Sarah Schott is chief compliance officer at Northwestern Mutual. Sarah is passionate about leadership and helping women grow their careers.
Every time we turn on the news lately, it seems someone else is being accused of inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace. This is a pivotal moment, as women who have been victimized now feel empowered to come forward. And in this moment, men might be wondering how to support their female co-workers.
Here are three things you can start doing today to help the women you work with.
STOP THE INTERRUPTIONS
An often cited study from George Washington University found that in meetings, a woman is 33 percent more likely to be interrupted by a man in the room than one of her male peers is. The next time you’re in a meeting, watch for it and make sure anyone who is interrupted gets their chance to finish.
I saw this happen recently during a nonprofit board meeting. One of the female board members was halfway through her comment when a male board member cut her off and went in a different direction. When he wrapped up, I spoke up and said, “I don’t think Mary got a chance to complete her comments. I’d like to go back to her and hear the rest of what she has to say.” I caught the eye of another woman in the room after my statement. She knew what had happened and signaled her appreciation that Mary hadn’t been railroaded.
GIVE CREDIT WHERE IT’S DUE
There’s something else that often happens to women in meetings. She shares an idea, and it gets ignored. Later in the meeting, a man comes back to that same idea and then, suddenly, everybody pays attention to it. You can watch out for this in meetings, and give credit where credit is due. Say, "Oh, yeah! That's the point that Michelle made a half hour ago. Michelle, is there anything else you would add?"
It might feel a little risky to stick your neck out, but you'll inspire appreciation and loyalty from your peers.
CALL OUT BAD BEHAVIOR
If you witness someone making an inappropriate comment or acting in an inappropriate manner, say something to that person at the time. While it might be scary for you to speak up, it’s probably even harder for a woman — especially in a group setting — to single out one man and say he made her uncomfortable. Men can make a big difference if they step in and say something like, "You know, you probably didn't mean it to come across that way, but that joke isn't appropriate for the workplace."
It might feel a little risky to stick your neck out like this. But it’s the right thing to do, and you'll inspire appreciation and loyalty from your peers, particularly the women around you.
When women feel more confident, included and respected in the workplace, they'll do better work. And that’s a win for everyone.