Five behaviour changes that support gender equality

As humans, we have a natural tendency to surround ourselves with people who look like us and think like us. This tendency runs across gender, race, you name it. The problem is, when everyone around you thinks, acts and speaks like you, you don’t gain exposure to new ways of thinking, innovative ideas, or new ways of doing things, better ways of doing things. Diversity is fast being realised as the competitive edge in business and a vital component of preparation for the future of work. So, it is paramount that we be intentional with our hiring.

This women’s month, women and men alike can celebrate by taking some small steps towards an equal playing field in the workplace. Here are some ways to do this:


1. Recognise your unconscious bias

Every single day, we make decisions that are unconsciously biased. It comes from events in our lives that give our brains information to form opinions and make decisions. Where this becomes a problem is when the brain creates shortcuts and uses this past knowledge to make assumptions. One of the main obstacles to eliminating prejudice is that people have difficulty recognising that it actually exists. Realising that unconscious gender bias in there is one of the first steps towards correcting the assumptions our brains make. As it turns out, women are guilty of this one too.

Research has already proven that we all reproduce stereotypes. The important thing is to be aware of the assumptions we make so that we can challenge them. Take the time to identify where your biases may come into play in your working environment, whether its recruiting or interpersonal interactions etc., this is how you start to change your mind-set.


2. Mentor both men and women

We all know that mentorship plays a huge role in career success. The unfortunate truth is that in most cases, mentorship relationships don’t cross gender lines. Young women need to have role models, women who have navigated similar career hurdles. The problem is, with the lack of women in leadership positions in almost every industry, especially traditionally male-dominated fields, there’s not much opportunity for women to find mentorship.

In successful mentoring relationships, the learning goes both ways. For this reason, it really makes the case for men in leadership positions to take on mentees who have different experiences and backgrounds. So, if you have the opportunity to mentor a young woman for leadership, we challenge you to do so. And encourage your female colleagues to put their ideas forward.


3. Pay attention to language

Another issue that women are also guilty of, is language. We see this all the time. The use of different language to describe women as opposed to men, often promoting a double standard. For example, we often use words that very obviously tip the hat to a woman’s gender when talking of her accomplishments. For example, it’s likely that you would never see an article describing a “male CEO” or a “dadtrepreneur,” yet we barely take stock of titles like female CEO and momtrepreneur. Why do we not ask male leaders how they manage to be both a father and a CEO?

Research has also found that women receive far more critical feedback than men, and the criticism that they receive is almost always about their personalities, rather than their job performance. Not only this but when a woman displays the same behaviours as a man does, we describe it differently. A man “needs to be more patient”, a woman is “abrasive.”

As long as we continue to use different language for men and women or allude to women’s gender when speaking to their professions and success, we continue to preserve the unsubstantiated belief that women are or should be playing on a different field altogether.


4. Start talking about it and listen

Openly talking about the subject and not allowing bias to go unchecked in your presence can help people who may not be aware or may not understand the issue. If you speak up and lead by example, you will encourage others to do the same.

Truly listening when women do speak up is just as important. Giving your full attention shows respect and it’s important to remember to give credit where it’s due. If you elaborate on someone else’s point be sure to mention them – male or female. And remember to back up your female colleagues. If you notice someone undermining any colleague by taking their idea as their own or interrupting a colleague, if the opportunity presents, try to bring it back to the person who put the idea forward or use your voice to speak up for the colleague who doesn’t feel that they can.


5. Bonus: Focus on influencing recruitment and hiring

If you have a say in hiring, use your voice. Be intentional when hiring and make sure that you are deliberately hiring diverse teams. Diversity is not only important for business success now, but it’s going to be critical to long term success in the future of work.

The takeaway here is that you have to make diversity and inclusion a business priority. The rewards will be well worth the energy you put into building a diverse and inclusive workplace. We can all celebrate the women in our lives this month and every month by taking stock of these behaviour changes. They say, lead by example and others will surely follow.