By Vickie Thrasher, Senior Vice President Human Resources – Organization and People Capability, Oracle
It’s hardly news that the COVID-19 pandemic has hit the workforce hard worldwide or that it has disproportionately impacted women, including women of color. During the pandemic, this group suffered involuntary layoffs or were forced by childcare considerations to leave their jobs in huge numbers. In September alone, 865,000 women left the U.S. workforce—that is four times the number of men (216,000) impacted in the same period, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics.
Last fall, an executive with a U.K. charity that serves disadvantaged women estimated that pandemic-related loss of school and daycare services will set women back 10 years in terms of employment opportunities, according to The New York Times.
In this context, it behooves all of us to accelerate our efforts to support women, particularly women from underrepresented communities, in their efforts to enter the workforce and succeed once employed.
Here are some suggestions for how women—in this case represented by the fictional Susan Newhire—can help themselves do well in the workplace, based on my two decades of experience as a human resource professional.
1: Be Curious–Ask questions, early and often.
Asking questions and, equally important, listening carefully to the responses, is something HR professionals and hiring managers value in potential hires. I especially appreciate it if Ms. Newhire shows creativity in what she asks. As a prospective hire, if she takes the reins and departs from the usual FAQs about pay, benefits, and duties, and asks me, for example, about the hardest and/ or best parts of my job, I see a person who wants to know about me and my role, as well as about the niceties of the position she’s applying for. Never a bad thing.
2: Find a Mentor
I am a big proponent of mentorship. New employees, like Ms. Newhire, should try to find a person who shares her interests and can help her get up and running as quickly as possible. Some companies call these buddy programs. Whatever the name, the goal is to support the new employee on her entry into the work environment. In my opinion, the gender of the mentor isn’t important, as long as he or she is a person who is willing and able to share time and knowledge, and takes an active interest in pushing the protégé’s career agenda.
3: Build your networks
Besides her immediate workgroup, Ms. Newhire should seek out other networking opportunities at the organization. Large companies like Oracle, for example, sponsor Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) for Women, LGBTQ+, Black, Hispanic, and Asian employees, as well as groups for veterans, cross-generational employees, and those with diverse abilities. These groups can be founts of information and support in navigating how to work best at a company.
And, depending on Ms. Newhire’s area of expertise, it can be rewarding for her to join other workgroups set up around that specialty, both inside and beyond the company. I would recommend, however, that she start with groups inside her organization, while she acclimates to the new culture, before extending her reach to outside organizations.
As she builds her personal network at the company, it is also extremely smart for Ms. Newhire to keep in touch with colleagues who move on to other opportunities, both within and outside the company. It’s high time that women build a better and more powerful “old girls’ network,” after all.
4: Read the room
Women often face gender-based obstacles in the workplace. But not all offenses are equal. If, for example, a male coworker repeatedly “mansplains” or talks over Ms. Newhire, whether she is his colleague, subordinate, or even his manager, it’s useful to try to suss out what drives his behavior.
It is possible that the mansplainer is not even aware of his tendency. If the interaction takes place in a collegial group, Newhire’s best response might be something tinged with humor, such as: “Wow, I agree with that, but maybe you should say you’re agreeing with me because I said the same thing five minutes ago!” If the man in question is doing this unconsciously, he will likely try to do better. (And if not, Newhire should keep prodding.)
If the atmosphere is not so friendly, she may be better off taking the conversation offline, perhaps soliciting advice—discreetly, of course—from coworkers. At some point, she may need to take him aside to say that his habit makes her job harder and stifles creativity. If that effort fails, Newhire should consider talking to his supervisor or, if the situation warrants it, to someone in HR.
5: Share, share, share
Women sometimes tend to be less forthcoming about pushing their own thoughts and ideas for possible improvement. This may be due to a culturally induced sense of deference or lack of confidence. The sooner we all understand what might seem like a silly idea can lead to creativity and breakthroughs, the better for everyone. Many innovative products we use today, started off as ideas that were initially thought to be “unrealistic.”
That’s why it’s extremely important for employees like Ms. Newhire to be proactive about sharing their thoughts for improving internal workflows and processes, as well as for products and services sold.
And, getting back to that “old girls’ network”…. Once Newhire has achieved success in carving out her career, she needs to share her experiences with women who come after her, whether that is through mentorship, participating in ERGs, or through her professional networks.
Why this matters to everyone
We live in a hypercompetitive world in which every company—whether in high tech, manufacturing, entertainment, financial services, or retail—needs to expand its potential customer base for continued success.
Organizations that explicitly or inadvertently marginalize the voices of women or other underrepresented groups don’t just hurt the affected employees. They also impact their own ability to sell products and services to the broadest possible audience. That is simply not good business.
Vickie Thrasher currently serves as Oracle’s senior vice president of HR. In her current role, she leads Oracle’s Organization Talent Development, Diversity Compliance and Inclusion, Employment Practices, Oracle Women’s Leadership, Top Talent Development, HR Strategic Communications, and Organization Design and Insights. Vickie joined Oracle Corporation in 1996 as an HR consultant and in 2000, she was promoted to vice president of business HR for North America Sales. As Oracle experienced exceptional growth, she was given additional responsibility, ultimately responsible for Business HR for the Americas. She has directed and led a variety of major initiatives in the areas of Talent and Performance Management, as well as M&A integration. With more than two decades of HR experience, Vickie has led HR teams across a variety of industries, including manufacturing, health care, telecommunications, and information technology.
Vickie attended Michigan State University earning a B.A. in Social Science, Labor and Industrial Relations and Saint Francis University of Pennsylvania earning a M.A. in Industrial Relations. She currently lives with her husband Greg, in the DC metropolitan area.