7 Strategies to Help Managers Foster Workplace Inclusion and Advocate for the Women in Their Organisation

International Women's Day 2024, themed "Inspiring Inclusion," calls on all of us to continue to champion diversity and create a more equitable world. Despite progress in recent years, women remain underrepresented in leadership positions and face unique barriers in the workplace. While big-picture organisational changes are necessary, individual actions have the power to create ripples of positive impact. So, as a manager, how can you foster a work environment where everyone in your team feels valued, respected, and empowered to thrive? In this article, we share 7 helpful strategies…

  1. Manage with Empathy & Understanding

Building an authentic culture of inclusion goes beyond just actions; it requires fostering a genuine connection with your team members and colleagues. Empathy plays a big role in this. You can cultivate empathy by actively listening to their concerns, experiences, and unique perspectives. Seek to understand their individual challenges and aspirations, demonstrating genuine interest in their professional and personal wellbeing.

Where possible, offer flexible solutions and support systems that address your team’s diverse needs, whether it's managing childcare responsibilities, embracing cultural differences, or providing accommodations for gendered differences such as breastfeeding or menopause. Remember, a manager who leads with empathy creates a safe space for everyone to thrive, unleashing the full potential of their diverse team.

  1. Nurture Wellbeing for All

Beyond professional development, prioritising the wellbeing of your team is crucial for creating a truly inclusive environment. Encourage healthy work-life boundaries by respecting personal time and discouraging excessive overtime. If available, promote flexible work arrangements that allow individuals to manage their personal commitments without compromising their work performance and vice versa.

Foster a culture of open communication where people feel comfortable discussing mental health concerns and accessing support resources like employee assistance programmes (coaching, counselling, resources, etc. Happy and healthy team members are more likely to be engaged, productive, and innovative, contributing to a successful work environment for everyone.

  1. Be a Visible Advocate

Championing diversity and inclusion requires both awareness and action. Advocate for your female team members and foster an environment where all voices are valued. In meetings and conversations, politely challenge biased language and assumptions, showcasing the value of diverse perspectives. Actively listen to female colleagues, celebrate their achievements publicly, and nominate them for awards and promotions. True advocacy involves fair representation in project teams and leadership roles. Be the one who speaks up for equitable distribution of tasks and access to trainings and career advancements, hopefully creating a ripple effect of positive change and empowering your team, and those working with them.

  1. Foster Psychological Safety

Psychological safety refers to an environment where your team members can feel safe taking interpersonal risks, such as speaking up, sharing ideas, and expressing differing opinions. As a manager, you can create this safety by continually demonstrating that everyone’s perspectives are heard and valued. This will empower your team to continue to share without fear of negative consequences to their self-image or career.

By encouraging open communication, active listening, and empathy, those you manage can enjoy a culture of trust, collaboration, innovation, amongst one another – adding to their overall sense of wellbeing.

  1. Sponsor a Future Leader

Identify high-potential female talent in your team and become their advocate. This could mean connecting them with mentors, offering career guidance, helping them to expand their network, putting them up for training, and providing opportunities for them to gain experience and to raise their profile within the organisation. As a manager, you can share your knowledge and experience, helping them navigate career challenges and develop their own leadership skills.

  1. Advocate for Fair Opportunities

Pay attention to potential biases in project assignments, training opportunities, and performance evaluations. Ensure objective criteria are used, and actively champion female team members for challenging projects and leadership roles. This may involve proactively nominating them for such opportunities, highlighting their skills, expertise and contributions to the team and organisation as a whole. Where possible, be a voice within your team and organisation that actively contributes to creating a workplace that values fairness, equality, and opportunity for all team members, regardless of gender.

  1. Lead by Example

It all starts with you - whatever your gender. Your contribution to an inclusive team has to start from genuinely wanting equal opportunities for all – not just because it’s something you ‘should’ do. As such, be mindful of your own conscious or unconscious biases and actively work to mitigate them. There are many different trainings you can take part in to begin or continue this work, which you can also encourage your team to do. Demonstrate that inclusivity isn’t a passive belief or value, but one that requires intention and action. Look for opportunities where you can model and practise inclusive behaviours in your day-to-day interactions, valuing diverse perspectives and fostering a collaborative work environment.