What if there were a few easy actions hacks we could all take to make our workplaces more inclusive and gender equal? Good news – there are!
There are literally thousands of academic articles documenting gender bias in the workplace.
For every example of gender bias we found in the literature, we identified a hack that people could use to make their own workplaces more inclusive.
We laid a few ground rules: Each hack had to be an action that any individual could take, no matter what role they occupied. The hack didn’t need funding, a boss’s permission, or organisational support.
As you read ahead, think about your own workplace. Which biases have you seen – or exhibited yourself (don’t worry, we’ve all done it)? More importantly, how can you apply the hacks?
Here’s a few of our favourite hacks.
In the absence of explicit information about organisational roles, people assume that a man has higher authority than a woman: He’s a professor, she’s a lecturer; he’s a doctor, she’s an intern; he’s there to run the meeting, she’s there to take notes. What’s the hack?
Credentialise yourself, your colleagues, your workplace visitors. Use their title when you make introductions. Describe their role and highlight the value they bring to the organisation — so people don’t need to “fill in the blanks” and fall back on assumptions.
Women’s voices can go unheard in the workplace. Women are more likely to wait for invitations to contribute, so they get less airtime in a mixed group. When women do speak, they are interrupted more than men. And women are less likely to be given credit for the ideas they present in meetings. What’s the hack?
Create opportunities for women and men to contribute equally in meetings. Invite input from each member, and hold questions until the presenter has finished. Amplify individuals’ contributions by giving credit for their ideas as the discussion moves forward: “Building on what Mary said…” or “If we implemented Paul’s suggestion…”
In the workplace, women are more likely to be characterised by their personality rather than their competence. Reference letters describe women as hardworking team players, but the big adjectives (outstanding! brilliant!) are more frequently applied to men. That’s a disadvantage for women, because attributions of competence lead to job offers, developmental opportunities, and funding. What’s the hack?
Showcase your colleagues’ competence, being mindful of the ways you describe women and men. This takes practice. Start with written work. Write your recommendation letter and go have a coffee. When you come back, yellow highlight all the adjectives so you can see if you’ve missed opportunities to describe the person’s talents and accomplishments.
The feedback that women receive on their work performance is less specific than the feedback men receive.
Women’s feedback – both positive and negative – is often vague about the actions the organisation values and doesn’t explain what the employee needs to do to advance to the next level. So even enthusiastic feedback (“you’ve done a great job!”) can hold women back. And yes, there’s a hack for that.
When you give feedback to your colleagues or subordinates, be as specific as possible. Tie your feedback to the results the employee achieved and to your organisation’s objectives. And always suggest ways that the employee can develop further. This hack applies to both the casual feedback you give in the hallway and the formal feedback you record in an annual performance review.
These four hacks are straightforward; you can start using them immediately. But their effects add up to make organisations more inclusive. We’d love to hear about your experiences applying these hacks or developing hacks of your own.
This article has been written jointly by Dr Jill Gould (UniSA Online) and Professor Carol Kulik (UniSA Centre for Workplace Excellence).