We Need More Open Conversations About Gender Equality in the Workplace

by Brigitte Hackler - Sr. Financial Analyst

Three takeaways from our first Blue Angels Summit

Recently High Alpha hosted the Blue Angels Summit, an event to bring both men and women together to talk about gender diverse teams and build a culture of male allies who support women in the workplace. The goal was to create a environment ripe for discussion; where men felt comfortable asking questions, women could share stories, and all were open to talking about their experiences in a productive way.

The topic of gender equality at work has been increasingly politicized over the past year in the wake of the #metoo movement, which empowered women to speak up about sexual harassment and other bad behavior in the workplace. There are lots of supportive men who are leaning out of the conversation for fear of unintentionally saying the wrong thing. Men who want to be supportive sometimes don’t know how.

But wow, once our group got comfortable, I was amazed at the level of engagement and meaningful conversations we had. Once the ice was broken and attendees felt they were in a safe environment, we started discussing situations and asking questions that everyone related to but had rarely talked about out loud. It was refreshing and productive. A huge thanks to Julie Kratz of Pivot Point for facilitating the discussion.

We need to figure out how to create more environments like this, where coworkers feel comfortable talking about uncomfortable topics. Even better, we need to create business cultures that promote this kind of comfort and honesty in everyday interactions. Here are three actionable insights we took away from the event:

  1. Ask questions. Listen to honest answers, and practice empathy. One question men can ask their female coworkers, partners, or other women in their lives is “What is it like to be a woman at your company?” Giving women the platform to discuss a topic that otherwise might be an elephant in the room is empowering for women and eye-opening for men.
  2. Be vulnerable and open. Explicitly give your coworkers permission to call out any behavior of yours that makes them uncomfortable. No one has all the answers, and often there’s not one right way to handle any given situation. But this openness and respectful critique will build stronger, trusting teams. Women often put up with behaviors in the workplace that taken individually aren’t a big deal, but repeated over time get old; things like being interrupted or receiving less eye contact. It’s hard to promote change if we aren’t conscious of these behaviors and don’t call them out.
  3. Be aware. Awareness and getting comfortable talking about topics like this is the first step toward change. It’s 2018, and just 2% of VC dollars went to female founders last year (PitchBook), and only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. No question, it’s hard to build a diverse team — it requires a lot of effort and intention. But being aware of what your current diversity stats are, being comfortable talking about the topic, and working to expand your network are starting points.

As a side note, “gender diversity” is certainly a buzz phrase right now, but these takeaways can and should be applied to other types of diversity, too. Building cultures that support and empower all minorities not only leads to more diverse thinking and building better businesses, but it’s just the right thing to do.

Open communication is key — if you have other ideas or tips about how to create these types of environments and cultures please comment below, I’d love to hear more!

Thanks to all that attended our first Blue Angels Summit!