21 Oct Creating Work Environments that Empower
The workforce is as diverse as ever, so why isn’t leadership? If women make up 50% of the workforce, why were there only 37 women included in this year’s Fortune 500? Doesn’t it make sense that the diversity of our workforce should correspond with diversity in decision-making and leadership positions? Workplace diversity is only the first step toward an inclusive and empowering culture. We all want to be in an environment where our ideas are heard, and our contributions are valued. We all
want leaders who inspire us by leading the way in fostering belonging and inclusion, but the truth is that every individual has the power to make a difference and create an inclusive environment that empowers those around us.
When we don’t feel like we belong in an organization it has serious consequences like increased anxiety and stress, lower productivity, higher turnover, lower morale and less creativity and innovation.
A woman recently reached out to me for guidance on an issue she was having at work. This woman is an engineer in the tech industry, who has a very successful career. She has had the flexibility of working from home long before the onset of the pandemic, and makes a good living. But lately, she has felt deep down that she just doesn’t belong at her company. On a recent Zoom call, she watched as man after man received accolades, and all the men (virtually) high-fived each other for their somewhat limited perspectives on what success means. She told me that she is struggling to see herself as a part of that group, and to connect with what they were “winning,” and why they were being commended with such high praise. As a part of the company’s mentorship program, she was paired with an older male mentor, with whom she has little to connect on. How can his perspective and experience possibly be relevant to that of a working mom in a male-dominated industry? Yet she must sit through the ordeal of being “mentored” by this man who has no clue about the struggles she faces, or the current mindset of a younger generation.
When we don’t feel like we belong in an organization it has serious consequences like increased anxiety and stress, lower productivity, higher turnover, lower morale and less creativity and innovation. Unfortunately for the company, it sounds as though they are about to lose an extremely talented and essential part of their team.
Every day women feel like they don’t belong. What exactly does it look like when we don’t feel like we belong? It’s…
> Feeling like you are not a part of the club and not being invited to play golf or smoke cigars with the “guys” because you’re a woman
> Realizing when you are on a Zoom call, looking at a sea of men’s faces, that you ”just don’t belong on this team”
> Being treated like the “Mom” of the group, because you are female
> Being treated like you’re not that smart, because you are a young female
A diverse workplace is not necessarily a workplace that fosters a sense of belonging. It’s on everyone to take active steps to foster a sense of belonging in the workplace, because everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect and support and because a workplace where all voices and perspectives are freely expressed and equally heard is best equipped to innovate and get the best out of every worker.
Gender, race, and economic background can radically alter the way people have to navigate certain environments and interact with figures of authority.
We can start to cultivate a more belonging environment by questioning our assumptions and investigating the beliefs and biases that may be holding us back. A lot of this can be accomplished by listening to understand the experiences of others. This may seem obvious but it is natural for people to assume that their experiences, privileges, struggles, etc. are shared by those around them. Just because two people are in sales, doesn’t mean that they are the “same.” Gender, race, and economic background can radically alter the way people have to navigate certain environments and interact with figures of authority. And, if you don’t think this is serious, just read this report from CNBC which states that over 860,000 women dropped out of the workforce in September. That is a staggering number and equates to 80% of the million or so people who have just stopped looking for work.
We all play a role in empowering women’s voices in the workplace. Our words have power.
What are you doing to empower yourself and others? Please reach out and share your story. We look forward to hearing from you.
Shaara Roman is founder and managing director of The Silverene Group, a culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals.