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Women in the workplace: commit to be an ally


“My daughter thought only women could be doctors, because that was the model she’d seen. She was shocked when I suggested her brother could also gain his doctorate, exclaiming, ‘you mean boys can be doctors, too?,” chuckled Dr. Delia Saenz, Chief Diversity Officer of The College at ASU during this past Wednesday’s UTO Family Town Hall. Saenz joined UTO’s monthly meeting on the occasion of Women’s History Month to share her insights into the inclusion of women in the workplace, including the ways in which tokenism presents itself and the actionable steps we can all take toward equity.

Saenz is a social psychologist by trade, and much of her published work has concerned tokenism. Tokenism, or the practice of including someone from a particular group only to avoid being criticized, has been examined in various contexts, including movies, media and the workplace for decades. While some instances of tokenism stem from the intentional avoidance of integration, other organizations want to diversify their workforce but are unsure how to cultivate diversity, equity and inclusivity

Intentional diversification isn’t just good for public relations, it is a statistical hallmark of innovation according to Harvard Business Review. Saenz’s conversation with the UTO family revealed how inclusion is the actionable result of reflecting diversity, and how it can circumvent tokenism.

Committing to be allies of women in the workplace may sound like a daunting process, “but I think it’s really simple,” Saenz stated. “If we commit to inclusion,” she went on to explain, “we bring in talent, we get out of the way and we let people succeed.” Seanz then detailed how a more inclusive environment in the workplace can be achieved:

  • Organizations should create an environment where people can see a positive culture throughout their work;

  • There should be an honest respect for the recruitment process, which should truly hire the best person. In that vein, we should trust women and their capacities;

  • We learn beliefs by what we’re exposed to, and often we’re misguided by gender stereotypes; those should be dispensed with.

Allies are necessary to create this inclusive environment. “I think we actually need to, well maybe ‘demand’ is a bit strong, but we need to hold high aspirations for everyone around us,” Saenz said. She detailed what she called the ABCs of allies: attitude, behavior and consistency. These can be applied to a growth mindset for self-education and addressing inequitable statements and practices.

Saenz also acknowledged the unique challenges that remote and hybrid working environments have brought to workplaces. The shift has exacerbated a sense of isolation for many, making it harder to speak up than ever before. And the disparity is disproportionately clear for women, who are often tasked with childcare while also being expected to carry out their work duties. But Saenz also saw benefits, as “it has provided opportunities for people to be flexible in the workplace,” she said.

To conclude her time with the UTO Family, Saenz called for an examination of inclusive practices that we can keep, improve or add, and not-so-inclusive practices that can be eliminated. “We need to be aware of the constraints that fall upon people, and don’t place constraints upon them. Don’t blame people for their beliefs, help them change,” she said finally.

To recognize Women’s History Month and continue the conversation with Delia, we’ve invited the women of UTO to share their stories and celebrate their individuality and accomplishments. We invite everyone to hear and learn from our own community by reading "Women in IT: reflections and stories from women in UTO".

UTO invites all women across the organization to continue to share your experience to be included in our feature story. And join us in celebrating this March with UTO’s special edition Women’s History Month Zoom background. Download it now!

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