In this blog, we highlight some subtle but potent factors that shape women’s professional experiences.
Often hidden in the fabric of workplace culture, these influences might seem non-existent or irrelevant. Yet, they can have a significant cumulative impact on emotional well-being, job performance, and perceived success potential. Our exploration encompasses the environment, feedback mechanisms, mentorship, communication, and decision-making.
We would like to acknowledge the content of this article reflects general trends, research and our own observations. We acknowledge that these observations may not apply universally, as experiences can greatly vary among individuals and organizations.
Environment, design and a sense of belonging
The organisation’s atmosphere subtly influences its employees’ confidence and belonging. Various elements contribute to this, such as workspace layout, social activities, and the conduct of meetings. Design – the intentional or inadvertent crafting of spaces, events, and relationships – plays a crucial role here. A design in sync with an individual can facilitate desired outcomes, whereas misalignment can create obstacles.
One example is office design. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology revealed that many office spaces reflect masculine norms, potentially affecting women’s comfort, confidence, and sense of belonging. These norms could reinforce traditional power structures, affecting women’s career aspirations and perpetuating gender imbalance in leadership.
Another example lies in meeting design. A 2018 study by McKinsey & Company showed that non-inclusive behaviour like interruptions can reduce motivation and productivity. Communication dynamics in meetings, such as who speaks and how they speak, also impacts the willingness and opportunities others have to contribute to discussions and decision-making processes.
Feedback Loops & Validation
Feedback varies among individuals. Generally, women seek and receive feedback differently than men. Feedback gauges our value within an environment like the workplace. The role of feedback in shaping a person’s sense of belonging is vital.
Studies, including a 2016 study published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology, show that women tend to seek feedback more often than men. A Harvard Business Review study in 2019 revealed that women receive less specific feedback than men for career development.
Role of Mentors and Role Models
Mentors and role models in professional settings are instrumental in defining key behaviours and values. They guide individuals in their professional growth by providing insights, and advice, and exemplifying the expected actions and attitudes. The behaviours they display—be it taking initiative, showing empathy, or managing conflicts—become benchmarks for mentees and junior colleagues, indicating what’s valued within the organisation.
Simultaneously, mentors play a vital role in transmitting values. The principles they endorse significantly shape the values their mentees adopt, whether it’s prioritising work-life balance or upholding ethical decision-making. The presence of diverse role models, especially women in leadership positions, also serves to inspire and motivate. These role models essentially provide a blueprint of success, embodying the values and behaviours required for advancement in their roles.
When an organisation’s leadership roles are predominantly held by one group, gender being an obvious but not necessarily a defining one, this creates an unconscious bias about who ‘belongs’ in leadership and has a significant flow-on effect on the value and behaviours that are perceived to be valuable within an organisation.
Communication style differences between men and women can significantly impact women’s influence within an organisation. Often, workplaces operate under communication norms that mirror stereotypically masculine styles—being assertive, direct, and competitive. Women, who might favour a more collaborative and relational style, can find their contributions overlooked or undervalued if these don’t align with the predominant style.
Women may also grapple with perception bias based on their communication style. Adopting a more assertive style can lead to negative labels due to societal gender expectations, while a more cooperative style might be perceived as indicative of lesser competence or leadership skills. These dynamics can curtail women’s ability to influence decision-making and strategic directions, limiting their advancement opportunities and perpetuating the gender imbalance in leadership roles.
Environment plays a substantial role in shaping a person’s performance and sense of value within the workplace. As discussed throughout this article, the design of the work environment, the timing and manner of feedback, the presence of mentors and role models, and prevailing communication norms can significantly influence an individual’s experiences. These elements can either serve as catalysts for growth and belonging or pose challenges that hinder the same. What’s within our control, however, is our perception of these circumstances and our ability to effect change. Gaining awareness is the first step; taking action is the crucial next one. Don’t hesitate to enact changes to any elements that aren’t serving you well in your professional journey. Best of luck on your path forward.
If you are seeking mentorship or would like to become a mentor, join us!