International Women’s Day: How To Support Your Female Peers

This month on the FDRIVE, we focus on sharing content that celebrates women in homage to International Women’s Day (IWD). 2021’s International Women’s Day theme is #ChooseToChallenge. And what better way to challenge than to bust the stigma that women are always in competition with each other?

As a mother of two daughters and the VP and Partner at an agency of strong, young professionals, who all happen to be female, I know firsthand the value and impact of women supporting women. Listed below are a few of my favourite ways for women to support your female peers:

1. Provide a platform to share their voice.

A recent article in The Washington Post highlights that age-old stereotypes around women who speak up versus men still exist, sadly even today. Those stereotypes influence how women contribute. The article shares research that when women are the sole female in a group of five tasked with making a democratic decision, the women will speak 40 percent less than each of the men.

To combat social conditioning, it is necessary to provide a platform for women’s voices and encourage female colleagues to find and use theirs. Effective ways to do this include asking everyone in a meeting to share their perspective in a round-table style. Another way to foster female contribution is to prep your female colleagues before a meeting or a presentation. This is especially effective with team members that are in early stages of their career. By helping them feel confident and prepared, you set them up for success and show their contributions matter.

2. Be a mentor & an advocate.

Another huge stereotype about women is that we are always in competition with each other. Smash that by being a relentless advocate and mentor to other women you work with. Share your experience, learnings, and network. Introduce your female colleagues to people that have helped you progress in your career or match them with an external mentor that you think will help foster their strengths and expand their horizons. Openly offer learnings from your past that you think will fast-track their own progress. Celebrate their wins and encourage them to take risks without second questioning their worth, ability or position. Advocate for them to ask for the promotion, go for the new project or try something new.

3. Catch them in the FLOW & celebrate their success.

Feedback can be transformative both positively and negatively. The right feedback can help someone home in on their strengths and accelerate development. On the flip side, constructive feedback delivered poorly or perceived as unfair can easily perpetuate a negative spin cycle. To help women colleagues perform to their greatest ability, it is important to focus on the right feedback. When you notice a female colleague do something great, celebrate it and explain why it was excellent. Do it in real-time and do it often. At FAULHABER, we use the Gallup Strengths concept to focus on your natural strengths versus things you need to work on. The more we “catch” good behavior and recognize it, the more we can foster that behaviour and build confidence. The more we find our voice, the louder we sing. Read more on using feedback to help colleagues thrive in this excellent article: The Feedback Fallacy on Harvard Business Review.

4. Encourage risk-taking & being bold.

Failure is a part of life, but for many people, especially women, failure is simply not an option. This is the premise of a fantastic book called “Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder” by Reshma Saujani.

Saujani argues that girls are taught to play it safe, be perfect, and never fail. In comparison, boys are taught to play rough, be tough, take risks, and always get up when they fall. This dichotomy teaches girls to grow into women who are afraid to take risks and fail, while boys grow into men who are not affected by the failure and view risk-taking and bold business moves as part of everyday life. It’s not surprising that boardrooms and political parties are still predominately male.

Failure needs to be reframed so that women accept it as an integral and necessary part of growth. Teach your female colleagues that failing and making mistakes are simply opportunities to learn or a badge of honour for trying something new. Encourage women colleagues to raise their hands, take on challenges and step forward. To best support your female colleagues, you need to create a culture of being bold and taking risks. To read more on this concept, check out our previous post on Saujani’s book and how to foster risk-taking in PR. 

5. Just show up.

Lastly, to help support your female colleagues, it is important to just show up. Be gracious with your time. Physically. Emotionally. Ask questions about how they are doing, what they need and what they see as opportunities. Be curious about what makes them tick or a roadblock they are dealing with at work or home. Build trust by letting them know you always have their back.

Read our #FDRIVE this month for more International Women’s Day.