“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist, nor to any one organization, but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

One of the most quoted quotes by arguably the world’s most famous feminist, Gloria Steinem, it continues to resonate today, decades later. The mandate for organizations, across industries and countries, is to have more women be a part of the workforce, and within the IT/ITES sector, the last few years have seen a push for more women in leadership roles.

But gender bias, consciously or unconsciously, creeps in, preventing women from being picked for jobs, or rising to positions of power in the workplace, or getting equal opportunity for promotions and raises. Indeed, often women’s careers are stymied because of this. And the pandemic has only added to working women’s difficulties. A recent report by McKinsey states that 1 in 4 women in the U.S. are considering leaving or downshifting their jobs, on top of the 2.3 million women who bowed out of the labor force in the past year. Alarming numbers, given that women’s participation in the workforce is already at an all-time, 33-year low point (according to the National Women’s Law Center).

This year’s IWD (International Women’s Day) theme, #ChooseToChallenge speaks to how challenging the status quo is essential to bringing about change. Aside from organizations’ people initiative departments, male managers and team leads too can challenge the current ways of thinking, doing, and seeing, to foster a more inclusive and supportive environment for women employees/ co-workers. This can start right at the interview itself and be a constant thereafter, including during performance reviews.

Start with recruitment practices

  • Check if your job posting is in gender-neutral language and whether you are looking only within your ‘old boy’ networks.
  • Go over your interview questions for any unconscious gender bias.
  • Are you being accommodative and flexible when it comes to interview timings?
  • When you conduct the interview, make sure to draw a picture of growth and career progression opportunities for female employees.
  • If you are hiring internally for your team, guard against reaching for the resume of a male colleague only because you know him or his manager. Remember to also reach out to women in the organization who may be suitable for that role.

Create space for growth

To keep your women team members motivated, provide internal and external opportunities for growth and development. As a manager, encourage and allow the appropriate time away so that your female employees can attend events and participate in conferences and webinars. Provide them the opportunity to become members of associations and industry groups that promote the cause of women in the workforce. During your quarterly and annual reviews, set some time aside to discuss such opportunities, and track how female employees are benefitting.

Use mentoring to an advantage

From undoing unconscious gender bias to grooming women employees for leadership positions, mentors can play an important role in creating equal opportunity workplaces. Set up mentoring programs to allow women employees to access the counsel they need for furthering their careers. This is how you can develop, support, and retain your female employees, and in turn, have them pay it forward. The end goal, after all, is to have equal participation and representation in the workforce.

This is part 1 of a 2-part discussion on how men, as colleagues and managers, can contribute to getting the women they work with an equal and unbiased place at the table in their organizations. Stay tuned for the next part.

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