While asking your company to treat women better sounds great, it’s a bit more complicated than that. After all, very few people would feel comfortable marching up to the CEO’s door and saying, “I demand equal pay.” And very few CEOs would respond to that knock with an immediate, “Of course, come in and let me fix our payroll now.”
But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck. Rather, it means that you have to approach this conversation correctly. And while each company is different, I recommend you start by setting up a meeting with HR or your manager.
So, how do you start that conversation?
Well for starters, it’s crucial to acknowledge this fact: The issues women struggle with and care about vary greatly. Therefore, you have to avoid making assumptions that categorize women into one big homogeneous group who will all benefit from the same policies, or making demands that might benefit you, but not be of utmost importance to others.
Once you understand that, start with an email to the effect of:
Dear [HR rep or manager],
My name is [Your Name], and I’ve worked on the [department] team for [length of time you’ve been at the company]. I’m very passionate about gender equality in the workplace, and I’d love to ask you a few questions about the company’s initiatives around diversity and inclusion. Can I schedule a meeting with you in the next couple of weeks to discuss?
Then when you do get that meeting? Ask about the following:
1. Ask About Equal Pay
Studies show that women are less likely to ask for more money when negotiating for a new job or a promotion. Over time, if not monitored, companies can find themselves in a situation in which men are unintentionally compensated better than women.
Of course, just because it’s unintentional, doesn’t mean it’s OK. To investigate the issue, ask if your employer conducts a compensation analysis regularly, and if so, if they would feel comfortable sharing some of those learnings with the larger company (as well as discussing the plan for making adjustments, if there’s an issue). This analysis should compare compensation across levels, functions, and demographics within your company as well as with market data to ensure women are receiving fair and equal pay.
Another option is to ask the person who leads recruiting at your company if they do compensation benchmarking for the salary range set for a position before they start looking for candidates. If the company makes sure the budget set for the position is in line with the market before the job’s posted, it can reduce the likelihood that a woman hired into a role would be under-market as soon as she starts.
2. Ask if They’ll Invest in Sexual Harassment Training
People hear the term “harassment” and automatically think of very serious and litigious cases, but women can often face subtler forms of sexual harassment that make them feel both uncomfortable and scared.
For example, things like a late-night text with a compliment and an invite to meet for a drink, the wink that’s included in every new assignment email, or the kiss on the cheek your boss gives you when greeting you or handing you an award. Most of the time women stay quiet, endure it, and often just leave the company when they can’t take it anymore. That’s not fair—and most companies would agree it’s not right.
So, ask HR to invest in sexual harassment training. Even better, ask around if any of your friends at other companies have consultants they’ve used for this type of training that they think have a modern and effective approach. You'll not only be helping your company save some time, but you’ll also show how serious you are about the topic while demonstrating that you’re a partner in finding a solution.
3. Ask How They Support Women With Children
Many women battle with the question of what to put first: career or family. And often this is because they’re working in an environment that doesn’t seem very supportive of parents. Ask your HR department how your company supports women who are planning to have children, who have recently returned to work, or who are established mothers.
You can suggest things like (or even offer to help with!) the following:
- Offering expecting mothers a guide for what to consider before going out on maternity leave and what to do when returning
- Providing paid maternity leave for all or part of six months
- Creating a return-to-work transition plan to help them gradually enter back into the workforce, ensuring there is a proper, legally compliant lactation room with a refrigerator
- Starting a support group for new moms to meet, share stories, and swap resources
- Encouraging your company to offer a variety of times when company or team socializing happens (for example, if socializing only happens after 6 PM, parents have fewer opportunities to build relationships with their team or boss)
4. Ask That Managers Complete Inclusivity Training
Encourage your company (or even just your department head) to build out manager training programs that outline the importance of creating inclusive team environments that are free of assumptions and biases.
For example, some leaders assume mothers wouldn’t want to be considered for a big assignment or a promotion, or that women who don’t have children don’t mind staying late in a meeting while they watch their colleague get dismissed to leave because they have to do school pick-up. These are certainly not true in many cases, and making these assumptions can be dangerous for women’s advancement, not to mention overall team morale. Management training can help people become more aware of their unconscious biases.
5. Ask for Equal Access to Career Opportunities
For various reasons, women can feel as if they’re not given the same important, high-profile assignments as their male counterparts, that they’re not given the credit they deserve for the work they contributed to a group project, or that they’re not being tapped for the more senior role.
As your company if they’ve recognized this dynamic at play among their own workers and, if so, how they’re being proactive in fixing the situation. If they’re not, you might suggest things like:
- Starting a women’s leadership network in your organization so women at all levels can support one another and share resources
- Encouraging your company to post jobs internally before externally to ensure interested employees have an opportunity to apply
- Asking leaders at the company to consider this question when they have opportunities to assign high-profile assignments: Are there any talented women we haven’t given a chance to yet?
In an ideal world, more companies would conduct surveys asking questions about real issues employees care about and tackle any serious issues inhibiting people’s comfort and satisfaction head on. However, that process is time consuming, and some companies simply don’t have the resources to make that a priority.
If that’s the case, it could mean that if you take the initiative, you could start to make changes. While you can’t ensure all women are paid the same as men, you can start support groups, help educate people on how things like bias works, and start these tough conversations so that if and when resources become available, the company’s ready to go.