June 02, 2017

Women at Work: What Part Will You Play?

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By: Tanya Wick, VPHumann Resources/Corporate Services

As Tolko launches its Women Strategy, we are asking women to step up and take ownership of their careers. There are many things women can do to advance or change their work lives, from finding mentors and sponsors to seeking enhanced training and skill development.

But there are also critical things we in leadership roles can – and must – do to support the growth of female members of our industry.

I’ve written previously about the reasons our business needs to be a more attractive employer for women. It all comes down to building the strongest workplace possible!

If you are in a leadership role, you have a particular part to play. Here are a few simple things you can do to ensure we are building a culture where all employees can thrive.

Be aware of unconscious biases

It’s commonly understood in the recruitment profession that people tend to hire who they feel most comfortable with. Fit is important, there’s no doubt about that. But how are you assessing fit?

In our industry, there are so few women that those who seek to join us are often coming from different backgrounds. In job interviews, these applicants may not know the background of our industry. Because the industry is so established, many people know each other and can easily find common ground. Be sure familiarity isn’t what you’re basing fit on.

There are other ways to determine cultural fit. Ask behavioural questions about their work style and the type of culture they thrive in. Ask them to describe how they’ve handled situations in the past. Present them with a scenario of a typical situation you face and see how they’d handle it.

Though of course, personal interests may be part of your discussion, be careful not to over-emphasize connections that are actually more personal than work-related. We all do it. The trick is to be aware and make others aware.

Make your language inclusive

Even after seven years at Tolko, I can still be confused by an acronym or the way one mill refers to a piece of equipment by the manufacturer’s name while another mill uses a different term entirely for the same tool. It’s natural that we develop these shorthand ways of doing our business. In fact, it’s part of building a culture at work. What we don’t want is for our language to exclude others from being part of that culture.

Watch for your terminology and make a point of providing context to new employees or those visiting from other areas of the business. You’ll enhance their ability to work more effectively.

Ask how you can help

If you’re in a leadership role and have female employees reporting to you, be proactive in helping them progress in their careers. Sit down with them and talk about their goals.

Don’t assume women will ask for help if they need it. For many, it’s difficult to ask for help. As a leader, don’t assume this means everything is working. Check in often. Offer specific support. Make sure your employees know that you care about their individual professional development.

Ask good questions. Here are a few I use:

What skills would you like to build next?
Are there any courses you would like to take?
Is there anything I can do to help?

Be a great coach

Shift your thinking from being a manager to being a coach. Show interest in your employees. Knowing a bit about their personal lives and interests will help you understand more about their learning and success styles so you can be the best leader for their needs. Be aware of communication differences and flex your style.

Take the time to coach skill development. Explain the context behind initiatives and decisions. Invest in the long run and it will pay off.

In meetings, make sure a balance of ideas and voices is present. Call on those who need encouragement to speak up and build their confidence. Listen for good ideas and take action on them.

Pay close attention to which employees you are recognizing. Are you sure you know who’s doing the work? Check to ensure you are honouring everyone on the team who played a part, not just the most vocal employee. We all know the critical role recognition plays in employee engagement and satisfaction. Take your time and get it right.

Give women opportunities

Most times when a new project or initiative arrives it comes with a tight timeline. This often leads to providing the best opportunities to the same person. Sometimes this can’t be avoided. Other times giving someone new an opportunity won’t be as difficult or time-consuming as we think.

You can also find ways to create those opportunities. Look for projects with the right parameters. Think outside the box – does someone have skills not being used, and do you have a gap not being filled? Be deliberate about it. Identify people with growth potential and go through your current list of projects to see what could work. If you don’t have the right project, talk to your peers and see if there’s a way to provide a great opportunity.

When you have identified a high-potential employee, become their champion. Lobby for new opportunities and challenges for them to lead and support them however you can. Building success in others is incredibly rewarding.

As a leader at Tolko, I’m committed to doing all I can to support women in our workplace. I hope you’ll join me in taking a few small steps that can make a big difference.