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Gender Equality in the Workplace | Advice from Author, Dr. Patti Fletcher

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A photograph of a woman in a yellow sweater leading a team meeting to represent gender equality in the workplace.

Women are making strides in the workforce, in society, and in the world. Between the high-profile court cases, collective marches, and social media campaigns to sound the alarm about gender discrimination, women everywhere have been fighting for their equal rights.

Unfortunately, achieving gender equality in the office is a goal women have yet to achieve. Women make about 83 cents for every dollar a man makes, and for women of color, that gap is even wider. And although women make up the majority of the staff in the nonprofit world, less than half are in leadership positions at their organizations.

The World Economic Forum’s prediction for when the gender pay gap will finally be closed is a whopping 132 years from now...yikes.

Luckily, for women and our allies, there are things we can do to make working and volunteering in the social-impact sector more equitable. According to Dr. Patti Fletcher, a gender equality advocate and author of "Disrupters: Success Strategies from Women who Broke the Mold," anyone can challenge the system to create their own success story.

The advice Dr. Fletcher offers is practical and easy enough to implement on a daily basis, whether you’re an intern, a mid-career manager, or a top-level president or director. The culture isn’t going to shift overnight, she says, so it’s important we learn how to work within the current system to pave our own paths toward achieving gender equality in the workplace.

Create your tribe

One common thread that weaves together most successful women is how they network, Dr. Fletcher points out. She says it’s important to distinguish the different ways in which men and women network for career advancement. When men network, she notes, it’s more likely that they will meet someone and immediately ask them for advice or mentorship. But this may not be the best approach for women, since we are often more focused on relationships.

“Women understand that we don’t get to the finish line alone,” she says. “It doesn’t look like a traditional network. It is made up of relationships you cultivated over years and years.”

She advises that women create their own tribe of other women and allies. Chances are, you probably already have some sort of tribe. You may not even think of them as folks who can help with career advancement, but rather as friends with whom you’ve built relationships over the years. But the reality is that this is your network, and who you should look to when you want to ask for help, get your foot in the door, or find a new career.

When you are asking for help from your tribe or offering help to others, Dr. Fletcher urges you to think of it as advocating, not as mentoring. There is a difference between providing advice to someone or standing up for them when they’re not in the room. We all need to work on asking for the latter, she says.

Write your own story

When it comes to success and work-life balance, it’s important to come up with your own definitions, Dr. Fletcher says. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The traditional view of success—climbing the career ladder to the top—doesn’t have to be your end goal. For one person, working a part-time job and raising a family can equal success. For someone else, it could mean volunteering for one organization over a period of several years.

Creating work-life balance is similar, she adds. It may look a lot more integrated than you would expect, and it may look different from woman to woman or family to family. Dr. Fletcher says she interviewed one woman who knew she couldn’t stop working earlier in the day, so she changed their family’s schedule to have dinner together every night at 8:00 p.m. That might seem strange to some, but it worked for her and it allowed her to spend time on her career and with her family as well.

“Women have to make their own rules,” she says.

Challenge the status quo

If you learn that you’re making less money than a male coworker or if you get passed up for a promotion you deserve, don’t ignore it. It’s important to bring up your concern with your supervisor immediately, as hard as that may be.

“Most women tend to internalize and ask: ‘Is it me? What’s wrong with me?’,” says Dr. Fletcher.

Instead of blaming yourself for not getting that raise, try to neutralize the situation and look at it with less emotion. When you confront your boss, do so with a rational argument based on facts and data.

Your boss may be making decisions based on unconscious bias, and the best way to challenge that is to inform them right away that their decision is not rooted in the facts. If you were passed up for a promotion or raise, for example, give them details about your recent achievements and remind them of your educational background and experience.

When you’re negotiating salary at a new job, she says it’s important to be upfront and ask your hiring manager directly what they will do to ensure you’re being paid the same amount and given the same opportunities for advancement as your co-workers. As scary as those questions seem, Dr. Fletcher says that asking them can help set the right tone from the very beginning.

Pro Tip: Find out what other social-impact professionals are earning with our Nonprofit Salary Explorer. Discover what you should be getting paid, and find resources on how to advocate for yourself at work.


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About the Author | Samantha Fredrickson has worked in communications and nonprofit advocacy for more than a decade. She has spent much of her career advocating for the rights of vulnerable populations. She has degrees from the University of Nevada, Reno and New York Law School.

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