Three-quarters of large businesses pay men more than women. Sexism in the workplace is rampant irrespective of a business being big or a startup. It may sound counter intuitive to say men have had a rough time recently. But since the first #MeToo tweet was posted in October 2017, they’ve been vilified as a pretty nasty bunch. In many ways, this continues today. And if we don’t address it in the workplace, we’ll all suffer.
Let’s be clear. Some deserve the criticism but many are just normal blokes who feel scared and annoyed that some men have acted inappropriately. It can therefore be tough for them to navigate the politics of gender equality in a workplace that has changed immeasurably in a short amount of time.
If #MeToo and #TimesUp have taught us anything, it’s that we need more open and transparent conversations at work. We need to make offices more human. We need to empower men just as much as women and remember this cannot be a man versus woman issue. So what can startups do to address this apart from providing strong procedures to ensure harassment can be reported and dealt with?
(1) Get leadership to address the issue
The leaders of an organisation should reflect how women and men are feeling and instigate bridge-building where needed. For example, unconscious bias training can significantly improve awareness around the differences between genders and help people build genuine, mutual empathy.
There also needs to be attention on male line managers. Men must be mindful and respectful in their interactions with women but we don’t want them feeling scared as this just leads to women becoming even more sidelined. This is as important for management as it’s for employees. We cannot have situations where men are reprimanded for talking openly about how they feel, providing their conversations are respectful. We’ve seen examples of guys losing their jobs for opening up. If we allow this to take hold, it’s the women who will also suffer.
(2) Make the workplace more human
It’s vital everyone can have open, honest and human conversations which means bringing all of themselves to work and not leave the fun and empathetic side of themselves at home.
A great place to start is consciously thinking about how to be at work and not just what to do. At the start of meetings, attendees can set ground rules about how everyone should interact. What would make their time together most effective? For example, explaining how they want the tone to be. Or what type of behaviour is needed. These are little things but if done repeatedly and consistently, they produce change at an organisational level and will help create an inclusive culture.
(3) Keep respectful
Finally, if in doubt – don’t do or say anything to a female colleague that you wouldn’t if she was your boss. It’s just about respect.
If we can create this renewed feeling of collaboration and openness, then we can create businesses where women have the opportunities to thrive. And this isn’t just a matter of equality and diversity, it’s a matter of commercial sense.
Ultimately men and women can energise one another by fuelling each other’s strengths and hence close the gender pay gap. And let’s face it, we’re better together.