Gender Equality is a Candid Conversation: 3 Key Attributes to Facilitate THE Conversation

Gender equality is often a delicate conversation that does not need to be.

Gender equality elicits polarizing responses from people.  In my speaking and training, I hear these apathetic responses:

  • Things are way better than they were many years ago
  • We have more women leaders at our company now
  • Women choose to spend more time with their children
  • Women do not speak up and ask for opportunities

In fact, there is some truth to these statements.  Yet, there is a deeper explanation. 

  • Gender equality has gotten better, yet progress has stagnated recently.  Catalyst reports the number of women in senior leadership and CEO positions each year.  Year after year the numbers slightly increase, and presently are declining for women CEOs at just 5%.  
  • More women in leadership roles is progress, yet not enough.  McKinsey has found that organizations with greater gender diversity at the top outperform industry peers by 21%.  Add in cultural diversity and the number jumps to 35%. 
  • Women are more likely to be primary caregivers than male counterparts in traditional gender partnerships.  The US Department of Labor reports that Americans women spend 5.8 hours more a week than their male counterparts on household labor.  
  • Women are four times less likely to negotiate than their male counterparts.  Linda Babcock’s Ask for It explains the negative stereotype that prevail when women negotiate (being labeled “difficult” or “aggressive”).  

Want to know how to have a productive conversation about gender equality?  In my research, I have found three critical attributes to facilitate this important dialogue.

I have a three-step model for the candid conversation about gender equality that works at work.  Especially for the most challenging conversations about gender in the workplace.

I call it the the 3 D’s model.

  • Define:  This involves setting the stage for the conversation.  It requires bravery and courage. People need to know why this is important – the business case, the human case, and personal reasons why this issue matters to you as a leader.  They need to know what gender equality means to the organization – is it more women leaders, pay equality, and/or perceived equality of opportunities? Be clear up front what success looks like.
  • Discuss:  Good conversations are two-way dialogues where all voices are heard.  To do this, ask open-ended questions like “what would our organization look like if our gender equality goals were met…” or “what are we missing out on by not maximizing the talents of all genders…”  Get our full five-question guide at
  • Decide:  Do not forget this critical step.  After having the tough talk, make sure it is cemented with action.  Asking “what did we decide to do today?” or “what will you commit to doing as a result of this conversation?” promotes positive change.  Behavior change does not happen swiftly, it takes a series of candid conversations to drive cultural transformation.  

Gender equality is a cultural transformation, not an initiative.  It is not a one month a year celebration for Women’s History Month.  It is an ongoing, intentional discussion.  

Why have this candid conversation?  Simply put, the more we welcome all genders in the workplace at all levels of leadership, the better our workplaces will be.