Leveling Up: What it means for Women and why it’s important for Men

I was hopeful that the #metoo movement would push people to have a healthy dialogue around what has consistently been seen as “women’s issues”. I’m not just referring to issues pertaining to sexual assault or harassment, but all forms of gender bias and sexism, especially in the workplace.

Unfortunately, the latest conversations seem to be dissipating, and I don’t think that we’re much closer to having these issues seen as societal. Until women are leveled up, by which I mean seen as on the same level as men, we will all suffer.

For a man, leveling up a woman is about eliminating gender bias, both overt sexism and the more common and subtle ways of hindering women. There are two primary ways that subtle sexism shows up, as described in The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men, and Our Economy, which details how office sexism not only still exists, but is more blatant than it used to be.

The first is how a woman is described that hurts how she is perceived in performing her job.

Women: caring, warm, nurturing, emotional, sensitive…

Men: competent, assertive, decisive, rational, objective…

The second is how women are perceived when they break the traditional stereotype. This is when, for example, a woman who is supposed to act compassionate acts assertively and instead of being called decisive gets labeled “brusque” or “cold.”

Studies have found that women who succeed in male dominated roles (violating incompetence) are disliked, women who promote themselves (violating modesty) are less hirable, women who negotiate for higher pay (violating passivity) are penalized, and women who express anger (violating warmth) are given lower status.

Men need to lean in and level up women by not only changing how their behavior may be contributing but, by also holding other men accountable.

For a woman, leveling up is about pursuing her growth, getting out of her comfort zone, and pushing herself intelligently in areas that will result in fulfillment and long-term happiness (joy).

This might manifest at work by striving for and getting a promotion, switching jobs to a different organization with more opportunity, carving out a new role with more autonomy and/or decision making, going back to school to get a degree in a new industry, or starting a new business.

I fully acknowledge that it’s not easy for a woman to just decide to get a promotion and then have it happen. There are many studies (above and more below) that show woman have much more difficulty advancing in the workplace for no other reason than having been born a woman.

You can refer to studies here, here, and here.

Studies have shown that, when men have been given power without women having equal power, it doesn’t go well for women. I’m sure that you’ll agree that this can been seen anecdotally on a daily basis but it is also backed up by science. Equaling the power means everyone wins, men are more well-behaved and women are no longer subject to men’s poor behavior.

If altruism isn’t motivation enough for powerful men to promote the interests of the women around them, (and we all know that money talks louder than words) companies are simply more successful (defined as increased profitability) when women are in leadership roles.

I’m not saying that men are bad (far from it); however, there is a lot of evidence suggesting that men in leadership roles aren’t looking out for women, and that in turn, hurts everyone.

I’m also not saying that we need men to create rules/laws protecting women. When men have done that in the past, it typically has had the opposite effect.

We don’t need a panic, it’s not served us well in the past.

Instead we need everyone to level up; women in leadership, and men in their actions. In order to do that we all need to step into difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Women need to speak up and, MOST importantly, men need to listen.

So, to all the women out there, to get on your path of leveling up, start here:

1.     Self-Care

Start with your foundation, it is the solid base to build upon: your self-care.

Are you mentally and physically strong so you can take on the challenge of leveling up? If not, this is where you need to start.

2.     Define what “next” level means to you.

What does success look like in the long-term (say 10 years from now)? Do you know what you really want based on who you are and what you care most about?

What will a day in your life look like in the future? Write it down and get as clear as you can on what it will look and feel like (even if you don’t have all the details on the exact type of work).

3.     Identify your gaps.

Once you have a vision for your future, then work backwards to where you are today. What traits, skills, or experience are you lacking? Where is the gap in what you’re doing now and how you currently live your life and how you want it to look in the future?

4.     Check your mindset.

Barriers are often in our mindsets. Do you have a growth mindset? Do you approach new things with curiosity and openness?

Do you collaborate (or compete)?

Do you voice your opinion and speak up? Your opinion matters, even if you think it’s already been said by someone else. You most likely will say it differently and with a unique perspective so others will hear it differently. Your voice matters.

Do you stay flexible and open to new opportunities?

5.     Build Your Support.

This is not just about having friends to whom you vent. It’s about having people in your network that will help you grow, challenge your perspective, mentor you, and help you become a better person.

It’s also about building your network to grow your opportunities, so your network needs to be diverse. This is an important area where men need to sponsor and mentor women (not shy away from them out of fear).

And finally: take risks, be decisive, collaborate, and trust yourself.

Do you need a partner to help you navigate your level-up journey? Or do you need help seeing your blind spots? If so, I’m here for you.