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New Report Uncovers Gender Discrepancy and What It Takes to Create a Sense of Belonging at Work


Gender gaps in the workplace have been prevalent for years — from the pay and promotion gaps to paid leave or funding gaps — and the pandemic has only made this strain worse, with millions of women leaving the workforce.

Now another gap has emerged, which may be discussed less often, is not less important. Women are 41% less likely to feel a strong sense of belonging in the workplace compared to men. Combined with the effects of the pandemic, this provides strong reasoning why we’re seeing a 33-year low in women’s labor force participation.

That’s according to the 2021 Culture Report on belonging at work from Achievers Workforce Institute, the research and insights arm of Achievers. The report surveyed more than 3,500 employed adults to uncover what it takes to create a sense of belonging in the workplace, and the impacts on employee retention and attraction, as well as the success of businesses overall.

So what impact does belonging have on companies and their workforces, especially when we look at gender discrepancies, and what will it take to help equalize this sense of belonging among employees?

Women feel a lesser sense of belonging

According to the report, women are 25% less likely than men to feel comfortable sharing a dissenting opinion at work, and women are also 20% less likely than men to say their unique background and identity are valued at their company.

“The clear gender difference we found in the report when it comes to belonging is a concern when we’re looking at how to empower women to come back to the workforce during this new normal,” said Dr. Natalie Baumgartner, Chief Workforce Scientist at Achievers Workforce Institute. “The bottom line is that women need more support, and specifically the right kind of support, if leaders are hoping to attract and retain women. This means leaders need to talk to their employees to really understand what’s missing and how we can do better.”

While Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are often a solution leaders utilize to help employees feel connected, the report found women are a quarter less likely than men to say there are ERGs that help them feel connected, or that their organization supports them in developing and maintaining friendships.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion remain critical

Gender equality has often been a focus of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs, but that doesn’t mean current strategies are working to make all employees feel included and supported. In fact, women are 23% less likely than men to say their needs are being met by their company’s DEI efforts.

There’s a strong correlation between DEI and belonging, as nearly half (49%) of employees with a strong sense of belonging say their organization values diversity, compared to 6% of employees with a low sense of belonging. Furthermore, an emphasis on DEI often comes from the top — employees whose companies are diverse at senior levels are 2.4 times more likely to feel a strong sense of belonging.

Success is reliant on giving employees a sense of belonging 

“Belonging impacts indicators of organizations’ success including productivity, retention and engagement, as well as factors of employee health — both mental and physical,” said Baumgartner.

In fact, according to Baumgartner, of employees with a low sense of belonging just three percent said they feel supported to take care of their mental and physical wellness, compared to 40% and 41% of employees with a strong sense of belonging respectively.

“Ensuring employees are welcomed, known, included, supported and connected at work is crucial in maintaining a successful organization from talent to the bottom line,” said Baumgartner.

Outcomes of belonging in the workplace that extend to organization success include:

  • 51% of employees with a strong sense of belonging would recommend their company as a great place to work, compared to four percent with a low sense of belonging
  • 45% of employees with a strong sense of belonging report being their most productive self at work compared to six percent with a low sense of belonging.
  • 5% of employees with a strong sense of belonging feel a strong sense of safety at work, compared to six percent with a low sense of belonging

As organizations continue to face labor shortages and hiring challenges, creating a sense of connection and a culture of belonging will allow leaders to put their best foot forward in attracting and retaining talent.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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