Is a ‘gender gap in belonging’ causing women to leave the workforce?

office workers

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As global workplace cultures have been overturned since the beginning of the pandemic, a new study has found that women feel less valued and less like they belong at work compared to men.

The global research found that only one quarter of workers feel a strong sense of belonging at work.

But there was a stark gender gap between those who feel like they belong. It was 31% of men and 22% of women. 

These new statistics have come from the Achievers’ 2021 Culture Report, which interviewed more than 3,500 employees around the world. 

And they’re figures that may offer another reason why globally, there’s been a mass exodus of women from the workforce during the past 18 months. 

Dr Natalie Baumgartner, the chief workforce scientist at Achiever, said on the release of the findings that the “gender gap in belonging” was the “largest we found in our data analysis, showing that gender equality continues to be one of the biggest challenges for business leaders”.

“Women do not feel the same sense of belonging that men feel and this means they are less likely to be bringing their whole selves to work,” she said. “This impacts productivity, engagement, commitment and even feeling safe at work.”

Workplaces are missing out, if they fail to encourage that sense of belonging.

According to the research, a strong sense of belonging is linked to higher productivity, engagement and commitment to the job, and that when feelings of belonging are absent, underperformance, burnout and alienation were more likely to occur in workplaces.

According to the latest report from the Capgemini Research Institute in France, the majority of executives in the tech industry believe women and minority employees feel a sense of belonging at their companies, when in reality, just a quarter of the workers actually do. 

The Achievers’ Culture Report also found that compared to men, women feel less comfortable raising dissenting views at work, and were more likely to say their needs were not being met by their company’s diversity, equity and inclusion programs. 

The report suggested that since the pandemic has seen a significant loss of women in the workforce, employers and leaders should put more effort into making sure women feel valued at work and improve their feelings of belonging. 

One simple suggestion for doing that, according to the report authors, is to make sure workers are recognised and acknowledged for their work.

The participants in the study who described themselves as having been “recognised” in the past week at work were almost twice as likely to say they feel a strong sense of belonging at work.

Building a sense of belonging can also be achieved by giving employees more opportunities to contribute and valuing those contributions.

A recent study from University of Cincinnati found that even minor interruptions at work, such as a colleague popping into your office or at your desk to say “Hey, got a sec?” — can foster a strong sense of belonging too. 

Sadly, with the pandemic forcing many of us to work from home, these moments of spontaneous small talk and office chats have been missing. 

Global leaders have admitted that sustaining company culture has been challenging with most employees working remotely, as work functions continue to be put on hold. 

On the other hand, a large population of workers of colour have reported feeling a greater sense of belonging while working remotely, since they don’t have to put up with microaggressions and work stress that usually accompany working in the office. Overall, most workers are hoping for more flexible work arrangements in the future. 

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda

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