Let’s Talk About Gender Equity: 10 Conversation Starters

One of the best ways to support gender equity is by talking about it with your friends, family, and colleagues. Recently, some of the professionals and MBA students in Forté’s Allies for Gender Equity program have asked for guidance on how to get these conversations started.

To help spark these important discussions, we created the list below — which includes conversation openers, discussion questions, and key topics — to encourage dialogue on both gender equity and allyship.

  1. The broken rung

The “broken rung” refers to a barrier that women face early in their careers: Entry-level women are promoted to manager at much lower rates than men. Missing out on early leadership opportunities makes it much harder for women to rise up the ranks into senior roles. How can allies help early-career women avoid the broken rung and ascend the corporate ladder?

For more information: McKinsey

  1. Women leaders get results

Research shows that companies with more women on their executive team tend to be more successful. Why do you think that is? Are companies that only have male leaders at a disadvantage?

For more information: S&P Global, McKinsey

  1. Gender socialization

Gender socialization is the process of learning about the norms and behaviors associated with being a boy or a girl. As a child, what gender norms did you encounter? If you’re a parent or plan to become one, how do you think your child’s gender will affect your parenting style?

  1. The glass cliff

Research shows that companies in crisis are 50% more likely to appoint women to top leadership positions than companies that aren’t in crisis. Since women may be unlikely to succeed in these circumstances, this phenomenon has been called the “glass cliff.” Why do you think companies in crisis are more likely to put a woman in charge? When do you think is the best time for a company to bring in a woman leader?

For more information: HBR

  1. Gender and interruptions

Researchers found, on average, men interrupt women more than twice within a three-minute conversation. Even on the Supreme Court, women justices are interrupted more than the men. What do you think is the best way to change this?

For more information: The New Republic, HBR

  1. Experience vs. potential

A study of a large American retail chain found that women were 14% less likely to be promoted. Women’s performance was rated higher than men’s on average, but women received lower ratings for potential. The performance evaluations use real-world metrics, while the ratings for potential are more subjective. What stereotypes and bias could be affecting how women are rated on potential? What could companies do to make the promotion process more equitable?

For more information: Yale

  1. Microaggressions

Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional, behaviors that limit the influence of underrepresented people. One example: McKinsey found that compared to white women, Black women are more than three times as likely, and Latinas and Asian women are twice as likely, to hear people express surprise at their language skills or other abilities. If you witness something like this, what do you think is the best way to take action? How could you be an ally to the woman in question?

For more information: McKinsey

  1. Bropriating

In her book, Feminist Fight Club, author Jessica Bennet combined “bro” and “appropriating” to form “bropriating” — a term for when a man repeats a woman’s idea and takes credit for it. What do you think is the best action to take when you see this happen? How would you respond if it happened to you?

For more information: Feminist Fight Club

  1. The motherhood penalty

Research shows that companies are less likely to hire mothers compared to women who don’t have children. If a company does hire a mother, they typically offer her a lower salary than they offer other women. This is known as the “motherhood penalty.” Fathers don’t experience this; in fact, there’s evidence that they receive a “fatherhood bonus” instead. What do you think is the best way for mothers to ensure that they are paid fairly? What steps could a company take to avoid this type of wage discrepancy?

For more information: AAUW

  1. The double bind women face at work
    Society has different expectations for women and for leaders, and that puts women leaders in a challenging place, often described as a “double bind.” Women in senior-level roles often feel pressure to be warm and compassionate while also demonstrating that they are competent, authoritative leaders. Think of a woman leader you’ve worked with. How did she navigate these expectations? Did she face more criticism than her male colleagues?
    For more information: HBR

Having conversations about gender equity is just the beginning. We hope that talking about — and thinking about — these issues will inspire you to take action. Find more ways to get involved on the Forté Allies for Gender Equity website.

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