The media attention focusing on how women have been treated at work has generated fear among many male managers and executives about how they engage with their female counterparts and associates. This climate of anxiety and distrust has the potential to create significant problems in organizations.
What may have been a relaxed atmosphere with banter and casual interactions has changed in many workplaces into guarded, formal interactions. I have heard reports that men are even seeking the presence of another person to safeguard misinterpretation of any communication or behavior. In some cases, outright avoidance has ensued. The sad reality is that in this climate, women will lose out on mentorship, sponsorship, and honest guidance.
Under these circumstances organizations will continue to lag behind in creating a sustainable, diverse workforce that will enrich the organization as well as the bottom line. You can begin to address these issues and improve staff engagement, employee satisfaction, and employee retention by initiating a trusting dialogue.
Here are some starting points for addressing this issue:
- Start with “why.” Simon Sinek believes that understanding the driving force behind an organization is what drives success. This is true for individual success as well. Engaging a female manager or associate in a discussion about her driving ambition makes the conversation about her and typically will be a neutral place to start understanding how to facilitate her success.
- Ask “how?” Demonstrating a genuine openness to be guided in ways a female colleague or employee wants you to communicate with her and to promote her success can remove any obstacles that could lead to misinterpretation.
- Establish “what.” Boundaries are rarely discussed in the workplace, and that has contributed to the tolerance of unacceptable behaviors, which harms everyone in an organization. The discussion about what is and what is not acceptable behavior is much more than putting people through a canned sexual harassment training. Every leader at every level should initiate these discussions to set boundaries for how people will be shown respect and how congeniality does not step over boundaries. Relaxed, trusting interactions should be the goal, and these interactions are critical to an organization’s success.
- “When?” This needs to happen now. Waiting won’t help anyone, and it certainly won’t help your organization. The longer the leadership team delays with these discussions, the more trust will drop between women and men—and no organization can afford to increase the number of disengaged employees.
If these are issues that you are serious about addressing, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.