Navigating today’s work environment, especially in trades like automotive repair, brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities. With women representing a mere 1% of employees in skilled trade positions, and a hefty portion of the workforce heading towards retirement, it’s vital to open our doors and create spaces where women can thrive. But how do we actually shape more women-friendly workplaces?
The key might be simpler than we think: make workplaces genuinely welcoming for all. Here’s how.
Lean Into Listening for Better, More Women-Friendly Workplaces
Embracing genuine listening can transform our workplaces into spaces where everyone feels valued and seen. It is a fundamental building block of psychological safety – the experience of feeling included and safe to speak up, disagree openly and communicate concerns without fear of repercussions. It’s also a business imperative, because research shows that psychologically safe workplaces are safer, more productive, more profitable, and more attractive to top talent.
Resist Premature Solutions: It’s crucial to resist the urge to jump in with solutions too quickly. Affording someone your full attention and really hearing them out communicates respect and value. This approach builds trust, gets to the root of challenges, and increases both the quality of solutions created and the buy-in of those who need to implement them.
Make All Voices Count: Research shows that women tend to speak less than men in work environments, are interrupted more often, and are less likely to get credit for the ideas they present. These experiences cause women to feel undervalued and, over time, can cause them to contribute less. This directly impacts the bottom line as organizations with greater gender (and other) diversity are more productive, have higher profits and are more innovative. Ensure every person feels equally heard and valued can be as simple as a nod, asking a follow-up question, or taking time to call on everyone to contribute in a meeting. You will be pleasantly surprised with the insights they add.
Encourage Curiosity over Criticism
Think of curiosity as a tool for understanding your people and your business. When you turn on your curiosity, it sheds light on both problems and opportunities, allowing you to see the root causes vs. just the symptoms. Criticism turns off the flashlight. Constant criticism creates a fearful environment where people opt to keep quiet. This keeps you in the dark and leads to poor decisions and recurring frustrations. Adopting a curious mindset, particularly when facing challenges, not only untangles issues but also uplifts the team.
Embrace Mistakes as Learning Opportunities: Responding to errors with curiosity instead of blame underscores the value of learning together through challenges. When mishaps occur, adopting a posture of curiosity rather than blame transforms a potentially negative experience into a collaborative problem-solving session. It signifies that you value the learning process, acknowledging that errors can be springboards for innovation and collective growth.
Empower Collective Problem-Solving: Involving the team in problem-solving doesn’t just find you a solution; it cultivates a culture of ownership and accountability where your team feels invested in and committed to the outcomes. It helps to have a process for involving your team in problem-solving. This can be as simple as a five-minute team brainstorm at the morning staff meeting, or as robust as our Result of Note™ Systems Thinking training programs that walk teams through how to identify, prioritize, and address core recurring issues that are dragging down team wellbeing and company profits.
Prioritize Relationships to Improve Results
The secret to achieving great results lies in placing the building and nurturing of relationships above all else. Leaders who invest time and energy to get to know their people, understand their strengths, motivations, and challenges, and form a connection built on mutual respect and appreciation will always have higher performing teams than those who don’t.
Address the A**holes: The most important thing you can do to build a welcoming workplace is to put an end to toxic behaviours like angry outbursts, complaining, gossip, and other forms of disrespectful communication. This starts with you. Many leaders are quick to identify that their team does this stuff but are surprised to discover that they do it as well. Awareness is the first step. Email info@kyoseiconsulting with the subject line “toxic behaviour checklist” if you want to see how well you and your team are doing in this area.
Promote Friendship and Trust: Fostering friendships among team members enhances communication and collaboration, nurturing a more harmonious and productive work environment. Those company barbecues and social outings might not be directly work related, but they are an important tool for building those personal bonds of trust and connection that make people more likely to cut each other some slack when mistakes are made or have their backs when they’re struggling. Trust is also crafted through consistent, truthful interactions. Leaders can model this by being willing to acknowledge their own mistakes and weaknesses and by being willing to tackle the tough stuff in a timely and tactful manner.
Remember Their Humanity
Because you’re dealing with people, not machines, it’s important to remember that true equality comes from treating people differently, not treating them the same. Picture three people standing at a fence that separates them from a football field. One is 7 feet tall, one is 4 feet tall, and one is two feet tall. To give each of them (and those around them) equal ability to enjoy the football game, one needs a chair (so they don’t block the view of those behind them), one needs a small brick to stand on, and one needs a large crate to stand on.
Ensure Basic Needs Are Met: Taking care of fundamental human needs signals basic respect for the team’s everyday needs and comfort. Male-dominated environments can sometimes be blind to some of the basic needs of women. A manufacturing company I know of, for example, was suffering from production line stoppages because they had no women’s washroom in the manufacturing building. Once they installed a women’s washroom in the manufacturing building, productivity soared.
In what ways might you not be paying attention to people’s basic needs? Is everyone on the team aware of allergies and dietary needs and are those accommodated in team events? Do people who need to do things like insulin injections or pump breast milk have an appropriate place to do so? Do you have proper repositories for sanitary napkins in the washrooms? When these seemingly small things are absent, people can feel unseen and unvalued.
Support Flexibility: Supporting a balance between professional commitments and personal lives demonstrates that you value them as people, not just profit centers. A respected and balanced personal life also has business benefits as it tends to translate into enhanced professional commitment. Not all workplaces can offer the kind of work life integration that COVID demanded of us all, but find ways to create flexibility for different schedules is particularly important for women, as research shows that they still tend to carry a larger percentage of the work of caring for children, aging parents, and general household management.
Know Them to Grow Them
According to the Gallup Organization’s well-researched employee engagement framework, two of the key questions that determines whether your people are just “phoning it in” or giving it their all is, “Does someone at work care about me as a person?” and “Does someone at work encourage my development?” These two questions go together, because you need to know your people to grow your people.
Understand What Makes Them Tick: One of the most powerful practices you can implement to support this is doing regular “Coffee Catch Ups” with your people. Ideally you want to do these at least once per quarter if you have a larger team, but having them on a monthly basis for smaller teams is recommended. During this time, your goal is to NOT talk about work. You want to get to know them as a human being, not a human doing.
We have a list of questions that you can ask in these regular connection sessions, but it can be as simple as “How was your weekend?”, “What’s your kid up to these days?”, “How are you enjoying the choir you joined?” We’ve had leaders report massive transformations in their “problem” employees simply from having one of these truly human conversations. Why do they work? Because, as Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Support Lateral and Personal Development: The more you get to know your people as human beings, the easier it becomes to develop them. Knowing your people’s values and strengths allows you to delegate projects to them that match their talents, morph their job responsibilities to better complement themselves and their other team members, and support them to address goals and challenges outside of work that will help them be more powerful and present at work. In small businesses, where there are limited formal opportunities for career advancement, this is particularly important. Why? Because the opportunities for personal growth are always unlimited!
Creating a workspace where every individual, especially women, feels recognized and valued requires deliberate practice. Developing the habits of deep listening, curiosity, inclusivity, building trust and growing relationships takes skill. Getting training for yourself and providing training for your team is a great place to start. But because the use of these skills is so deeply ingrained with our own human fears and biases, the biggest pitfall to avoid is a “one and done” approach. You and your people will need ongoing training, coaching, tools and support to create a culture where everyone can truly thrive. Start today by taking steps to embody authentic, empathetic leadership in your daily interactions, but remember that you can’t do it alone. Set aside time soon to plan for building these essential people skills in your entire team and watch your stress levels go down and your profits go up!
If you’re ready to build a business where both people and profits flourish, reach out to us for a free needs assessment. Our team is standing by to identify and support the unique needs of your workplace.