When I see 90s (or older) movies about women battling discrimination in the workplace, I get a strange combination of feelings. First, it makes me think “yes! They were saying this stuff even back then! How can people still be questioning this?” That thought inevitably leads to a sinking “how have we not made more progress?” feeling.
Women still often have to work harder and smarter than men to get the same credit, respect, and wage in the workplace. Women are often subject to suggestions on “how we come across” and “how we can contribute to the team better” for behavior and actions that men get praised for.
There has been a lot of progress in workplace equality. Legally, employers aren’t allowed to base wage on gender, and fewer and fewer are doing so each year, though unfortunately, it still happens. We still have a lot of progress to make though, and a lot of that has to happen company by company, one workplace at a time. Here are ways you as a woman can level the playing field where you work.
Take Ownership of Your Accomplishments
When you’re complimented on a great job, say “thank you.” Don’t say “It was nothing.” Don’t say, “just doing my job.” Don’t say anything that even slightly devalues your work. Say, “Thanks, I worked really hard on that.” Say “I’m really glad you noticed my hard work.”
In the same light, if you’re not being complimented on your work, make sure others, particularly your bosses, know what you’re doing. Talk about the projects you’re working on. Talk about the cool efficiency hack you found last week and how it’s improving your productivity. Mention that you were really worried about that last deadline and you were proud that you met it. Do this in reviews, one on one meetings, status updates, or just conversations about the job. Always make sure that people in the office know what you do and that you work hard to do it well.
Amplify the Work of Others
In the same way you talk yourself up, talk up other people’s accomplishments. Of course, I want to say particularly women, because often women and their accomplishments get overlooked, especially in male-dominated workplaces. But really, bringing attention to anyone else’s accomplishments can benefit you. It shows that you’re a team player, and that you value those around you. It usually leads to others taking an interest in your work. It also builds a community of respect and appreciation, which leads to more focus on the overall success of the company, not just individuals moving up the corporate ladder.
You can put this in action in many ways. A very effective way to benefit women particularly is to bring attention back to someone who was interrupted, or whose idea has been co-opted. Just saying “I really want to talk more about Lara’s point about next quarter” or “I didn’t catch the end of Roxanne’s thought, could we go back to that?” or “I really like how Eunice’s presentation went, could we make that format the company standard”
Question Roles and Stereotypes
Some roles are assigned officially and some just seem to happen. The ones that seem to happen are those that are most prone to stereotyping, both intentional and unintentional. If you’re always the one who gets stuck organizing birthday celebrations, or signing for packages even though that’s not part of your job, then there are some actionable ways you can approach the situation.
If you’re not a receptionist but often get saddled with tasks that would usually be a receptionists’ duty, discuss the need for a receptionist with your boss. Say, “I don’t mind doing my fair share, but it’s taking time away from my actual job. So I think we should either split the duties evenly among the team or hire someone to take care of it all.”
If your co-workers are constantly asking you to “write a card” or “put something together for Bob’s birthday”, you can simply respond with “there are other good writers” or “I think we should all take shifts planning birthday celebrations, if we’re going to keep doing special things for our employees. This way everyone shares the load equally.” You don’t even need to bring gender into it unless they do, which is really doing you a favor, because then you can go to your boss (or HR) and say “people think I should be doing this because I’m a woman. It’s not part of my job. How do we fix this?”
Fight for Wage Transparency
One of the biggest keys for women’s success in the workplace is education, and one big place where employees need to be educated is their wages. Some companies still have policies against employees discussing their wages, even though that is unenforceable and illegal in many cases. Other companies have taken the opposite approach and publicly post the salary of every employee, including the CEO. While some argue that this leads to nosiness and competition, what it actually does is open a discussion. If a company’s wages are fair, then people can look at the wage range in their company and look at their skills balanced with the salaries of people in other positions, and see if they can make what they want while doing what they want at this company. Keeping wages secret only enables companies to make back-door deals and treat employees unequally. A company should always be able to answer for wage discrepancies and account for differences in employee wages based on performance, tenure, value to the company, and other legal and valid wage factors.
Many companies dislike the idea of wage transparency. This could be because their wage system is not consistent, or because they don’t want to take the time to have conversations with employees about other people’s wages. But if an employee looks at the company’s wages and has questions, they should always be brought back to whether the wage they receive is fair for the work they do, and how they can work to increase that wage over time. Companies who don’t want to have these conversations are not going to develop meaningful relationships with their employees.
Talk with your bosses and with HR about the benefits of wage transparency. Suggest right away that the company discuss the issue with a business attorney, as they’ll like the opportunity to weigh the legal ramifications.
Draw Strong Work/Life Boundaries
This is something every employee needs to do. If you work hourly, then under no circumstances should you be expected to be available for work-related communication or tasks when you’re not clocked on. If you work salary, your expectations for availability should be clearly spelled out. You always have the right to not check your phone or work inbox during family time. You always have the right to keep your phone off at night (or in a different room) so that your sleep isn’t interrupted by work. When you’re at work, give your all to work. When you’re at home, give your all to home.
Some companies have admitted they won’t hire young women, and some people think that women aren’t as valuable to a company because they’re more likely to take time off for family activities. The sad thing is, this makes it less acceptable for men to take time to focus on their family, too. Fight for your company to develop a comprehensive policy outlining work hours and expectation for availability outside those hours. Outline policies for requesting personal time and flexibility with family schedules. Advocate for all employees to know about and utilize these rights, regardless of gender.
These are just a few ways that you can level the playing field in your workplace for yourself and for all the other employees at your company. By making fair treatment and intentionality a priority in your workplace, the company you work for can become drastically successful, keeping valued employees longer, and hopefully one day be an example of a business that treats its employees not only equally and fairly, but exceptionally well.
About The Author
I’m pretty sure I’d be the real MVP if being socially awkward was an enviable trait. I’m a wife and mother who struggles with a shameless addiction to Trivia Crack.