During women’s month, many people want to know how to support women—in their careers, in their work and in their lives. It’s a great question to ask, and not just during women’s month. Because women need and deserve support, empowerment and community always.
Of course, all genders need support, not just women. But it is a statistical fact that the pandemic has been disproportionately hard on women in terms of mental health, career advancement, pay, morale and wellbeing. So the time is perfect to consider how to support women, and help them be their best.
Solutions for women are about both agency and structure. Agency suggests women are agents of their own lives and futures—and can take actions which create the conditions for happiness and success. But structure is also important—the context for women’s success. People have power over each of these: Taking personal action and also influencing systems.
How to Help Women
Here are the five ways to support and empower women.
One of the first ways to help women is to manage your own biases. Listen to your own inner dialogue and push back on yourself when you hear prejudice. Also manage your own language and expression. Linguistic determinism suggests the way people express themselves has significant influence on thinking, behavior and choices. So pay attention to what you’re saying (and doing) and ensure you’re reinforcing equity and fairness toward women in all things.
A recent study finds 38% of people prefer to work for a female boss compared with 26% who prefer to work for a man. But consider that even though this seems positive, it’s still biased. Better to have people want to work for a brilliant leader who happens to be a woman, rather than drawing conclusions about people based on their gender. The differences between individuals are more meaningful than the differences between groups, and appreciating people for their unique contributions is superior to making assumptions about whole categories of people.
With so much coming at people today, overwhelm is typical. Therefore, attention is one of the most scarce resources. Focus and tune into the women around you. Pay attention to how they’re showing up, how they’re feeling and how they’re behaving. Seek to expand your understanding of women’s challenges, struggles, successes, triumphs and needs.
Ask questions and take cues about how much a woman wants to share, taking her lead. Tune in and listen, getting free of distractions, and fostering conversations with true sharing. Validate a woman’s experiences and remind her she isn’t alone. Empathize and demonstrate compassion, by investing personal time and effort in helping women succeed.
Pave the Way
Another set of ways to empower and support women is by influencing policy or by creating opportunities for them. Recommend greater work flexibility for women so they can navigate all the demands in their lives. Advocate for practices which expand women’s choices and their control over their schedules, responsibilities and careers. Work for equal pay, transparency in job opportunities and cultures of respect and equity. Adopt programs which support women through employee resource groups, benefits or wellbeing strategies.
In addition, invest personal time and effort in helping individual women succeed Give women opportunities. Invite them in and open doors to cool new projects where they can extend their contributions and build their skills. Don’t wait for a woman to be perfectly ready for a new role, provide chances to stretch and grow through ambitious new duties. Never assume a woman doesn’t want to take on something new because she’s too busy or overloaded already. Instead, let her determine whether she has the time, energy and passion to go in new directions.
Also give women feedback. Any colleague can have blind spots, so when you see places a woman can improve, speak up and provide suggestions and coaching. Also offer mentoring and friendship. If you’re in a leadership role and can offer guidance and mentorship, great. But know that no matter what your position, you can provide meaningful input, coaching or friendship.
Women can be especially prone to imposter syndrome or feelings of inadequacy—often because they’re trying to juggle so many different priorities and seeking to be their best in so many parts of their lives. Be lavish with your praise when it is authentic and remind women of the great things they’re doing.
In addition, when you’re in meetings for conversations, be open about your appreciation for a woman’s unique contribution on a project or the way she found an especially ingenious solution to a problem. Advocate for the talented woman around you by recommending her for a new opportunity or suggesting ways she could become involved in a new initiative. Recognizing and advocating for others is a sure way to contribute to a positive environment where there is plenty of reinforcement to go around—making a better working experience for everyone.
Finally, help women by being yourself. When people admit their mistakes or demonstrate vulnerability, it paves the way for others as well. Projecting perfection can create feelings of inadequacy in those around you. But when you are authentic and open about stressors and solutions, it helps people to feel validated in their own experience. In addition, it can build relationships. Humans tend to bond through hard times or shared difficulties, so authenticity is a terrific way to reinforce connections and community.
In addition, do your best, demonstrate confidence and celebrate your own successes. As the saying goes, “You playing small doesn’t serve the world.” Women can help women by playing big and showing up with strength, enthusiasm and luster. The most important way people learn is through watching, listening to and experiencing others. For this reason, you have more influence than you realize, so be yourself and express your talents—at the same time you’re supporting others. These will contribute significantly to your own success and that of women around you.
The saying is true, “It is possible to have it all, just not all at once.” Women need support and empowerment. They can create the conditions for their own success and happiness—for sure. And they need community and people around them who will coach, guide, influence and advocate for them as well. People have responsibility and obligation to each other. Success isn’t ever achieved alone. It is the result of resilient, respectful communities and the strength of relationships.
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