I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a feminist.
As a child, my favorite t-shirt featured a freckle-faced girl in pig tails hitting a home run out of the park with the words “anything boys can do, girls can do better” emblazoned across the top. I believed every word.
As a film student, I took pride in weaving feminist themes throughout all of the stories I created, and hungrily fed my brain with women’s studies classes and tomes by Camille Paglia, Naomi Wolf and other scholars of gender issues.
So, when it came to selecting a career path to follow, it was a natural fit to choose advertising. The choice was about more than having the chance to be part of making cool ideas come to life. I found working with a team of crazy-smart people from many diverse backgrounds exhilarating. I still do. Over the years, I have been blessed to work with truly brilliant and badass female role models and be mentored by talented women and men. I’ve thrived in the setting of a largely harmonious and socially progressive culture shared by like-minded individuals. It was easy to look around and celebrate how far we’ve come as a gender-diverse industry.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, our industry was rocked by a deluge of news reports that detail lurid cases of sexual harassment at a major media outlet, racism and ageism at prestigious agencies, followed by out-of-touch remarks about gender parity from a top ad exec.
A wave of emotions struck me with each incident. Anger. Frustration. And a large dose exasperation. My thoughts kept coming back to: It’s 2016. Is this really still happening?
These incidents may have seemed like exceptions to some, but for others like me, they corroborated the ugly truth that discrimination and insensitivity are still not yet in our rear-view mirror.
While there’s been a renewed call for executive boards and leadership to take responsibility for promoting and championing greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the truth is that all of us—regardless of role or rank—must do better jobs at helping to nurture cultures that not only celebrate and recognize the business value of diversity and inclusion, but also call out people and circumstances that continue to harm and devalue women and other minorities.
The good news is that every single day, we have opportunities to help make our workplaces more inclusive environments. Examined individually, the opportunities may seem small enough to be insignificant; however, cumulatively over time, these micro-actions could lead to the start of a revolution.
Based on my own experiences, here are three simple ways that you can make a difference, starting today.
1. Choose adjectives wisely.
We all understand the value of giving and receiving individual performance feedback. Done well, it provides perceptive insight and leads to actionable results.
Over the years, I have seen two words used repeatedly in formal and informal performance reviews that provide little value to the receiver: “emotional” and “abrasive.” I challenge you to strike these words from your business vocabulary.
These terms are too generic to be helpful to any individual’s career growth, but they are especially problematic when applied to women as they feed every bad stereotype about women in the workplace.
Don’t be lazy. Make your words work harder.
Is someone having difficulty separating fact from emotion? Tell them that.
Are they spending too much energy arguing about what went wrong and not enough energy on solutions to move forward? Describe it that way.
Give others the benefit of feedback they can truly act upon.
2. Manage problematic meeting dynamics.
There have been volumes upon volumes of material written about how to improve meeting management, yet most of us will agree that meetings are often neither productive nor valuable.
Some everyday meeting tendencies are not only time-wasters; they reinforce non-inclusive meeting dynamics.
Allow me to describe two problematic meeting behaviors. Think of your teammates and who comes to mind as you read each description.
Behavior Type #1: This person has an opinion on everything, and often takes up most of the oxygen in a meeting room.
Behavior Type #2: This person is reserved, often sits on the outskirts of the room, and has ideas but feels more comfortable expressing them directly to you after the meeting.
Have people in mind?
Okay, now which behavior is most commonly associated with men?
Advancements aside, most leadership positions are held by men who have been socialized and rewarded for active participation in meetings.
Obviously, I am not suggesting that there is a one size fits all way to look at this issue. But, if we are willing to take an honest look at these common dynamics, we can change them.
Don’t allow smart women on your team to become meeting wallflowers. Encourage them to sit at the table, in the front row, alongside their peers of all genders. Find ways to draw them into the conversation.
Our work is simply better when we all contribute and have skin in the game.
3. Accentuate the positive.
Just a few weeks ago, I noticed a normally quiet woman speak up in a meeting with insightful feedback on how the team could improve our process. I made a point of finding her after the session to thank her for her contribution and let her know I was proud of her for speaking up.
You know what happened at our next team meeting? She spoke up again. And this time, I made a point of exalting her contribution during the meeting, in front of her colleagues.
We need to help lift each other up. Anytime you witness a normally timid co-worker putting him/herself out there in a new way, show them some positive reinforcement. You’ll be surprised how a little love goes a long way.
Society may have conditioned us to grow immune to dynamics such as described above, but with awareness and action, together we can change them.
It’s 2016. It’s time we all became part of the fight against unconscious bias and gender inequality.
Silence is no longer golden. Silence is now complicit in sexism, racism, and any other phobia applied to the workplace. It’s up to each of us to be actively and consciously anti-sexist and anti-racist if we hope to achieve the kind of diversity that we purport to believe.
Start today. What are you going to do to make a difference?