How Ambient Belonging Impacts Women at Work

July 7, 2017Dr. Leeno Karumanchery

Since my last Blog Post, we’ve had a number of inquiries about ambient belonging specifically in relation to how gender disparities play out in the work place. The question certainly is topical. It seems that every week we read about another CEO who has found himself publicly embattled because patterns of sexual impropriety and/or harassment have finally bubbled to the surface and onto the headlines.

After 25+ years in the diversity field, the last 15 actively working to address these issues at an organizational level, I can say with some authority that the first step is moving beyond the comfortable language of “disparities,” and actually naming the issue for what it is: SEXISM. Everyday, normalized, systemic, SEXISM. The challenge is that most of us really have to change the way we understand the term. We were all taught to see “sexism” only in individual acts of vulgarity and meanness. We weren’t taught to see the invisible systems that confer access, opportunity, normalcy and control to men in pretty much every workplace around the world. For every woman that leaves a job because of overt sexual harassment, imagine the numbers that flounder, stagnate or derail because their organizational culture is subtly sexist. This is where ambient belonging comes in.

Whenever we explore new opportunities, or engage in new endeavours, we try and assess whether they’re worth pursuing, and what our likelihood of success is. So our ability to fully engage in what we are doing is based on whether we:

  • Feel we have the skills and ability to succeed
  • Know we’re willing and determined enough to succeed
  • Believe the activity is intrinsically rewarding or enjoyable
  • Feel we can be successful in the environment

it’s only when our abilities, interests and environment align, that we can become deeply immersed and fully invested in what we’re doing.
When you add diversity into this puzzle, (gender for the purposes of this blog post), it’s easy to understand how a lack of belonging can have subtle but far reaching implications for your female personnel, and their ability to be at their best.Just ask the question: What do you think the effect is if someone feels they have the skills, ability, willingness and determination to succeed at their job, but that the environment in the workplace will forestall if not derail that potential? How intrinsically rewarding do you think their work experience would be? How enthusiastic or engaged would you be?

At MESH, we recognize that the environmental factor is the linchpin of engagement. Whether it’s the gender wage gap, the disproportionate time required for women to advance in their careers, the dearth of women in leadership positions, being talked over and interrupted in meetings, (the list goes on), the importance of ambient belonging for women in the workplace cannot be overlooked.

Of course, this isn’t just a gender issue. It’s a human issue. When we feel that we are safe, that we fit, that our potential can be realized…that’s when we are fully engaged and even hard work becomes fun and energizing.

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