Policies Don’t Change Work Environments – You Do

The Way Women Work gender equity men supporting women

I am a solutions-focused coach which means I help my clients find the most direct solution to address their needs. Instead of spending a lot of time analyzing problems, we identify what IS working even in the most challenging circumstances. One of the approaches solutions-focused coaches use is to ask our clients questions that help them envision a better future. Questions like these:

“Suppose that tomorrow you came into the office and immediately noticed that both men and women were equally treated, equally respected, and had equal opportunities to participate, excel and lead. What would you see? How would it benefit you and and your business?”

This year as I talked with clients and leaders in my network about the ways they want to work more effectively with women, I sensed some reluctance. Because of everything they’ve read and heard about sexism and harassment in workplaces, they – and perhaps you – have concluded that the problem is too big or too systemic for anyone to solve, least of all them. They also seem worried about saying or doing the wrong thing.

I want to allay your fears and assure you that sexism, harassment, and inequality in our workplaces are not inevitable, and that there is something YOU can do to create a better work environment for everyone.

This is where a solutions-focused approach comes in. While many people and organizations are spending time and resources trying to figure out why sexism and harassment in the workplace persists, in a solutions-focused approach, you would identify how and where there equality, inclusion and women thriving exist.

Here’s how you can simply take this approach:


Ask women who are doing well in your organization (or women you know) what and who has enabled them to succeed. (This is contrast to talking with women about times they’ve experienced sexism or where harassed – which is something you may also choose to do, but not as a part of this approach).

Find out what has been helpful to them. ASK

  • When they felt most included and equal.
  • About the situations they’ve been in when they did not experience sexism or harassment.
  • What you can do to be more supportive.

Armed with this information and with your own strengths and interests in mind:

  • START: Identify the easiest action or two you can adopt and start doing it. You can build on other actions after you’ve mastered the easiest ones.
  • STOP: Identify something that you want to stop doing. 

A colleague took this approach with a few women he worked with. He found out that one of the things that helped the women he spoke with was having a broader network of contacts in their field. Since he was a regular attendee of industry conferences and a strong networker, he started to consciously and intentionally introduce his female colleagues to people he knew.

We can keep waiting for our company, leaders or our society to change. We can keep making the excuse that first, the system has to change  Or we can decide it’s time for change and take it upon ourselves to act. Policies don’t change environments, we do.