“We built workplaces for white men [who] had a stay-at-home partner,” said lawyer, politician, and activist Reshma Saujani, to audible audience agreement at Indeed’s FutureWorks 2022 conference in New York City. She was one of three panelists weighing in on “Leveling the Paying Field'' for women, a discussion led by Indeed Chief Marketing Officer Jessica Jensen.

“Whenever you’re building anything, you should always build for the most vulnerable,” Saujani explained. “Workplaces should be built for single mom[s], women of colour [and] Black women.” When she launched Girls Who Code, an international nonprofit that aims to bolster more women in computer science, she visited the poorest communities in which young girls didn’t have access to tools like Wi-Fi. “Seventy percent of Black women are the single breadwinner and…caregiver of their families,” she adds. “If we’re building workplaces for her, they’re going to work for everybody.”

Saujani, also the founder of US-based organization Marshall Plan for Moms which invests in women’s economic recovery and empowerment, was joined by Lena Waithe, an Emmy-winning writer, producer, actor, and founder of Hillman Grad Productions; Dr. Jen Welter, a former professional football player and gold medalist who became the first female coach in NFL history; and Indeed CMO Jessica Jensen, who moderated.

Together, the four panelists delved into women’s representation in their industries, the importance of empathy in leadership, and how to make the future of work one that can be equitable for women.

The challenges women face

In just one year, COVID-19 cost women around the world $800 billion — lost income that translates to lost opportunity and equity in the workplace. However, gender pay gaps have been a long-standing problem, with women earning 89 cents to every dollar a man earns in Canada.

Opening the door so others can follow

“I wanted to ensure that, as the first, I was not the last. And that means being visible, it means being vocal, and it means sticking your foot in a door to make sure other people get there,” Dr. Jen Welter told the crowd.

“As we like to say at Indeed, talent is universal; opportunity is not,” Jensen said to the audience and panelists. As pioneers in their respective industries, each of the panelists noted the role they have played in nudging open doors to opportunity and paving the way for other talented women to follow.

“When you’re a ‘first,’ that inherently means ‘only,’” Dr. Welter told the crowd, referencing her place as the first female NFL coach. “I wanted to ensure that, as the first, I was not the last. And that means being visible, it means being vocal, and it means sticking your foot in a door to make sure other people get there.”

As these women made clear throughout the panel, having prominent employees of diverse backgrounds shows other applicants that there is a place for people like them at your company. In 2017, Lena Waithe was the first Black woman to be nominated for, and win, an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, for her work on “Master of None.” 

“There’s such a wonderful community of women, particularly women of colour, in my industry,” Waithe said. “And there is still a fight…for visibility.” In addition to breaking that barrier, she said, she now acts as a bridge for others to tell their stories in an industry that serves as a reflection of society — and that should also reflect those underserved by it.

Embracing authenticity in the face of adversity

Throw out your women’s-empowerment playbook,” Reshma Saujani said. “Stop trying to fix women. We’re not the problem; fix yourself.”

Saujani called out the superficial tips women commonly receive to succeed in business, like colour-coding a calendar, leaning in and striking a power pose before entering a meeting, as useless in the face of real discrimination. To leaders putting the onus on those left behind, Saujani said, “Throw out your women’s-empowerment playbook. Stop trying to fix women. We’re not the problem; fix yourself.”

Dr. Welter knew that being a good team leader required being “100% authentic” in order to connect with her players and make them trust her. “One thing I knew very distinctly,” she said, “I was never going to outman a man at being a man.”

She made herself available whenever someone needed a minute to talk; this made them not only better players, but more loyal to their team. “To the heart of it, no matter what business you’re in, it’s people,” said Dr. Welter. “People matter.” 

The future of work is female

Lena Waithe sees the future of work as “purpose-led and purpose-driven.”

For Waithe, the future of work will be “purpose-led and purpose-driven.” As a leader in her company, Hillman Grad Productions, and a partner with Indeed’s Rising Voices program that was created to uncover and share diverse stories about the meaning of work, she has found her role to be helping others find their passions and raising those people up. At work, there has never been anything she couldn’t do as a woman, Waithe said — and she wants to prevent other women from feeling professionally ostracized when pursuing their purpose.

Regarding the recent focus on “quiet quitting” in which workers gradually disengage from their day-to-day jobs, Sauijani said that people “aren’t quietly quitting; they’re joyfully living.” She views the future of work as one that does not resist how the pandemic changed recruiting with employees reconsidering their work-life balance. “Hustle culture is dead, and we should let it die,” she concluded.

Dr. Welter said, “Empathy is leadership,” urging leaders to get to know their teams in order to address issues facing women and other underrepresented groups in the post-COVID workplace.

“If we give the gift of understanding, of empathy, of realizing that everything really revolves around people, then we get to a workplace that allows you to drop off your kids,” she explained. “But we have to know each other in order to create for each other.”