For women age 50+ full participation in paid, meaningful and innovative work can be a challenge. The Bureau of Labor Statistics chart below shows data through 2013.
Recent data shows that women age 55+ represent the single fastest growing age-gender segment and will account for more than a third of all additional workers entering the labor force by 2026. How will they thrive?
In response to this question, Stela Lupushor, an expert in future of work and people analytics, recently founded a New York based NGO called amazing.community. Her mission is to expand the work horizon for women by transforming the mistaken narrative about aging and innovation. “We will redefine inclusive workplaces and equip women at any age to thrive in them.”
The amazing.community team was open to exploring a new method of tapping into their team’s wisdom and in May of 2018, they invested an afternoon in experiential learning.
They practiced a group dynamics modeling approach developed at MIT’s Presencing Institute called Social Presencing. Social Presencing (SP) is a sensing practice whereby members of a group embody a Stuck. A Stuck is a system challenge.
During SP exercises, group members allow shapes or gestures to arise in their bodies that represent a system challenge they are currently part of.
The practice is social and is done as a group. The human shapes form sculptures or models. The principles of presencing are applied. Presencing is a hybrid of presence, the state of being in the present moment, and sensing, feeling the future possibility (Leading from the Emerging Future, Scharmer, Kaeufer, 2013, p.19). The social sculptures that arise as a result reveal something of importance in a system where it was not visible before.
SP may also be referred to as a body-based, experiential learning toolkit, which contributes to organizational learning. “It is a method for helping organizations and larger social systems get in touch with the knowledge they already have about the deep interpersonal structures that inhibit real changes from happening,” stated Otto Scharmer in an interview in Strategy & Business magazine, (Kleiner, 2017).
Two SP exercises, Village and Ecosystem Stuck, were used to model the ecosystem of 50+ women’s participation and relationship to the workforce during the amazing.community workshop. Each exercise resulted in different social sculptures, insights and ideas for prototypes for creating a desired future.
The amazing.community team first envisioned the qualities of a future workplace ecosystem (a Village). They wrote down words including caring, appreciation, discovery, empathy, visibility, exploration, kindness, consciousness and empathy. Participants then prepared for the exercise with a short body-centering meditation.
In the Village exercise, the team co-created a village (social sculpture) in silence, for ten minutes, using the body as a 360 degree sensor. The village rules allowed walking, running, standing, sitting, lying down, turning and greeting each other in the room.
Participants noted the following reflections on the amazing.community village:
To prepare for the Ecosystem Stuck exercise, amazing.community leadership defined the following Stuck in advance of the workshop:
Women age 50+ continue to face pay gaps and low employment prospects due to workplace bias, lack of inclusive workplace design and lack of investments in education and upskilling.
This exercise takes a holistic view of the workplace ecosystem women find themselves in with the following stakeholders included:
Workshop participants were either stakeholders or mindful observers (safe space-holders). Observers formed a circle around the space, with the intention to see the sculptures with present awareness, i.e. attention.
Stakeholders embodied their felt sense of the system Stuck in their own physical bodies and allowed a shape to emerge. At the same time, stakeholders positioned themselves in the system sculpture in terms of proximity to other stakeholders, at a low or high level (sitting, kneeling, standing, lying down, etc.) in relation to their felt sense of power in the system and with attention to the direction faced.
They each made a statement from the “I” voice:
Then the stakeholders exaggerated the felt sense of the Stuck until the body moved into a future state.
They then each made a statement from the “I” voice in the future state:
The following insights emerged during silent journaling by all participants immediately after the exercise.
Next, participants engaged in small group generative dialogue and documentation of ideas for four major prototypes.
The prototype is a disposable tool used not only to validate ideas but to generate them. Many ideas were generated. After the session, amazing.community leadership shortlisted the most tangible ideas in order to start testing, sharing and questioning the ideas, in order to build upon them. The team is developing a plan to begin testing the following prototype ideas:
Build specific and tangible personas amazing.community is targeting.
Understand what personas want (resources, services, purpose, connections, skills etc.) and how they prefer to find out about these resources and be engaged in the conversation.
Where do I start? Identify the key areas of support for women 50+ at a career crossroads and help them find a starting point for their journey.
Raise awareness about challenges and bias women 50+ encounter in the workplace. Launch the movement, “The Shades Of Amazing Challenge” to raise awareness about recognizing the wealth of experience and maturity women 50+ bring to their jobs and enroll men as allies. Men will demonstrate their support by wearing red glasses (the color of amazing.community’s logo), taking a selfie and sharing it with our challenge hashtag #shadesofamazing.