5 ways female executives can avoid bias, advocate for workplace gender equality

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Last week, I dropped off my two children at their respective schools. It was not unlike any other morning: I am in a suit, makeup and jewelry — possibly a bit more flare due to a stakeholders meeting at 9 a.m. — but nonetheless, I get “the question.” If you are a female executive with children, I am sure you know what is coming: “How do you do it? You always look so nice and put together.”

Well sister, the answer is simple: You just do it. You try and get enough sleep to get up and ready on time; you organize things so that everyone in the household owns their part of the morning routine. Most days it works, and some days it doesn’t.

I’m the mom who shows up to the soccer game in heels and stays only for the first half because I’m running to lunch with a potential client. I’m the boss who makes a conscious commitment to leaving the office early some nights to go home and eat dinner with my family. I’m the wife who surprises my husband with mini staycations so we can spend time together away from work and kids. In other words, I’m a modern female executive with multiple responsibilities.

It’s harder for women to get ahead in business. Women make less money than men in the same jobs and occupy far fewer positions of power. Women face discrimination and harassment in greater numbers, and are held to higher expectations for child-rearing, housekeeping and care-taking alongside their careers. But we can do something about it. To combat stereotypes and trends, here are five things female executives should know to avoid bias and advocate for gender equality in the workplace:

1) “Office housework” or as I like to refer to it: the admin trap. A few weeks ago I sat nodding in agreement while reading Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s article in the New York Times: “Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee.” Women are far more likely to volunteer for training, mentoring and last-minute client requests.

2) The power seat: I recently came across a blog post about where you sit at a meeting and how it affects the room/team, etc. Unconsciously, I have been using the tips for years, but the explanation was fascinating. Since I tend to come off as a decision-maker in control, I have learned that sitting within the group versus at the head of the table is a great tool to avoid “witch” distinction. Read more in Psychology TodayThe power seat - where you sit matters.

3) Join the cause: We must share our voices and join “the cause” by engaging with organizations like 2020 Women on Boards, which provides a myriad of services including consulting and promotion of female leadership. It does matter! Boards of directors make decisions that impact all of us and the lack of diversity in general is shocking. 

4) Work together: The absolutely most embarrassing thing about women in business is that we have a terrible reputation of not helping each other up. Men have done a tremendous job joining together and taking control. That might explain the divide in top corporations where females occupy only 5% of CEO positions. 

5) Embrace change: Get comfortable being uncomfortable. As women, we need to overcome perfectionist tendencies and be more open to rapid change and taking risks. I have practiced this skill for years and it has benefitted me both personally and professionally. I now feel excitement build when a large opportunity rears its head.  Read more in ForbesThe #1 reason women don't get promoted at work.

Krehbiel is the president of ACI Specialty Benefits.

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