we don’t know all the answers. But we want to get to a point where we can try things and experience failure, and have the failures be shared. Rewarding failure allows it to be a learning experience.

There’s no one-size-fits-all way for creating a diverse and inclusive organization; it’s only by trial and error that we can learn the best ways to do so.

“The way to create accountability is to take actions, and even if these efforts fail, reward that failure as a learning experience.” – Mabel Abraham, associate professor of management, Columbia Business School


The ‘Only’ Experience

Prioritize creating real diversity and a sense of inclusion. If a company has 10 women and has 10 teams, conventional wisdom would be to put one woman on each team to add diversity. It may make more sense to cluster two to three women on a few teams so they feel more supported. Companies should also find ways to get small groups of like-minded employees together, to share experiences and counsel each other.

More women are needed at every level. Getting rid of the “only” problem starts with getting more women into first-line management. For every 100 men promoted to manager, 79 women are, according to the Women in the Workplace 2018 report by McKinsey & Company and As a result, two-thirds of managers are men, and women never catch up. Companies need to have a laser focus on closing this gap, and that starts with setting targets, mandating diverse slates of candidates for promotions, training employees to check their own biases and taking a critical look at their performance review process.

“If we want the full benefits of diversity, we need more than one woman — or one person of color or one L.G.B.T.Q. person in the room. Diversity starts with real numbers. And it’s about creating an environment where everyone feels like they belong and can do their best work.” – Rachel Thomas, co-founder and president, Lean In


Balance in the Boardroom

There must be more demand for diverse boards. We need to envision what a great boardroom looks like and get it mandated. We imagine creating a legislative mandate for the board of the future and getting it passed in an influential state, such as New York, that can lead ultimately to a national outcome.

This most likely includes convening key stakeholders (board-focused organizations, think tanks, key institutional investors, influential chief executives, etc.) and working with a progressive state office to get a bill passed that includes the key elements for good corporate governance. Any legislation should include private companies of a certain size.

Find a solution to bring diversity to the boardroom. Any legislative mandate needs to include solutions for increasing board turnover to make room for new skills and the creation of targets for diverse representation. This could mean, for example, five-year term limits for board directors and “comply or explain” or quota-based targets for diversity.

Another solution could be ensuring that more board chairmen and nominating committee chairs are themselves diverse. That would drive more diverse referrals of potential new board members.

Last, any bill passed needs to include ongoing data reporting and publication.

“It’s not a supply problem. It’s a demand problem, first and foremost. It’s also a problem of how board referrals are broken.” – Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, president, StubHub


Recognizing the Double Outsider

Educate those who have the privilege of being in the majority — usually white men — through leadership training on how to be a better ally to women of color and to others. Show them how to use their innate advantages for good. To do that, it’s necessary to destigmatize discomfort. (It’s O.K. to not understand as long as you’re willing to learn and change.)

Rethink traditional models of and efforts around inclusion and diversity, which are normally built as one-size-fits-all solutions. Every organizational outsider has a unique experience. To foster a climate where employees can be their authentic selves, attention needs to be paid to intersectionality and multidimensionality. But this will work only if those at the top buy in.

Once a company has built a diverse staff, what is being done to address the challenges and experiences of these employees? Well-being is currently disconnected from diversity and inclusion efforts, but progress can be achieved only if humanity is woven into policy and practice with the same attention that is given to tracking representation as data.

“The gender equality movement has not been equal to all women, and the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace is even more pronounced when you’re a woman of color. Companies need to be much more intentional and proactive in moving beyond just raising awareness toward actionable solutions that will ensure there are equal opportunities for all, which includes expanding our definitions of inclusion and focusing on recognizing and elevating the unique experiences of all employees.” – Dalana Brand, vice president of people experience and head of inclusion and diversity, Twitter


Strategic Social Networks

Be intentional about building a strategic and diverse network of other women. Look at your calendar and block out the time to make it happen. Develop a deep connection with members of this group that enables each of you to see and recognize individuals’ aspirations and roadblocks. Make sure others in the group know enough about you so they can effectively advocate for you. Use this network to support one another. When others ask you for recommendations, have a ready-built list of talented women across many different fields that you can share.

Actively redifine what success looks like for your own industry and organization. Challenge the notion that continuing on the same path will be cost-free. Find ways to communicate that if your company or organization maintains the same uninclusive practices, behaviors and policies, its bottom line, brand and chance for success will be negatively affected.

“We don’t need to emulate men’s networks and practices. In fact, it doesn’t help.” – Daisy Auger-Dominguez, workplace culture strategist; president and founder of Auger-Dominguez Ventures


Helping Employees Thrive

Workplaces need to reimagine the ideal worker Too many consider the “ideal” worker one who is on duty 24/7 and has no outside life or responsibilities. The current system does not work for anyone. In addition to reinforcing gender inequity, it causes burnout and costly chronic illnesses.

By contrast, healthy employees with time for personal care and obligations are more productive, committed and likely to have breakthrough ideas. The research is clear. Flexible workplaces are good not only for workers: They’re good for business, too.

With this in mind, leaders must view work-life balance not as a matter of accommodations for “outliers,” but as an essential part of running a humane and successful business. They must change the way they evaluate employees and champion the stories of the new “ideal” workers: not the ones who work the longest hours, but the ones who do great work while maintaining balance.

Create policies, language and culture to make this kind of workplace real. Employees should not be evaluated on presence and work hours, but on the quality of the work they do. Exactly what constitutes “good work” will be different for every industry and every company, so managers must define — and clearly communicate — what it means for their team.

An official policy encouraging employees to take time off will not be helpful if the manager never does so. Managers should also create safe spaces for employees to be able to ask for what they need without fear of retaliation.

Employers should be transparent and use data to ensure accountability. For instance, they should track how many employees actually use the benefits and flexibility provided, and encourage more to do so if the numbers are low. Other steps could include discouraging employees from checking and sending emails at all hours, or actively encouraging workers who are still at their desks after a long day to go home.

“Work is what researchers call a greedy institution, and life is also an increasingly greedy institution.” – Brigid Schulte, author, journalist and director, Better Life Lab at New America


A.I., Without the Bias

Be clear about the values we’re directing artificial intelligence toward. It is going to automate only the values we already hold. What most A.I. does is take data from the past and use that to predict the future. The data may be a reflection of the past in a way that we don’t want in the future. So be intentional.

Rethink whats possible in the future. Underrepresented ethnic groups and women are often outliers in large data sets. We can learn a lot not from the predictive model, but from the outliers. How can we center those people in the margins in the future?

Get more women in computing and in leadership positions. Women are informed by their own experiences. They understand patterns of discrimination and have a different set of assumptions. Use A.I. to help us see our own biases and who we’re overlooking and who we’re missing. If what’s normative consistently gets us the wrong outcome, then we need to change our assumptions about what’s normative. We need to create new norms.

“We can’t let the machines over-determine the future. Human beings must always be in charge of machines, not the machines in charge of the women, the people, the society. That seemed to be a through line in our discussion. The question is: How will the largess or the profits and resources that accrue from increasing automation be redirected back into society to benefit society?” – Safiya Noble, associate professor, departments of information studies and African-American studies, U.C.L.A.


Creating an Anti-Harassment Culture

Accusations of sexual harassment cannot be met with positive attributes of the person in question. “But they’re a nice person.” “But they’re a great performer.” “But we can’t afford to lose their business.” When the beginning of a sentence is “they sexually harassed someone,” it can never be followed with the word “but.”

We need individuals to have the courage to speak up. To really address sexual harassment and assault, we need institutions to have the courage to truly hold people accountable. On a personal level, that means supervisors and bystanders feel empowered to come forward.

There should be accountability in doing the right thing, and that should be reflected in performance reviews. On an institutional level, that means creating a culture that cultivates that empowerment. People reporting sexual harassment is not a sign that your culture is broken — the breakdown happens when reporting does not.

“Sexual harassment is about the abuse of power, it’s not about sexual desire. The processes that need to be in place to create workplaces where people treat each other with respect is what prevents sexual harassment. We’re not talking about creating un-fun workplaces, we’re talking about creating safe spaces where everyone can have a voice.” – Marianne Cooper, sociologist, Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University

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