For the Girls: How to Support Your Female Employees

Two women writing on whiteboard.

Alright, everyone. It’s high time we had a little chat about gender inequality — it’s still a thing. It impacts women every day, including in the workplace.

The Covid-19 pandemic certainly didn’t do women any favors. Research shows that women were 1.8 times more likely to lose their job in the Covid economy. As of March 2022, two-thirds of all jobs lost since the pandemic began were women’s jobs. And in February 2022, there were 1.1 million fewer women in the workforce than there were in February 2020, while the male workforce remains similar in size.

But the pandemic highlighted forces that were already in place. Without adequate support such as good childcare and equal distribution of labor, women were forced to make painful choices between career and family during that difficult time. You don’t recover from that overnight. Once out of the workforce, it becomes even harder to break back in.

With that in mind, it’s incredibly important that you support the women you do have on your team. By tackling age-old issues like likeability bias and lack of benefits, you can foster a workplace that encourages female leadership and advancement. And when you have a more diverse leadership team, you’ll be more likely to draw in further diverse talent.

To help you figure this out, here’s a candid, no-bullshit, non-exhaustive list of ways you can better support the female-identifying employees that work with you.

Challenge “Likeability” Bias

Sometimes it seems like women face an impossible task. They’re often trapped between being successful or being likeable. That’s a very small corner of existence to live in — who wants to make that kind of choice?

At work, a woman is often expected (consciously or unconsciously) to take the deferential role. Especially if she’s working with a lot of men, she needs to be helpful, gentle, always willing to pitch in, and there to support and assist with a smile on her face.

If she’s not doing that, well, in many organizations, she’s just not that well-liked.

This all boils down to the likeability bias. When women behave in what’s often seen as “traditionally” feminine ways, they are more well-liked in the workplace. Behaviors associated with “traditional” femininity are softness, helpfulness, being pleasant, and being understanding.

Yet those same gentle qualities are not seen as leadership material. A woman who behaves in these ways will be liked by her colleagues but is less likely to get a promotion.

On the other hand, when women behave in what’s often seen as “traditionally” masculine ways, they are more likely to get promoted or have leadership positions. Those behaviors might include assertion, dominance, conviction, competence, and objectivity. But while those may earn you a leadership role, you might be seen as “bitchy” or “bossy.”

So a woman must choose between being liked and taking a supportive role or not being liked and fulfilling her potential.

There’s a ton of research to back this bias up, as case studies have shown time and time again that, for women, likability and success at work are not positively correlated.

The Difference Between Descriptive and Prescriptive Bias

Biases towards women tend to be both descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptive means that we’re biased in how we view how a person should be. Prescriptive means that we’re biased in the types of behavior we expect and deem acceptable for them.

So when we judge a female leader for possessing traits we typically associate with masculinity — like assertion, competence, and objectivity — we’re engaging in descriptive bias. And when she does things we typically associate with masculinity — like giving orders, not caving into other people’s wants, or taking bold actions — we’re engaging in prescriptive bias.

Both are harmful.

The action item here is to be aware of the biases in “likable” traits between men and women.

If you catch yourself calling a woman “bossy,” take a step back and ask yourself if she’s just being confident and assertive. Awareness is the first step to changing our biases, so be sure you’re being intentional about your interactions with co-workers and the opinions you form as a result.

Create a Safe Space for Everyone

Safety and inclusion is a big part of company culture, and it’s something we’d like to think we know a bit about here at DotConnect.

An environment that fosters open and honest communication is one of the hardest things to establish in company culture. And while it may seem like a very obvious goal for a company to have, it’s truly easier said than done.

Creating a safe space relies very heavily on each and every member of your team being respectful, intentional, and understanding in order to be completely aligned with that goal.

Open communication is vital to a healthy and productive work environment. Encourage women to communicate openly about their needs without the risk of feeling like they will be fired. For instance – a woman should never have to feel afraid to come to their employer asking for maternity leave.

If you’re not sure if your team feels comfortable communicating their needs, just ask them. An anonymous survey is a good place to start.

Remember, a work culture that’s safe and inclusive starts with leadership. To stay ahead of the curve, management should try incorporating some aspects of conscious leadership into their management style. This means taking ownership of your own feelings, not projecting them onto other people through anger or micromanagement.

This shows respect. It shows your team that you value them as people, not just machines. In a culture of secrecy and competition, there’s no trust, and you will not get feedback about how to improve, even if you ask for it. In a culture of genuine openness and compassion, you can more easily collaborate and communicate to create a safe space where everyone feels seen and heard.

Want to know more? We have a great resource from the Forbes Coaches Council and another from the American Management Association on how you can start to build a safe space for your team.

Offer Great Benefits for Your Female Employees

Studies show that burnout happens more regularly for women, who often juggle more personal responsibilities than their male counterparts.

They may be sandwich caregivers, those who are taking care of children and the elderly at the same time on top of their professional lives. They may be doing more of the child-rearing, tackling household tasks, or tending to other family matters than their partners.

And they don’t necessarily have help. While in the past, men would be the breadwinners but would have a supportive wife to stay at home and take care of everything else, women do not have such a luxury. They’re doing it without help, and it’s no wonder burnout is so common.

While we can’t solve those imbalances overnight, we can amp up our support for women (or really anyone) who have an incredible amount of responsibilities on their plate.

Remote work or hybrid work with a flexible schedule will save mothers or caregivers extra time instead of commuting to the office. A flexible schedule that emphasizes trust instead of micromanagement will mean your female staff can take care of themselves and their families when doctor visits or emergencies come up.

Of course, you’ll also want to have good health benefits, and that includes mental health benefits. Everyone can use mental health support, whether it’s a therapist, a counselor, or a coach, and this is especially important when living a high-pressure, high-stress lifestyle.

You can also cultivate a culture of wellness on the job, which will benefit everyone. Consider hiring a meditation or yoga teacher, sound healer, or art therapist to help your team unwind. This is also great for bonding and creating trust in the team, which will make it easier to create an inclusive culture.

Diversify Your Leadership

It’s really difficult to foster an environment that encourages female employees to grow into higher positions in a company when there is little to no female representation in management positions. Make sure you have women in leadership roles that are actively involved in all the decisions your organization makes, from the day-to-day decisions to the big industry moves.

And, make sure this includes diversity in all under-represented groups! That means different races, disabilities, and genders. Make sure you are thinking about all the different layers of what underrepresentation means.

Company culture starts with your leadership. If your leadership reflects what you want your company to represent, you’ll attract the right kinds of people.

Have concrete goals and make a concerted effort to recruit more diverse job candidates, especially for leadership positions within your team. We’re really passionate about it here at DotConnect. Our founder and CEO, Dom Farnan, is a woman who’s transformational work is a continuous source of inspiration. Not only is she a great, conscious leader, but she is committed to putting women into leadership positions, placing diverse talent into empowering roles, and fostering a culture of openness and trust here at Dot.

Another great way to diversify your leadership is to encourage growth from within your company, which leads us to our next point.

Support Women’s Professional Growth

We all need a leg up — no one gets far on their own. Whether it’s helping you avoid pitfalls, teaching you to communicate effectively, backing you up when you run into problems, or helping you obtain new contacts, a mentor can be the difference between success and failure.

Think about how often men have had special access to boys’ clubs and groups, exclusive experiences that ushered in opportunities, even starting from a young age. They’ve got the upper hand, so it’s time to start creating those connections for women.

This means you need to mentor and support your female-identifying and underrepresented employees. And to do that right, you need a structured plan. Start a mentoring program so that your new hires can learn from those making the big decisions in your company. Teach your team what they need to know to climb the ladder if that’s what they desire.

Another great thing to do is encourage growth and promotion as a part of your culture. Let people know the doors are open to moving up the ladder.

Resources and access to education opportunities are a big part of career development. Make sure you’re fostering that opportunity every chance you can get! Equal opportunity is the first step in diversifying your leadership and your team overall.

Be an Ally for Women With DotConnect

There is so much more to learn about inclusivity in the workplace. Taking steps to create an environment that’s safe for women will benefit not just the women themselves, but your entire organization. The more empowered everyone is, the more they’ll be able to contribute from a place of strength, sincerity, and commitment.

At Dot Connect, we’re committed to being leaders and changemakers at the forefront of progressive, positive change. Not only do we cultivate a culture of inclusion at Dot, but we’re excited to help organizations and individuals make the vision of equality a reality.

As you build out a diverse team, you may need help with hiring. We have a unique style of recruitment that emphasizes making real, genuine connections, and getting to know candidates on a deep level. This ensures we bring organizations exceptional recruits.

We’ve helped visionary job seekers make their career visions come true, and we’ve helped businesses like Beautycounter, Samsung NEXT, and Zendesk find their dream teams. Connecting the dots is what we do!

Job seekers, if you’re ready to take the next step on your career path, reach out to us! We’re committed to getting you on the right career track, whether you’re switching roles or reentering the workforce.