What you need to start doing to level the playing field between male and female professionals ─AFP PHOTO
What you need to start doing to level the playing field between male and female professionals ─AFP PHOTO

This article was originally published on 8 March, 2017.

Yes, women have made great strides in the workplace in recent years but let's be honest, inequality still persists.

Gender equality in the professional environment can only be achieved when employees can access and enjoy the same opportunities and rewards regardless of their gender.

An inclusive workplace is still far from the norm but the good news is, if you're willing to walk the talk, there's a lot you can do to improve equality and reap the benefits of diversity.

For starters, men have to step up, check their male privilege and become an ally for women. On the face of it, it may not seem like women have been given the short end of the stick in the professional realm but if you examine things more intimately, you'll see how deep the disparity runs when you start picking up on little things like how women hesitate to step up and take on more responsibility because they're scrutinized much more than men.

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That being said, internalized sexism also exists; a growing body of research confirms that women are just as likely as men to show sexism toward women in hiring practices, salaries and professional mentorship. So here are some practical tactics for men AND women to consider:

1) Ask your female colleagues for their opinion frequently.

It's important that a healthy dialogue exists between you and your female colleagues. Too often, women only speak exclusively to other women about any new ideas they may have or even just to share their opinion.

Sometimes, entitlement may lead you to believe that your opinion is the only one that matters but we all have our biases and admitting we have them is the first and best step to being more open, objective and accepting.

Just including women in more discussions, whether they're in the board room or lunch room, is a small step to achieving a more balanced workplace environment.

2) Don't engage in sexist 'locker room talk'.

It's time to lock up the locker room and throw away the key.

Despite your best efforts, you might still be guilty of sexism if you take part in "harmless" locker room talk about your female colleagues.

A survey conducted in the UK saw 52% cite sexual harassment at work as a problem and also found a third had been subjected to unwelcome jokes and a quarter experienced unwanted touching.

Sexual innuendos and comments, or sexually suggestive jokes are a big no-no; there's no grey area here, it IS harassment. To foster a healthier work environment, it's essential that you treat your female colleagues with respect and dignity.

3) If you spot a male colleague interrupting a female colleague in a meeting, ask him to stop.

Yes, it's a depressing fact but the manterruption is real.

A 2014 study at the George Washington University showed that when men were talking with women, they interrupted 33 percent more often than when they were conversing with men.

Even if you don't do it yourself but have observed other male colleagues doing it, step in. Tell them to evaluate why they do so; are they interrupting to get clarity or are they interrupting to gain power?

When women speak up in the workplace, they're walking a tightrope of sorts. We're either barely heard, interrupted or signed off as too aggressive or overbearing, which is why women end thinking saying less is more. To foster gender equality, it is time men acknowledge that women not only possess the skill set needed to thrive in the corporate arena but also the right vocal chords.

4) Don't expect your female colleagues to make tea, manage staff lunches or take on traditionally 'female' roles.

When there's a birthday at the office, don't just turn to the women with blank faces to cut you a slice of cake.

In workplaces around the world, we keep up with these gender stereotypes in which men are career-driven and ambitious and women are expected to be domesticated and nurturing.

Someone has to take charge, serve on committees and plan office lunches — and just like with housework at home, that someone is usually a woman. Having both men and women take on these duties is key to organizational success; this is not just our burden to bear.

We've seen that men love to speak up so why not use your voice to draw attention to the contributions women make to your workplace? As long as women keep doing these things, they'll be expected to do them so how about men start with lending a helping hand and smash these sexist roles?

5) Acknowledge women's formal designations.

A woman could be at the top of the corporate pipeline but men will still have a hard time acknowledging she's in charge.

It's no secret that it irks men when women are in a position of authority and that comes out in different passive aggressive ways. After working long and hard to reach a position of seniority, a woman deserves not to be treated like a blooming teen.

Treat women like you would treat any of your other male peers and if she's your boss, address her with respect.

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