What everyone can do to address workplace gender equality

By | 3 minute read | October 24, 2019

According to a recent IBM Institute for Business Value study on women in leadership, only a small portion (12 percent) of 2,300 surveyed organizations proactively prioritize the push for gender equality in leadership. Given that advancing women still isn’t a formal priority for many businesses, there’s a great deal of work we all need to do in pursuit of workplace gender equality. This post is about some of the real-world steps everyone can take.

The Be Equal initiative launched by IBM earlier this year invites individuals to take action by pledging to work for change wherever they have influence. As part of the project I made a pledge to Be Vocal and lead by example for the future of little girls like my daughter.

When I was a high school student studying computer programming, I realized I was skilled at writing code because other students, and even the teacher, asked me for help on their programs. This helped me build confidence in my abilities and gave me a voice, a voice I’ve used to lead by example and inspire others to work on behalf of smart, capable women in the tech industry. Being vocal, to me, includes activities like writing blog posts, engaging on social media, creating videos and speaking at conferences. Many of these platforms give me opportunities to invite others to join me in addressing gender inequality in STEM fields and beyond.

Here are some ways women can lead by example on gender equality:

  • Take a leadership position.
  • Take a seat at the table (in meetings, board rooms and so on).
  • Don’t just have a voice; use it and insist on being heard.
  • Network with other women to discover common ground as well as differences and how those inform the push for gender equality.

Of course, women can’t, and shouldn’t, be responsible to solve all the issues surrounding gender inequality alone. We have to ask who else needs to be vocal in order to help us build a more gender-inclusive workplace culture. We need those who are already involved to do more, and those who haven’t shown interest to get started. We need our male colleagues, fathers, spouses, brothers and friends to join this campaign. I wouldn’t be where I am without supportive men in my family, community and workplace, and every day I see men showing solidarity with their wives, daughters, sisters and colleagues as we all work for a more gender-balanced world.

The following are some steps men can take to help advance gender equality in the workplace:

  • Listen to women and seek to understand their experiences, keeping in mind that female experiences vary.
  • Don’t just empower women but enable them; make sure they have the tools they need to be successful at work.
  • Encourage more transparent business processes in your workplace.
  • In meetings, pay attention to who is contributing and make sure female colleagues have space to speak.
  • If you see problematic behavior, call it out.

And here’s what everyone can do:

  • Mentor, sponsor, champion and advocate for women.
  • Join (or start) initiatives in your workplace that foster equality.
  • Hire women and promote women to leadership roles if you’re in a position to do so.
  • Volunteer to support career re-entry programs.
  • Help educate the next generation.
  • Volunteer your time for programs that enable girls in STEM and initiatives that help young women build self-confidence and courage so that they too can become voices for change.

As vice president of IBM Systems Lab Services and Technical Universities, I’m committed to being vocal about women’s equality in my organization as well as all areas of my influence. Will you take a pledge with me to be vocal about this issue in your own organization regardless of how high or low your position may be? Every voice counts. It’s time to make yours heard.

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