6 Ways To Break Down Gender Roles At Work

by Emma Cueto

Just because women are allowed to work outside the home now, that doesn't mean gender roles are absent from the workplace. So how do you break down gender roles at work? There are a lot of little ways, and they can really help you feel more comfortable at work.

As anyone who's ever watched even half an episode of Mad Men can tell you, sexism in the workplace is a long and proud tradition. But even though things are better today than they were 50 years ago, that doesn't mean they're perfect. There are still a lot of ways that gender roles permeate the modern workplace. And in many cases, they tend to work against women.

Obviously, every workplace is different. Just like one company might have a great and proactive policy against sexual harassment or a relatively minor gender pay gap, some companies are less uptight about gender roles than others. It really just depends on the place. Still, I think it's safe to say that most places could stand to improve — and some could use more improvements than others.

So how can you as an individual work to break down gender roles in the workplace? Here are a few ideas:

Spread "Domestic Responsibilities" Around

In many workplaces, women wind up being expected to handle "domestic" jobs like cleaning up after meetings, doing the dishes in the break room, or coordinating social events or birthday gifts. And even though it seems like a minor thing, there's something inherently unfair about male employees just assuming that they don't have to deal with this stuff since obviously the women around will handle it. I don't think that most of your male co-workers are consciously thinking that these things are "women's work"; they probably aren't really thinking about it at all.

But that also means they'll probably be responsive if you start making an effort to spread those responsibilities around. Set up a rotating schedule for who has to clean common areas or handle birthdays and events. Ask your boss or fellow employees to agree to a policy where everyone has to wash their own dishes. And just generally try to ensure that the men are expected to help out, too.

Address Interruptions

One of the most annoying gender imbalances in the workplace is the fact that women are interrupted more than men. Basically, we're subconsciously programmed to not value what women have to say, or to see our speech as inherently less worthy of respect. And addressing the problem of interruptions can help break down the attitudes attached. Talk to your boss about ways to cut down on interruptions during meetings, or talk to your fellow co-workers about the issue.

Discuss Any Employee Dress Codes

Most workplaces have unofficial dress codes — though some also spell them out. And just like high school, workplace dress codes are often more strict for women. So if you feel there's something unequal in the dress code at your office — in either the actual policy or in the unofficial norms people have set up and expect others to abide by — bring it up.

After all, the only way to break down the gendered expectation that women have to spend more time on our appearance is to relax the rules.

Report Harassment

This one isn't necessarily about gender roles, but harassment does create a toxic environment for women, which in turn can make everything more gendered. So if you see harassment — or are harassed yourself — report it. (Provided you feel safe doing so; some companies also aren't great about protecting employees who come forward from retribution.)

Encourage Everyone To Be More Collaborative

There's an expectation in our society that women are naturally nurturing, social, and collaborative — and that men are naturally driven and ambitious. And since we're socialized to accept those roles, this often means that men are more inclined to be assertive and pursue their goals openly, while women are more likely to work with others to achieve goals. Moreover, research shows many people judge women who try to adopt the same openly ambitious approach many men are praised for. So how do we break out of these roles?

One way is to encourage everyone to be more collaborative. After all, if everyone is engaging in both collaborative and personally driven behavior, then none of it is gendered anymore.

Talk About Pay

The worst gender role of all is the one where women get paid less and are expected to stay quiet about it. Combat this by talking about pay with your co-workers — and bringing up any inequalities you find.

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