Creating A Team Culture Where Women Can Thrive

By Marsha Koelmel

Co-President of Catapult

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

In spite of having the requisite ambition, qualifications, education and effective leadership traits, women have historically been underrepresented in leadership roles. While moderate progress was reported in recent years, the pandemic has had a profoundly negative impact on professional women(1). The outcome is that women have lost ground professionally. Significant ground. So much so that McKinsey’s Public & Social Sector practice predicts that it will take until 2024, two years longer than their male counterparts, for women to make up what was lost in the last year(2).

Women’s History Month is a good time to think about the forces that can conspire to hold women back in the workplace. There are steps you can take each day to create a more female-friendly organization.

The pandemic has created additional problems for women who are striving to hold leadership positions in their chosen field, but it goes much further than that. Consider that:

-A report by S&P Global concludes that adding more women to the workforce could accelerate US GDP growth by 5-10% adding $5.87 trillion to the global stock market(3).

-Multiple reports have found that women score slightly higher than men in leadership competencies and the gap widens during a crisis(4)(5).

(Note: At Catapult, we do not believe that gender is the issue here. It’s competency. Both men and women can be highly-effective leaders if they possess and demonstrate the right skills. The point is that women are at least equally, if not more, qualified to lead as men.)

It stands to reason that organizations are taking notice and taking inventory of the number of women in their leadership ranks. The requests for solutions intended to increase the number of women in these roles is on the rise. In spite of the urgency of the situation, there is no quick fix. However, the right combination of systemic changes will accomplish the goal and some boards, CEOs and executive teams are focused on making these important changes from the top down.

In the meantime, there are ways that every one of us can help our female colleagues to be successful and feel supported in their efforts. Starting now.

Men: Be an ally

Engaging men as a part of the solution is proven to be highly effective in creating a culture that supports the advancement of women. An ally has been defined as one who joins with another in a mutually-beneficial relationship of support. In this case, it is referring to men who deliberately create a culture of support for female colleagues. Here are a few suggestions to get started:

-Listen and amplify

Male allies can help to make sure that women’s voices and ideas are heard and credited to them. Women are interrupted more often than men and their ideas are often co-opted by someone else. When you hear a woman at work being talked over, interrupted or not receiving credit for her ideas, you can intervene. Acknowledge it, correct it and then listen.

“One moment, I think Mary was still talking. Mary, did you finish making your point?”

“That’s interesting Mary, say more….”

“As Mary said earlier….”

-Be a sponsor

In a Catalyst report called Sponsoring Women to Success, researchers found that having a sponsor can be a career accelerator:

“Good sponsors can supercharge a woman’s career by providing her with access to essential networks, bringing her achievements to the attention of senior-level executives, and recommending her for key assignments,” said Ilene H. Lang, President & CEO of Catalyst. “Effective sponsors also provide career coaching and guidance that enable protégés to make broader and more strategic contributions to their organizations.”

If you’re in a position to act as a sponsor to a rising leader, consider making the time to share experiences, make connections, listen to her goals and help her achieve them. If you’re in a position to establish a sponsorship program in your organization, doing so will multiply the benefits.

-Use your voice and your privilege to advocate

Practices that support women such as gender-blind hiring, family-friendly leave policies, flexible work schedules and equal pay for equal work benefit everyone. Do your employer’s policies align with a welcoming culture for women? When men’s voices join women in advocating for women-friendly policies we double our collective power.

Women: Stand together

Women also have an important role to play in helping their female colleagues succeed. Looking out for and advocating for each other can create a force for good that’s hard to stop.

– Amplification: When President Obama took office, two-thirds of his top aides were men. Women complained of having to elbow their way into important meetings. And when they got in, their voices were sometimes ignored. So female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called “amplification”: When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own. The idea went viral(6).

-Practice Shine Theory: Shine Theory is a practice of mutual investment with the simple premise that “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” It’s a term coined by Ann Friedman & Aminatou Sow to describe a commitment to collaborating with rather than competing against other people—especially other women. Head to the Shine Theory website to read more about it.

-Be a sponsor – see above

-Be a role model and advocate. Women in senior-level positions have a vast and meaningful impact on the company’s culture. They are more likely than senior-level men to embrace employee-friendly policies and programs and to champion racial and gender diversity(7). Being a role model and sharing stories can demonstrate HOW it can be done. And being in a senior-level position gives a credible voice to be advocate for change.

While it may not be within your reach to change the culture and systems in your workplace, the power of authentic kindness and support is within all of us. When the opportunity to offer it presents itself, take it and know that your partnership will not be forgotten. And, better yet, you will be shining a light in the right direction.








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