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How to Support Women in the Workplace

August 26 is Women’s Equality Day, which was enacted in 1973 to celebrate the 19th Amendment to the Constitution that granted women the right to vote. In addition to recognizing this important milestone of women’s rights, the day is also designed to acknowledge the progress that women have made in society over the years, as well as call attention to how much more needs to be achieved to create true equality between the sexes.

And, of course, the workplace is one of those areas where improvements still need to be made. While women have been accepted in the workforce, and have been able to thrive, they still face challenges that make it difficult to truly enjoy workplace inclusion. But there are things you can do today to support women in your workplace and make it more inclusive for them.  

1. Understand the Intersectional Needs of Women in the Workplace

Some women have challenges based on their intersectional identities, so you need to understand what women are going through not only based on the fact that they're a woman, but also based on the challenges associated with the other groups they’re part of. The following are some intersectional challenges to keep in mind.

Women of color. Being a woman creates certain barriers in the workplace, but being a woman of color only accentuates those challenges. Navigating racism coupled with sexism is like confronting discrimination on steroids, so employers need to understand the double whammy that women of color often face at work and ensure they are given the same opportunities as other groups.

Older women. As the workplace becomes multigenerational, ageism is definitely something to pay attention to because older workers are often shut out of opportunities because employers think they've aged out of them. In addition, the physical and emotional changes women go through during menopause can impact their ability to work and employers need to be aware of this if their work performance suffers.

Women with disabilities. As difficult as it is for men with disabilities to find employment, women with disabilities face that challenge magnified. In addition, women may be living with health challenges that are unique to their bodies—problems that are widely unknown and not accommodated for. Conditions like endometriosis, fibroids, and abnormal uterine bleeding can make it difficult for women to work, and in some cases, the complexities of these issues make it challenging to receive the proper care they need. 

Caregivers. Whether they're caring for a child, parent, spouse, or grandchild, women are much more likely to be caregivers than men, and this brings additional issues when trying to juggle their workloads at home and at the office. Despite this, most companies don't seek out information about their workers’ caregiver status, which can negatively impact women’s careers if their employer doesn't understand how what they're going through at home is affecting their performance at work.

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2. Address Gender Bias

When a man denies a woman a job, promotion, or raise based entirely on her gender, we know this is clearly an example of bias. However, bias does not always present itself in such an obvious way. There is still unconscious gender bias in the workplace that needs to be uncovered, addressed, and eliminated. For example, the characteristics that are considered admirable for men in the workplace, such as being assertive and confident, often are used as strikes against women and cause them to earn the reputation of being bossy and unpleasant. As a result of unconscious biases like this, it's important for all workers to be educated about the beliefs they may have about women simmering under the surface.

3. Provide Mentorship and Allyship Opportunities

If your organization doesn't have a formal mentoring program for women at work, it's a good idea to start one so the women who have made it to leadership positions can give pointers and inspiration to those working their way up. And even when women leaders aren’t doing mentoring, your organization can support women in the workplace by encouraging them to be allies to each other. All women have unique experiences at work, so they can support each other by sharing information that can help them all succeed.

Also, this allyship can be reinforced on a more formal level by creating a women's employee resource group. This will give them an established place where they can all get together to connect and discuss issues they face at work. Encourage leaders—female and male—to attend these meetings to get a glimpse of what members are going through so changes can be made to better support women.

While Women’s Equality Day is a great time to get the conversation started about how to support women in the workplace, making your organization more inclusive should really be a priority all year round. These tips can help you get started in addressing the unique needs of women on the job, while ensuring they have the same access to opportunities as their male counterparts.

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