In today’s business world, it’s well known that women hold fewer positions of power: As of 2020, women held the majority of jobs in the U.S. workforce for the first time in nearly a decade, but only 33% of women hold senior management positions in the North American sector, with the global percentage of women in senior management roles being 31%. This means that it’s more difficult for women to get a seat at the table for the discussions and decisions that matter.

What is less well known is that even when women get a seat at the table, many find it harder to have their voice heard.  For example, the 2019 “Women In The Workplace” report by McKinsey and Lean In found that women get interrupted 50% of the time in meetings and 38% had experienced others taking credit for their ideas.

The struggle women face to secure senior roles and to be taken seriously within said roles creates an “influence gap.” This gap is costing organizations valuable contributions to decision-making processes at the same time as creating a gender pay gap for women.

The first step toward tackling the influence gap is to recognize that it exists within your organization and understand how it plays out on a daily basis.

When women understand that the challenges they experience in getting their voice heard are due to gender bias rather than a personal lack of credibility, they believe in themselves more. This is because years of experiencing their contributions being undervalued often leads women to doubt themselves and to speak up less.

Delivering gender bias training company-wide can help bring these biases to light and pave the way forward. Recognizing the role of gender bias needs to be a core element of any women’s leadership development program, making it clear that women don’t need to be “fixed;” they need to be recognized and valued for their contributions. Such training programs can play a valuable role in undoing the damage to women’s confidence that gender bias often causes and can help encourage women to develop their own leadership styles, build their relationships with senior stakeholders and prepare for C-level roles.

The Importance of Allyship

When it comes to supporting women in the workplace, male allyship key. When men understand how gender bias plays out in the workplace and are given insights into the actions they can take to create a fairer workplace, change starts to happen. Evidence shows that engaging men in gender equality programs increases the likelihood of success.

Actions from allyship training can include reviewing the feedback that women are given, as the feedback they receive tends to be less actionable and, therefore, less effective at preparing them for leadership positions. Review the language used to describe women’s behavior when giving feedback and be as specific as possible. Encourage women to build their visibility within the organization and take on strategic and higher profile projects.

Organizations can also review how effectively meetings are run. Good chairing of a meeting and clear agendas and questions for consideration beforehand will create a space where women can be heard equally and also allow reflective thinkers the opportunity to contribute in a way that works for them.

Managers can use a fairer system for allocating the “office housework” than asking for volunteers since research shows that women volunteer more (because society expects them to) for such tasks, are asked more often and say yes more than men do. This office housework takes up precious working hours leaving women less time for strategic projects that make them more promotable.

These are just a few examples of small shifts which can make a big difference in bridging the influence gap. They go alongside more systemic changes to provide equality to women in the workplace, such as salary transparency and not asking about salary history when recruiting, offering flexible working for all and taking financial action to close the gender pay gap.

Creating a safe space for women to talk and support each other, such as a women’s network or women-focused training courses can also provide valuable feedback on the particular issues within your organization. Acting on that feedback will be crucial for building trust and retaining your female talent.

If organizations focus on continually making improvements like this, we will start to create workplaces that work effectively for women and close the influence gap.