Moving on up

Creating a workplace where women can contribute and grow.

3 min read


Moving on up


What does it take to create a workplace in which women thrive? Four women leaders shared common issues that women face and offered advice for tackling these challenges during a panel discussion at this year’s ASU+GSV Summit. Veteran journalist and author Liza Mundy led the conversation with a panel that included Karen Freeman-Wilson, mayor of Gary, Ind.; Amber Grewal, vice president of global talent acquisition for IBM; Laura Zarrow, executive director of Wharton People Analytics; and Georgia Wong, founder of Fairy Godboss.

Here are highlights from their conversation.

Don’t make it a zero-sum game. It’s not uncommon for women to impede the advancement of other women in an organization, according to the panel. Scarce resources and opportunities can trigger exclusionary behavior, Zarrow said. “Zero-sum thinking comes into play,” she explained. “Women do it to women where they’re in competition with each other.”

Foster a culture that encourages support of colleagues, said Zarrow. “We don’t lose if we see other people gaining,” she said.

Get a life. Work-life balance matters to all members of your organization; it affects their productivity and work product, said Freeman-Wilson. She told the story of a project she worked on in which some team members were putting in up to 20 hours per day. One Sunday, the team was called together to discuss the project. Freeman-Wilson did not mince words. “First, this is the last Sunday meeting. I go to church on Sundays,” she told the team. “You all need a life. If you are here 20 hours day, I am not getting your best product. You just work—and that doesn’t impress me.”

Bake it into design. “Unconscious biases affect us all. We have to scrub ourselves,” said Zarrow, explaining that benevolent sexes tend to make assumptions about what colleagues—male and female—want and the best ways for them to contribute. She challenged investors and entrepreneurs to consider this as they create new organizations. “[W]hen do these things get baked in to what you’re building?” she asked. “[L]eadership says we’re going to commit to diversity. [You] have greater shot of building something from the ground up.”

Show the pathways. Women want to know there is room for advancement at an organization, said Wong. Women who use her site Fairy Godboss — a crowdsourcing platform where women provide reviews on jobs and companies — are looking to see the equality in which promotions are doled out at companies. The absence of growth opportunities can affect retention, Wong explained. “[It’s] a big concern when women don’t see examples, ” said Wong. “When women don’t see other women in management they don’t think it’s a place where they can stay.”

Just do the right thing. Leadership must understand the importance of a supportive workplace and stand behind it for that reason—and not because doing otherwise might hurt their brand or bottom line, said Freeman-Wilson. “[We] can’t look at it just from a ‘If we don’t do this, we’ll get sued or we won’t look good,'” she said. “That’s not the reason—it’s just the right thing to do.”

Be audacious. “If we want to see progress, we must be bold to make changes,” said Grewal. Invest in programs that expand awareness and education of the issue, she advised. “At the current pace, it will take 200 years,” Grewal said. “[We] gotta see the change faster.”

Kanoe Namahoe is the editor of SmartBrief on Workforce and SmartBrief on EdTech.


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