As I was reading Tiffany Grandchamp’s blog post, “It's Time to Revalue the "doing" of Women in the Workplace,” a nerve was struck. In this post, Grandchamp details a long history of women as “doers,” and how this has derived from their traditional role in the home and now extends to the workplace. Many social scientists have researched the effects of the second shift or the mental load women experience as they try to be the ultimate doers - managing a household while building a career while taking care of themselves while being a friend, daughter, and more.
I know a lot of women who are tired of being the doers. Particularly now that we are in month 18 of a global pandemic where social and governmental systems are failing women and families. And some women are pushing back against the “do it all” narrative quite simply because it’s not healthy, it’s not sustainable, and it’s holding women back. But the issue is systemic. As Grandchamp states, organizations have an important role to play in ensuring women have access to leadership roles that honor their contributions and pay them appropriately. Besides the gender pay gap, the gender leadership gap is a significant barrier to women achieving parity with men in the workplace. An added dimension of these gaps is the fact that women of color face more challenges while advancing their careers than white women.
Women can’t change deeply entrenched gender biases on their own. They need allies. The good news is most men want to be part of the solution. So, what does that look like in practice? Here are the three best ways men can help shoulder the load:
1. Don’t take credit for women’s work - this might sound obvious, but many women have had the experience of coming up with an idea at work, only to have it minimized or questioned until a man describes the very same idea as if it were his own. Research suggests this behavior is often unintentional, but for women to be seen as more than doers - to be seen as strategic thought partners, as effective negotiators, as visionary leaders - men must give credit where it is due.
2. Elevate women’s voices - There are two clear ways to elevate women’s voices: amplification and sponsorship. The term amplification was popularized during the Obama administration: female aides banded together to amplify their female colleagues’ ideas by repeating the idea and giving proper credit. It’s simple and effective, and men should be doing it too. It’s the anti-taking-credit move, and it matters. From there, amplification gives way to sponsorship. Sponsorship requires someone in power to use their power to lift someone else up. Due to the gender leadership gap, most often those in power are men, so the opportunity becomes a male leader recognizing a woman’s contributions andher potential, and then advocating hard for her to move up in the organization.
3. Reconsider the task division - Research shows that women are more likely to volunteer to take non-promotable tasks. This happens quite simply because both men and women subconsciously expect women to be the ones to say yes - to be the doers - even when those tasks are trivial or low-stakes. Gender communication norms are slowly changing, but many girls are still raised to be agreeable and helpful, and this follows them into adulthood. Instead of expecting women to “stand up for themselves” or “create better boundaries,” organizations - and specifically male leaders - should be finding ways to make the work and task division more equitable.
As a woman, I am proud to identify as a doer - I have a strong sense of determination, and I get things done. But in order for women to feel that their organization is working to actually become inclusive and equitable and not just diverse, we need to see men taking steps to give where credit is due, elevate women’s voices, and reconsider the task division.
Kaylan Adams is the COO of ThinkShout, a digital agency that primarily serves non-profits. She has spent the past decade in the tech sector wearing many hats, but the one that suits her best is operations leadership. Kaylan cares deeply about building strong teams, equitable policies, and realistic workback schedules.