How to Actually Empower Women Professionally
We’ve had women’s marches, strikes, Equal Pay Day and all kinds of other fruitless endeavors that purport to help women. Frankly, they don’t do a damn thing other than generate what I call R.O.E. (return on ego) on social media for their participants.
If you truly want to help more women be professionally successful, there are tangible, everyday attitudes and action steps that both men and women can take. Here are some of my top suggestions (as someone who is both technically a woman and generally professionally successful).
1. Think of women not as women, but as people.
A gentleman who ran a tech company recently sincerely asked on Twitter how he could better support women. As I noted there, the first step is to stop thinking of them as women and to think of them as people. Then, support them in the same way that you would support any other colleagues, junior staff and connections.
This includes — whether you are male or female — networking with women and providing formal and informal mentoring. This means that if there’s a job someone is are qualified for, alert her about it. If you have a say in the hiring process or a connection that does, recommend her for it.
Nurture a woman’s career the same way you would a man’s.
And, if you are female, don’t let your genetics create your narrative. Focus on your own actions. Don’t let the gender of one of your peers be a metric for your evaluation of networking opportunities, camaraderie, etc. This may sound obvious, but unfortunately to many, it isn’t and bears repeating.
2. Embrace self-advocacy.
Many successful people get ahead by advocating for themselves. Others lament self-promotion, but if you aren’t willing to advocate for yourself, how can you expect anyone else to do so?
So, if you aren’t getting paid enough and don’t speak up and ask for more, that’s on you. It also means caring more about your accomplishments and taking care of your goals and needs than being liked.
For men (and women!), this means not judging women with different standards for self-advocacy, competitiveness, aggressiveness or career goals.
3. Stop pushing false or misleading narratives.
The equal pay narrative is a proven myth that compares compensation from women and men in different professions, not in the same profession. When Marissa Meyer’s replacement was named, there was a story about her salary being less than his, conveniently not looking at total compensation (that she received hundreds of millions in total compensation, including salary, stock compensation, etc.) and that she didn’t do a particularly notable job.
There certainly are issues that hold women back in the workplace, but pushing false narratives is akin to the boy who cried wolf and diminishes attention on real issues and solutions.
4. Learn how to shake hands.
As a woman in business myself, I have shaken a lot of hands. I’ve used a handshake to greet someone new, to say goodbye after a long meeting, to congratulate someone on a job well done and to tell someone to move on or go away in a polite manner. At any rate, a handshake is a critical part of business.
I’m sure I will get flak from saying this, but it’s the truth: A lot of women don’t know how to shake hands properly at all and a lot of men don’t know how to properly shake hands with women. Often, a male and female will shake hands with one person taking their right palm to the other person’s palm with their thumbs overlapping, the man grabs the woman’s fingers above the knuckles and lightly holds those upper fingers in his hands in a way that make her palm and wrist flap out, so that her hand looks like an upside-down “V.” Whenever this happens to me, it feels as if my hand is a wet rag and the other person is lightly shaking it to remove a few drops of wetness.
Women are just as guilty. Whether shaking hands with a man or another women, often, they offer part of their hand for a partial shake, which is worse than no shake at all.
While you don’t need to crush every bone in the other person’s hand, make sure you grasp the whole thing, regardless if you are male or female. You can do as firm a shake as you are comfortable with, but even easing up on the pressure doesn’t require a new form or method. You can even add your left hand into the mix if you want to signify an additional level of warmth, but keep the skin of your palm pressed against their hand.
This may sound trivial, but impressions are formed on both sides in a greeting and perception becomes reality. If you are acting like or treated like a delicate flower in your shake, that sets the tone for what follows.
Related: 11 Habits of Truly Happy People
5. Accept people’s differences.
Finally, let’s remember that we all have different definitions for success. For some people, family accomplishments are more important than professional ones and deserve extra focus. There are also some that judge contributions to a team and seeing projects succeed as more important than individual compensation or title. There are others that frankly don’t want the stress and responsibility that comes with climbing to the CEO position.
All of this is ok, as our individual success should be measured by our individual goals and objectives. There may always be a differential in the types of jobs that men and women take and how they approach them. If this is consistent with what each individual wants for their own measure of success, that’s not anyone else’s business to judge.
For the times when your desires don’t match reality, though, come back to this list to help to support, empower and advance women based on merit, not on social judgments.