The Silent Struggle: Women, Belonging, and Workplace Empowerment

Here’s an alarming number: only half of women feel empowered in their workplaces. What’s more? 77% of women report feeling like they have to prove their capabilities more than their male peers.  

If those are the facts we’re facing in regard to modern workplace culture, then we clearly have a problem with our approach.

While more women are being hired for traditionally male-dominated roles, they are still being set up for failure by the company cultures that foster microaggressions, gender stereotypes, and unspoken patriarchy. All of this translates to a lack of belonging and empowerment.

Belonging is innate to us as human beings – the need to connect, to feel like you are a part of a group and community – is hardwired in us. Think of how you may immediately feel a connection to someone from your alma mater or someone from your same home town. While I am originally from India, I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, spending my formative years there, and when I meet a Nigerian national I immediately light up and feel like we have a bond. Even though my experiences and memories are decades old, they still create a powerful sense of connection for me. 

Similarly, employees are seeking that same sense of belonging at work. They want to work in an environment where their ideas are heard and their contributions are valued.  But many workplaces aren’t living up to that ideal. This is in part due to the fact that our leadership teams are still very homogenous and don’t know how to create a sense of belonging for people who are unlike them in regard to many factors. We know that beyond just gender, but also age, race, sexuality, economic background, and many more factors can radically alter the way people have to navigate the workplace and interact with figures of authority, as well as peers. 

Every day, women, people of color and other marginalized groups are made to feel like they don’t belong at the workplace. In fact, only 1 in 5 women feel a sense of belonging at their workplace.

When employees don’t feel like they belong within an organization, it has serious consequences. The employee may experience increased anxiety and stress, reduced creativity, and lower productivity; the organization will then experience higher turnover rates, lower morale, and less innovation.  Often organizations lose extremely talented team members and, sadly they may never fully understand why.

Empowerment is the second concept that is critical to creating organization cultures where employees can thrive.  Many organizations are still operating on an outdated work model. This model dates back to the 1950s when a 9-to-5 work schedule and a top down, hierarchical structure was the norm. Seventy years later, our society has made advances in technology, sexism, racism, homophobia, and more, but we still expect people to operate on the same schedules and in the same environments. No wonder so many people are frustrated at work. 

Our workplaces  should move from a highly prescribed way of doing things with your boss in control of the when and how, in addition to the what and why, to a more collaborative work management style. When employees are empowered, they know what work needs to be completed and when it needs to be completed by, but instead of being watched by a supervisor who makes sure they get their work done, they are allowed to work on their own terms. The manager takes on the role of coach and cheerleader.  Empowerment comes with shared power, autonomy, flexibility, and more responsibility. When people are empowered, they connect with and take ownership over their work. They want to do a great job because that job is reflective of their time, effort, and ideas. This kind of buy-in leads to big ideas, open communication, and employees who make a real difference.  

When belonging and empowerment are proven to have a positive impact on the organization’s people, culture, and bottom line, then why is it still so common for employees, particularly women and minorities, to feel so lacking in these areas? Company culture needs to catch up with societal culture, which has made big strides in recent years. The best path to true inclusion relies on creating an environment that empowers your employees and gives them a sense of belonging.

The Silverene Group is proud to be a 100% minority, woman owned business.