International Women’s Day 2023: “Why equal opportunities aren’t enough”
Allies help achieve gender equity in the workplace
“Equality is giving everyone a shoe; equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.” ~ Dr. Naheed Dosani, advocate for equitable healthcare
Today is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women, raising awareness against bias, and taking action in support of equity. This year’s IWD theme “Embrace Equity” is especially important as it calls attention to why, in order to advance women, we need both equality and equity.
Equinix is proud to support IWD 2023. As the executive sponsor of our Equinix Women’s Leadership Network (EWLN) and an ally who pushes for the empowerment of women, we want to inspire a conversation about how everyone can collaborate to achieve equity in and out of the workplace.
Equality vs. Equity
Equality strives to give everyone the same opportunity; equity recognizes differences that prevent equal outcomes with the same opportunity. While equality and equity get used interchangeably, they are inherently different concepts.
Equality assumes we are all starting from the same place with the same shared experiences, background and privilege and that by providing access and support equally, everyone will have equal opportunity for success. Equity accounts for the fact that not everyone starts from the same place with the same privilege of access and support, which can create significant disadvantages, making it more difficult to achieve the same goals. This difference is subtle, is often misunderstood and stands in the way of providing real access to opportunity. Equity removes the barriers that get in the way of people’s ability to thrive.
Everyone starts from a different place, so how do learn how to spot inequity? How do we raise awareness? How can we help forge positive change?
Allies are necessary to drive equity
Here’s how The Great Place to Work organization describes allyship: “Allyship in the workplace means using your personal privilege to support colleagues from historically marginalized communities. Allies wield their influence to amplify the voices and elevate the employee experience of their underrepresented coworkers.”
Women are a truly diverse group and not all policies and practices benefit all women equally. Women of color, LGBTQ+, disabled and economically challenged are often disadvantaged which is why women must provide allyship to each other, but women cannot achieve equity alone—we need male colleagues to join this effort as allies who collaborate, promote and fight for equity in the workplace. Getting this buy-in is crucial to systemic improvements to workplace policies, practices, and culture.
“Diversity of thought helps all of us. Get excited about knowing you can always achieve the best outcome by hearing all views. Allyship is an active, iterative process that starts with recognizing that you don’t have all the answers when interacting with people that may be different than you. An ally asks—and doesn’t assume—what another person needs.”
-Mike Campbell, Chief Sales Officer, Equinix
While many of our male colleagues already believe in gender equality, they may not be sure how to turn gender equality into gender equity. If you’re looking to evolve as an ally and want to take steps to learn how to build equity in support of your woman co-workers, we recommend a few steps to get you started:
Be curious, don’t assume and educate yourself – First, read, listen, watch and deepen your understanding. When you do speak with someone to understand their challenges, be fully present and suspend assumptions, ask for permission to discuss, and don’t assume everyone shares the same experience. Listen and pay attention to the specific ways they want to be supported.
Own your privilege – Has someone ever questioned your ability to “juggle” raising children while excelling at work? Do you adjust your speech, appearance or behavior to fit into a particular culture because you are the only one like you in the culture? Recognize the advantages, opportunities and resources accorded to you as an ally. By doing so, you can understand how privilege is a resource to deploy for good. Don’t sit back and wait for others; own taking action yourself.
Seek and accept feedback – Seek to understand if you have unconscious bias. Ask others for feedback. Establishing trust with women and anyone from a marginalized group is critical before they will feel safe in the power dynamic to provide “unvarnished” feedback. If you miss this step, you risk creating additional stress and work for the person from whom you are seeking feedback. Show appreciation and that you value their feedback (even when it is painful) and be thoughtful and sincere.
Become a confidant – Research shows that women advance when they have trusted relationships with male partners at work. These relationships provide women with a space to confide in someone they trust about issues like microaggressions encountered in the workplace. Make the time to be available and to empathize and validate the woman’s experience.
Take action – When you witness microaggressions, racist or sexist comments and behavior, be clear and decisive in shutting them down and giving your support in the moment. The key is right in the moment. Explain that you are offended by the comments or actions and that they aren’t acceptable. When you see someone taking up most of the space in a meeting, ask specific questions of women whose contributions and expertise are being overlooked or devalued.
Expect challenges as you venture into this new world of allyship, but like any other learning experience, it will get easier. What’s important is that you continue checking in with yourself and others to ensure you’re not slipping back into biased thinking and get feedback about how you can fine-tune your approach.
Equinix paves the way for allyship in the workplace
The Equinix Women Leaders Network (EWLN), one of many in the Equinix Employee Connection Network (EECN), is open to all employees. EWLN is a network of women and allies pursuing growth, visibility and opportunities to increase business impact, and they’ve been doing so for over ten years.
Men are welcome to participate as sponsors, mentors and allies. By meeting together, women and men can learn from each other and understand different perspectives. The EWLN is an excellent opportunity for women and men to network and discover new talent. As gender equity becomes core to the company culture through the active allyship of men, it will be exciting to observe the advancement of even more women into leadership roles.
Our Allies Council, which includes 50 senior leaders, promotes gender and racial equity through various programs designed to empower them to become advocates for diversity, inclusion and belonging (DIB). In a six-month reverse mentorship program, the Allies Council partnered with our EECNs to connect leaders with mentors to learn and experience communities with a different perspective.
Equinix is also helping close the gender digital divide worldwide with our continued support of World Pulse. We recently announced the expansion of our long-time commitment with a $100,000 grant from the Equinix Foundation to help accelerate digital inclusion for women and girls globally.
(The author is Ms. Arquelle Shaw, Sr. Vice President, Sales and Mr. Mike Campbell, Chief Sales Officer at Equinix, and the views expressed in this article are their own)