Business Basics
10 tips to create a more inclusive workplace for women

10 tips to create a more inclusive workplace for women

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Rosi Linda Sanchez, founder of social media marketing agency Mixto, recalls multiple incidents at her former corporate job that left her feeling excluded.

One stands out in particular: when she spent two weeks presenting a proposal to management, and failed to get their approval—only for a male colleague to present the same proposal to management and get it approved within a week. “He got all the credit,” says Sanchez.

Unfortunately, too many women can relate—according to a workplace study by Bain & Company, only 25% of women reported feeling fully included in the workplace.

This has serious consequences for women (especially those with other marginalized identities, such as women of color), from higher turnover rates to lack of advancement.  But excluding women from the workplace—whether through outright discrimination or unintentionally, via gender biases—doesn’t just hurt women. It hurts companies, too.

So, in honor of Women’s History Month, BILL spoke with BILL customer Sanchez and Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin, a psychologist, executive coach, and founding partner of Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting, to gather their top tips for how small and midsize businesses (SMBs) can build a more gender inclusive environment. Although we’re highlighting women specifically, many of these tips can be applied across the spectrum of marginalized genders.

1. Conduct a culture audit

A good first step towards building an inclusive workplace is assessing your company culture. Routinely auditing your culture can help you better understand how it might exclude women, perhaps even in subtle ways.

As part of your audit, Dr. Orbé-Austin suggests asking yourself questions such as:

  • Are leaders interested in creating an inclusive workplace for women? If so, are they being proactive about doing so?
  • What percentage of your employees are women?
  • Is there a gender pay gap?
  • Are there gender differences in how employees advance?
  • Are there gender differences in how employees gain access to senior leaders, relationships, and opportunities?

2. Ask what women at your company want—and listen

Rather than assuming what would make women at your organization feel more included, ask them.

Notes Dr. Orbé-Austin, “Really be curious about your unique set of employees and what they want. What the women in your workplace want may be different from what women at other workplaces want.” In other words, remember that women aren’t a monolith.

3. Create an environment that empowers everyone to speak up

To encourage employees to speak up, consider adopting some of the proactive practices that Sanchez uses at Mixto.

These include inviting other team members to lead meetings, starting meetings by addressing people individually, and being objective when approving ideas (well-thought out strategy should matter, not the title of the person sharing an idea).

4. Improve company culture by following through on feedback

Are you truly listening and responding to women employees’ feedback—or dismissing it as a one-off or “a personal problem?” Says Dr. Orbé-Austin, “Even if you can't do everything employees want, what are some ways you can meet some of these needs, and be creative and thoughtful about how you do that?”

5. Consider systemic problems that undermine gender inclusion

“If there is a place where you don't see women doing well, ask yourself, what are we doing that might be contributing to that, and how can we fix that?” Dr. Orbé-Austin says.  “Not, ‘What’s wrong with her?’”

6. Create an onboarding experience that makes new employees feel valued

Signaling to new hires that you see and value them can help you retain them. Sanchez suggests creating an onboarding and hiring process where everyone, including leadership, has a one-on-one conversation with new hires.

7. Give praise, even for small tasks

“When you create a space where everyone truly feels valued, that's when people shine,” says Sanchez.

8. Allow for hybrid work schedules

Research shows that women assume more caretaking responsibilities than men do, even when they’re the main breadwinners, Dr. Orbé-Austin notes.

Flexible hours accommodate this unpaid “second shift.” Hybrid working arrangements can help give people the flexibility they need.

9. Interrogate your definition of leadership—and expand as necessary

Consider whether the qualities you find important in a leader merely describe the highly specific image of leadership society instills in us. Question potential biases around qualities people often consider signs of poor leadership, like emotion. “Corporate America tends to look at emotion as a bad thing,” Sanchez says. “But emotion shows me there’s compassion.”

10. Clearly communicate—internally and externally—that your company values gender equality and inclusivity

“High-level talent often does their homework,” advises Dr. Orbé-Austin. “So if they hear from the grapevine that it isn't good to be a woman at your organization, they're likely not to bother.”

In job descriptions, avoid gendered language that might turn women away. Also, keep the list of requirements to a minimum: typically, women apply only if they meet all the requirements, according to Employers Council, while men apply as long as they meet around 80%.

Supporting women in a gender inclusive workplace—and building a more inclusive culture

By now, it’s not news that gender diversity—and diversity overall—improves team performance.

Companies that don’t take steps to build a more inclusive workplace miss out on the unique skills and experiences that more diverse workforces have to offer, and limit their profitability.

Follow these tips to build a workplace where everyone will feel valued regardless of gender identity—and a foundation on which a truly diverse workforce can flourish.

BILL is hiring! View our job openings for an opportunity to join our team, including our wide range of employee resource groups like our women’s affinity group, BILL’d Women Up.

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