In this piece I'm choosing to address CEO's directly, because everywhere I coach (but especially in the corporate sector) women tell me the same thing: they feel that no matter how many inclusivity mandates and diversity trainings their companies provide, the C-suite is out of touch with with is actually happening on the ground. Some of these women have described a deep distrust of their companies' motives, in part because their CEO's do not demonstrate a knowledge of, or regard for, the very issues that they claim to be addressing, nor do they behave in ways that promote real change. The following is based on the feedback I've gotten from scores of women that I’ve worked with directly, and although it contains only 5 examples, there are many more. I hope you find it helpful. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments, or email me for further consultation: email@example.com
1) Participate in the exact same unconscious bias and diversity trainings as your employees. Learn the language and behavioral methods of inclusivity, and practice them wherever you go (even in your personal life!). Don’t just talk the talk: walk the walk! Demonstrate that you are just as accountable for your words and actions as any other employee. Don’t stop there: think of it as a life-long learning process. Your commitment could start a genuine revolution, and you could help change your entire company culture for the better.
2) Know and understand your HR's effect on women and women-identified people. If HR is in a habitual defensive crouch then you cannot expect women to feel supported, or to trust HR to help out if they are made to feel unsafe in the workplace. Work with coaches and consultants who can help build a genuine bridge between HR and your company's female work force. The goal is to change the relationship from antagonistic to amenable, or at least receptive. Make it clear to all that this is the new mandate. If the entire company knows that HR is women's ally, you might actually prevent a whole host of problems before they start.
3) Commit to 50% women and women-identified panelists at conferences. It’s utterly ridiculous to claim that your company values women and believes in workplace equality if you can’t produce an equal number of them to speak at these events. This may seem like "someone else's problem", but if you make it your own mission you can have a serious effect on the status, aspirations, and productivity of the women in your company. Stand up for your valuable female employees, and mandate the change that you (and they!) wish to see in the world.
4) Ask women *directly* what they need to feel seen, heard, and valued at work. Don’t just rely on reports and executive summaries compiled by others. Gather your own information. Block out a period of time on your calendar for "open-door" sessions with any women who want to talk to you. Make this a yearly habit, and take it seriously. While it's true that some (perhaps many) women will be intimidated, there will be a group that will show up and talk about some vital points that you could otherwise miss. NOTE: this action should not replace anonymous surveys, which are crucial for amassing data and giving your company a sense of how best to serve women. Use both actions in tandem with each other, and take time to study the results thoroughly.
5) And lastly (though it should always be first), speak up against sexism and misogyny in your own life. Don’t underestimate the powerful effect you can have on the lives of your wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and friends. Letting them know you stand by them, and helping to further the cause of political, social, and economic equality in their lives on a daily basis is one of the most rewarding actions you can take. Actively working for these things will be part of the legacy that you leave behind. Take it seriously, and remember to keep learning!