Are You Uplifting Women in Your Workplace?

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6/15/2023

By Danny Gavin, AEM Communications Coordinator — 

Working women often feel that they have less access to opportunities to advance their careers – leading to increased burnout and departure from their current position. And with an ever-widening labor gap, attracting and retaining employees is now more important than ever before.

After more than two million women left their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a real opportunity to attract and retain a currently available workforce. That’s why it’s so important to support and uplift female employees and prevent them from searching for opportunities elsewhere.

There are several factors that lead women to experience dissatisfaction within the manufacturing industry. One key factor is the lack of adequate family leave policies. 69.2% of women said they were not satisfied with the amount of paid family leave offered to them – this includes both women with and without children. Yet another factor is the prevalence of gender discrimination. It can take some forms, from overt sexism and sexual harassment to more subtle biases that result in women being given fewer challenging assignments or being passed over for promotions.

At AEM’s Product Safety & Compliance Seminar, Dr. Sirisha Kuchimanchi presented on her own experience reaching for leadership in the workplace and explored channels for men to support and uplift their female coworkers. Hearing stories like Dr. Kuchimanchi’s are not uncommon, and during the Q&A portion of her session, many women expressed feeling similarly or having similar issues trying to achieve their career goals.

Dr. Kuchimanchi explained that once she decided to pursue a management role, she hit quite a few roadblocks. First and foremost, she lacked leadership experience. Her supervisor at the time proved himself to be an ally by providing one of the most critical elements of advancement: access.

“He assigned me some projects and some team leadership opportunities, to go and exercise those skills,” she said.

Access is among the first steps to remove barriers and start allowing women to climb the rungs of the leadership ladder. Oftentimes, women are not given the built-in opportunities to grow their skills that their male coworkers may receive. Companies can be equitable with their resources by providing access to workshops, team leadership experiences and new types of projects to women.

However, not all the roadblocks that women face in the workplace have to do with attaining leadership positions. In fact, one of the greatest challenges that will drive women (even those in leadership) out of the workforce is the difference in treatment and perception of male and female leaders. Some 37% of women who say their workplace is mostly male report they have been treated as if they were not competent because of their gender, according to Pew Research Center. Furthermore, women employed in majority-male workplaces are more likely to say their gender has made it more difficult to get ahead at work, they are less likely to say women are treated fairly when it comes to personnel matters, and they report experiencing gender discrimination at far higher rates.

Men can uplift their female coworkers and employees in many ways. The strongest allies that an underrepresented group can have are individuals who have more sway in the workplace. Those who occupy managerial positions have an enhanced opportunity to support female workers; for example, providing a wider range of work tasks, encouraging networking and advocating for women.

When thinking of those who assist in an employee’s career journey, there are three primary categories that individuals can be placed in:

  • Allies – These are the individuals who actively advance the interests and inclusion of underrepresented individuals. Allyship stems from respect and collaboration and aims to uplift the voices of those who are not being heard or taken seriously. For example, if a female coworker is constantly being interrupted during a meeting, speak up and ask to hear her ideas.
  • Mentors – These individuals can be peer mentors or individuals in leadership positions with more experience both at the organization and with their role. Mentors focus on the mentor/mentee relationship and give direct guidance to their mentee, and they can give advice on what next steps can be taken, and what skills require honing to achieve the mentee’s goals.
  • Sponsors – These individuals take a more active role in making important connections and advancements for others and supporting underrepresented groups by accessing resources for their advancement. Helping to seek new opportunities for growth, sharing networking connections and using their own assets to help others are all forms of sponsorship.

With even just one of these key people supporting an employee their skills and confidence can vastly improve. Companies that have built-in mentorship programs are taking the first step in creating built-in allyship within their respective organizations. And this initial step can improve retention rates and help employees feel less alone. Individuals at the sponsor level typically have less time in their day, however there are many ways those in leadership positions can better connect with employees. From setting aside a bit of time every month for an open conversation with employees to asking a more junior-level employee to take a walk to the coffee pot, sponsors can (and should) find a way to initiate a working relationship.

Despite the struggles female employees face, several statistics show the benefits they impart upon their workplace. Compared with men at their level, women leaders do more to support employee well-being and foster DE&I — work that dramatically improves retention and employee satisfaction but is not formally rewarded in most companies. For example, senior-level women are twice as likely as senior-level men to dedicate time to DE&I tasks at least weekly. In most companies, DE&I tasks are non-promotable – meaning that they do not count toward a bonus or promotion when it’s time for an employee review.

Why is that the case, if diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) efforts make for happier, less burned-out employees who are less likely to consider leaving their jobs? Companies need to consider making DE&I tasks promotable by setting concrete, measurable goals that not only benefit those who are already doing them but attract more employee involvement across the board. Creating these opportunities kills two birds with one stone, both enhancing employee experience and empowering women to grow their careers.

Women face many difficulties both in their day-to-day work and when reaching for leadership positions, and individuals should try to provide equity and opportunity to uplift and support women in their workforce. From becoming an ally, mentor or sponsor to creating programs to reward and encourage involvement, there are many ways for both individuals and companies to ensure that their female workforce isn’t seeking employment elsewhere. All that’s left is for organizational leaders to ask themselves is this: What steps are you taking to uplift women in your workplace?

About AEM’s Product Safety & Compliance Seminar

Offering industry professionals uniquely valuable perspectives on the latest in standards, regulations and best practices, these seminars brought together the best of the off-road equipment safety community and featured all the education, experts and networking product safety and compliance professionals need to advance their safety program and career forward.

The 2024 Product Safety & Compliance and Liability Seminars will be held April 22-25, 2024, in Rosemont, Illinois.

Visit the official website for additional information, or contact AEM's Helen Horner at hhorner@aem.org.

For more AEM staff perspectives, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor.

AEM Blog, AEM Updates, Workforce Strategies

For more AEM news and updates, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor.

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