be an ally for women in the workplace

My company has always had policies regarding sexual discrimination, but in the wake of the #metoo movement, I began to wonder how the financial services industry discourages sexism and empowers women in real, material ways. A company’s policy could never be as powerful as an industry’s culture. To find out more about the lived experience of our female colleagues, I asked women throughout the financial services industry what changes men could make on a daily basis to help them feel safe, respected, and empowered at work. Here is what I learned.

1. Listen.

From corporate meetings to school boards to the Senate, men consistently dominate conversations and decision-making by interrupting their female colleagues. (For a comprehensive but by no means exhaustive list of studies that demonstrate the rate at which men interrupt women in business meetings, see this fascinating New York Times article.) And the more women’s ideas are sidelined, the less confident women feel about sharing them.

Amplify the voices of women in your workplace. In meetings, listen carefully to be sure you’re not overstepping. If you hear people talking over a colleague, ask the interrupters to cool their jets until the speaker has made her point.

2. Give credit where credit is due.

The only thing more frustrating than a coworker interrupting your good idea is a coworker stealing your good idea. What I find most alarming about this trend is that idea-thieves are often unaware they are stealing. They simply forget to give credit where credit is due, then reap a reward intended for others. Women are less likely to be promoted if their work has been claimed by a colleague, which perpetuates the underrepresentation of female leaders in our industry.

If you refer to or build on someone else’s idea, always cite your sources. Mention that person by name so others are aware of her contribution.

3. Nix the baby names.

Sweetie. Honey. Babe. These are names for children and spouses, not for your female colleagues. You might intend for them to be received as a term of endearment, but cutesie names send women a clear message that their work is not taken as seriously as that of their male colleagues.

If you wouldn’t call a man that name, don’t use it for a woman. Just call folks by their actual name, or better yet, ask them what they prefer to be called.

4. Consider your audience.

Our company is more of a family than a corporation. We enjoy Beer Fridays and ping pong competitions, we take cycling classes together and meet for jogs around Town Lake. Because we are so friendly with each other, it is even more important for us to consider who might be in earshot as we tell personal stories around the office. Late night escapades are not appropriate water cooler conversations.

If you wouldn’t say it around your mother or sister, don’t say it around the office.

5. Don’t be afraid. Just be professional.

It’s really hard to be accused of sexual assault unless you’ve actually assaulted someone. Sexual harassment, though more loosely defined, can usually be avoided by treating others with the same respect and etiquette you would expect from fellow professionals. Women aren’t out to ruin your reputation by sticking up for their rights; they just want the same opportunities to shine as professionals that men already enjoy. If you’ve always been a supporter of women and other minorities in your workplace, then the office after #metoo doesn’t look so much different than
it did before.

Don’t avoid women to avoid conflict. Just be aware of your voice and how you use it to put others down or lift them up. A little kindness goes a long way.