International Women’s Day 2021: 6 Simple Ways You Can #ChooseToChallenge

International Womens Day 2021 Feature

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This International Women’s Day, the theme is #ChooseToChallenge. So, it seemed only fitting to kick things off by catching up with the women of Hive to talk about the challenges of being a woman at work that we’ve faced and overcome throughout our careers!

#ChooseToChallenge is built around a few key concepts of challenging stereotypes and discrimination around gender, including:

  • “We will challenge gender stereotypes and bias”
  • “We will call out gendered actions or assumptions”
  • “We will try to influence others’ beliefs and actions”.
ChooseToChallenge Blog

But why now, you ask? Progress has halted with the events of the past year; women are experiencing burnout at up to 2x the rate of men, and women’s job loss rate due to the pandemic is 80% higher than mens. Those stats are pretty terrifying, really, and remote working only conceals issues even more.

“I have a rule for working out if the root problem of something is, in fact, sexism. And it is this: asking ‘Are the boys doing it? Are the boys having to worry about this stuff? Are the boys the centre of a gigantic global debate on this subject?”

Caitlin Moran, Author of Moranthology

To truly champion gender equality at work, we need to make sure that everyone is making conscious choices every single day to make sure we’re promoting a fair and inclusive culture. But to do that, we also need to make sure that all biases great and small are challenged when they’re seen.

Creating psychological safety to speak up

From challenge comes change. But #ChooseToChallenge is a challenge in itself for some, especially those who lack psychological safety at work. We need that sense of safety to be able to comfortably speak up—which happens in cultures where people don’t face negative consequences or humiliation for voicing their concerns, ideas, questions or mistakes.

No matter how much progress has been made for gender equality, stereotypes and biases are still very real. In fact, 76% of people, both men and women, show gender bias. That’s why it’s so important to call out gender bias when we see it; most of us are unaware of our biased words and actions, no matter how large or small.

Understanding bias against women at work

The incredible women of Hive have worked in a variety of tech organisations—an extremely male-dominated industry—and have plenty of past experiences of being the only woman in a team, working exclusively for male leaders and sitting right in the centre of “bro cultures”. 

"I’m not an anomaly… I struggled a lot at first in the male-dominated environment. I’ve definitely seen how it can be difficult to walk into a powerful place when there are so few people who look like me—and I’m a white woman!"

Gina Martin, Activist & Author

So before we dive into a few easy-to-run-with ideas that will encourage people to challenge gender stereotypes at work, we want to kick things off with a few of the challenges that the women of Hive identified to shine a light on some common workplace problems.

Keeping the responses anonymous, of course, there were six key things that popped up time and again…

Challenge #1: Assertiveness

“Once you’re branded bossy by a colleague or manager—whether light-hearted or otherwise—it stays with you when taking charge on new projects or responsibilities. In the past, I’ve definitely downplayed my knowledge or skills to shrink to what is expected of me so I’m not perceived this way, which seems to be a more common trait among women.”

👆66% of women in performance reviews received personal negative feedback such as “you can sometimes be abrasive”, compared to 1% of men.

Challenge #2: Confidence 

“I find I second guess myself and sometimes don’t suggest an idea or challenge others. It stems from situations I’ve found myself in in the past, like having a suggestion disregarded only to see the exact same idea suggested five minutes later by a male colleague and accepted straight away.”

Challenge #3: Justification 

“There have been some occasions where you feel like you have to justify yourself more than a male colleague in some circumstances. There’s a fear that your opinions and ideas may be shot down because you’re not held in the same regard as a male counterpart. A perfect example of this: I once asked a technical question to a prospective software supplier, only to be hit with “we can do that for you and it might not look nice to start with, but we can make it look pretty for you”. I don’t remember that being part of the question, but thanks… I guess!”

👆 Women are 2x as likely to need to provide more evidence of their competence and have their judgement questioned in their area of expertise.

Challenge #4: Vanity 

“Knowing how to present yourself with your clothing—it should be such a simple task. Am I coming across as flirty? Does my outfit suggest I should be taken seriously? Should I cover up more? I nearly always adjust my clothing, add an extra later, or even apply makeup before joining a zoom call… which is absolutely ridiculous!”

Challenge #5: Interruptions 

“It’s the classic: being spoken over! It’s wild how often females are interrupted or spoken over during meetings – something it seems like males don’t realise, which shows it’s not even something they consider or are faced with. I’ve started introducing ‘I’m not finished’ into my regular vocabulary now but it feels so difficult and rude sometimes.”

👆 Men interrupt women 3x more often than they interrupt other men.

Challenge #6: Language 

“Having to rewrite emails and messages over and over again for fear that I’ll come across as a [insert B-word here]. Definitely a result of gender bias; when I’ve occasionally asked male colleagues to proofread before sending, they tell me to take out all the ‘fluff’…because obviously, they’ve never had to think so much about what they send!”

So what can you do to encourage people to speak up?

"Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women."

Maya Angelou, Author and Icon

You might know that our mission at Hive goes a little something like this: “Every voice has the power to change the working world. And we’re here to make sure all of them are heard”.

Aside from the obvious leadership responsibilities—like clear discrimination policies, standardising pay or making sure women are encouraged into more senior roles—there are definitely steps that can be taken to make people feel more able to challenge gender stereotypes at work.

Here are a few easy ways to create a culture that fights against gender bias and has everyone comfortably challenging stereotypes and speaking up:

  1. Check yourself your organisation: make it a business priority, align it to your mission, create strategies, measure progress, and lead by example from the top. Make sure to be transparent about what it is you’re doing; it’s law for organisations over a certain size in the UK to report on gender statistics, but make sure your people know a clear action plan explaining the progress you’re aiming to make.
  2. Recognition and reward: identify inclusive behaviours to include in your reward and recognition scheme. Programs like “50 Ways to Fight Bias” are packed with examples of how to handle bias issues with inclusive behaviours and is a great guide for what should be recognised as positive action, and it’s designed in a way that you can run the program as a workshop for your employees.
  3. Open up the dialogue: whether that’s speaking up about your own experiences, ideas and opinions or engaging in two-way communication with people directly, setting the example that it’s okay to speak out will encourage others to do the same. And remember, you can provide some confidential comms channels to encourage those who don’t feel as comfortable engaging in those conversations.
  4. Cross-functional teams: you can never go wrong with a strategic team that brings diverse mindsets and ideas together to tackle gender bias issues. You’ll definitely have employees passionate about the subject—both men and women—so bring together a group that can be leaned on for things like fair recruitment processes or internal training initiatives, and even input into policies like parental leave and flexible working.
  5. Learning mindsets: be open to trying new things and strive to learn and improve. Why not set up some educational courses or training for your employees? Organisations like 50:50 Future run awesome training programmes that can start conversations and help build better relationships through shared learning.
  6. Connect women together: the impact of peer support can’t be understated. When we come together to support each other, we’re inspired and empowered, and that’s invaluable in our ability to speak up and drive change. Lean In Circles are creating communities for exactly that, as well as outlining great activities for connecting people together to share each other’s struggles and celebrate each other’s wins.

International Women’s Day is an incredible catalyst for conversations about gender equality, but we can’t stop there. Real change happens through a constant, collective effort from men and women to create true equality at work.

If you’d like to truly unlock employee voice in your fight to rid gender bias, Team Hive is on hand to help you launch a confidential employee feedback strategy that will get your people talking about the real issues. Simply give us a shout to get better introduced with our suite of feedback tools.

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