Fostering an environment where all employees feel included and respected starts with making sure everyone feels safe. That means communicating that sexual harassment is not acceptable and reviewing and handling reports of harassment promptly and decisively. Too few employees believe that their company does both, despite the importance of getting these basics right.
Beyond that, there is a great deal companies can do to promote an inclusive, supportive, and civil culture. This would benefit everyone. Although women deal with more everyday slights and disrespectful behavior than men, 58% of all employees experience some type of microaggression, suggesting that incivility is too common at work.
Companies should develop clear guidelines for what collegial and respectful behavior looks like—as well as unacceptable and uncivil behavior. To be treated seriously, these guidelines must be supported by a clear reporting process and swift consequences for disrespectful behavior. Companies should also hold periodic refreshers to drive the guidelines home and make sure all employees understand them. Steps like these have an impact on employee satisfaction and retention. Both women and men who believe that disrespectful behavior toward women is often quickly addressed at their company are happier in their roles and less likely to think about leaving. Not surprisingly, this has a bigger positive impact on women: they are 44% less likely to think about leaving their company, compared to 17% of men.
For change to happen, managers need to step in early when they see problematic behavior and model the right behavior themselves. When managers regularly challenge gender-biased language and behavior, women are significantly happier and more likely to stay. Yet just over a quarter of employees say their managers typically do this, and less than half of managers say they’ve received the unconscious bias training needed to get this right.
The quality of the training also matters: it’s good to educate managers broadly on bias, but it’s even better to dig into specifics and cover more subtle or complex instances of bias. Training should address how microaggressions work, so managers know what to watch for on their team, and it should cover the concept of intersectionality, so they understand the overlapping and compounding biases that women and others from marginalized groups face. And although managers are critically important, all employees would benefit from this type of training.
It’s also helpful to take a step back and think about how company and team norms might disadvantage certain employees. Work events centered on outdoor activities can leave out employees with different abilities; an expectation that employees are on call nights and weekends can make life harder for working parents; and outings to sporting events can exclude some women.
Finally, companies need to actively encourage and value diversity. That means signaling that diversity is a top priority with action and accountability, seeking out different voices and perspectives, and fostering an inclusive culture where employees can respectfully talk about tricky topics, and where they are expected to actively help in building a better workplace for everyone. And of course, talking the talk on diversity only goes so far unless companies also walk the walk by building diverse teams.