Social capital is key to creating equality for women in the workplace – here’s how

By Anna Kopp, - Employee experienceFuture Workplace

I love my job.

It’s a real privilege to be working in the tech industry, helping drive innovation forward and meeting lots of amazing people along the way. I’m lucky enough to work with so many incredible colleagues – especially women.

Women play a crucial role in the tech industry. And yet often we find it difficult to find women represented equally within our workplaces. The gender pay gap is a continuing struggle, and we still don’t see enough female leadership on the boards of tech firms especially.

This is a subject I’m really passionate about, so lots of people ask me if I have any ideas for a solution.

And I always tell them: yes, I do! At the moment, I am focused on one idea in particular: social capital.

Social capital relates to the way in which your colleagues see you. Do they hold you in high regard? Are you well known for the right things? When you have developed the right social capital, you can leverage it to ensure that all women in the office are heard and valued.

So in this blog post I’m going to talk about why social capital matters, and give some advice on how we can put it to use to make our workplaces better for everybody. Keep reading to find out how you can make a difference!

Three pillars to social capital

In my observation, women get a lot of things right. There are three things in particular that they’re great at: they are smart, well-educated, and work really hard at learning new things.  

But they are lacking one piece of the puzzle. They need to build networks and make themselves and their work visible within their organisation. When managers start looking to select someone for a promotion, they automatically think of someone who is well known, or whose work they have seen and liked.

Being known for your talents doesn’t happen organically. You have to work hard to become the ‘go-to’ person (this is something I have written about on my blog).

It can be difficult for women to find a way to do this, because we are told at a young age: don’t be loud, don’t be bossy. We need to break out of that mould, and be unafraid to shout about our great work.

I find it really hard to – I’m Swedish, and it really is not in our culture to ‘talk up’ our achievements! – but once you make a habit of it, it will have an explosive impact on your career.

What should organisations be doing?

So I’ve spoken about the cultural factors at play in this issue. But what’s the role of the organisation? How can a company generate the cultural change that allows women to break the mould they might have grown up with?

For me, the number one thing an employer should focus on is building an environment where everyone can be heard.

Meetings are a really great example of this. Typically, men are happy to jump in and give their opinion on whatever is being discussed, whereas women tend to wait until they have been invited to speak. This means women have to compete with their male colleagues, and they don’t get a chance to contribute.

To combat this, organisations should foster a meeting culture where you go around the table and take it in turns to add something. This is a more inclusive approach which benefits everyone, since it’s not just women who might struggle with a loud culture, but introverts too.

Managers should take charge of this. If a woman at the table comments, you could call attention to the point she has made by repeating it or agreeing with it (only if you actually agree, of course).

Women in particular have to do this as a way of supporting other women, to help balance the scale towards equality.

What should I be doing?

But what about the individual? Every one of us has a part to play to drive change, just as much as our organisation.

  • Do

For me, the golden rule is: you have to act.

If there’s no women’s network, then set one up. If nobody is talking about equality in your workplace, start the conversation.

Establish a community, and you will find ways to be strong together.

  • Earn social capital – and use it to support other women

In my career so far I have had the privilege of speaking at a few different tech conferences – including my favourite, Fujitsu Forum, where I have delivered a talk two years in a row!

Being visible in this way has had a hugely positive impact on my career. And, perhaps more importantly, it has helped me bring attention to the issues I really care about – equality in the workplace being first among them.

You can do this too, by lifting the women around you. Highlight a point that they have made in a meeting, or shout about the good work they have done.

  • Men are an important part of the conversation

I love seeing panels talking about women in tech (and I love being on them!). But I also think we need to remember something: to create real change, we need to have more than just women in the room.

The key is to look at mixed leadership. Both men and women need to play a part in making the workplace a better environment for women.

After all, it is a shared workplace, and this means we all share in the responsibility to make it more equal. So my third piece of advice: work together with men as you create change.

Women help women to build an equal future

If you take one thing away from this blog post, I hope you remember how important it is for women to use their social capital to support other women in the workplace.

It’s about being strong together, and not about excluding men from important conversations on this issue. It’s definitely not about women making careers at the cost of others. 

When women support women everyone profits. It’s a simple fact. Now employers and employees have to find their best way of making this happen.

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