Creating an Inclusive Workplace For Aging Women to Thrive
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.”
Tapping into Team Wisdom
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).
Read on below the video to learn more about the social sculptures experienced…
Social Sculptures Experienced
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 Village Exercise
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:
- I felt kindness and over time I sensed compassion.
- There was a shift from autonomous to group thinking.
- At first it felt simple and stupid in the village, then I appreciated it and had fun
- I was asking myself, what are we doing here? Then I had curiosity and the density of the energy grew, lying on the floor with other people, even not knowing them.
- At the end of the village, I noticed people shifting from center and moving to the periphery again, to the original starting shape of a circle.
- I observed the village energy and I wondered, what if there were no rules, and what if I break the rules, and how can I change the rules or create exceptions?
- First I could not sense the social body but then I felt included.
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:
Highest Potential of the System – In 2021, aging women are very successful through meaningful work that is fairly rewarded.
Marginalized women such as widows or divorcees with insufficient savings to survive without full-employment
Corporate & organizational leadership
Adult educational institutions
New York City
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:
- Corporate/Organization leadership: I am running at top speed to execute and keep top performance
- Hiring manager: Anything you say, anything (bowing)
- Venture Capitalist: I only want young fresh ideas
- Board: I know what is best for the company
- City of New York: Go On!
- Government: I am the power
- Educational institutions: I am disconnected
- Networks: I am here to connect you but make sure you are like the rest of us
- Highest potential: I have been defined by and completely unfree and dependent on all this
- Marginalized woman: I have immense potential and can help all of you but none of you can see me (sitting down)
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:
- Networks: I am here to make sure we’re talking to each other
- Hiring manager: I am here to support building the company with best people and best potential
- Board: I know what is best for the company and I can collaborate with others
- Corporate/Organization Leadership: I know I need to help but need to give a different type of help
- Government: I am open here to unite the power
- Education: I am seeing the need to support marginalized women
- Marginalized Women: If I can be connected into the organization, can help the company be successful
- Venture Capitalist: I do not recognize the potential
- City of New York: I will hold you here and connect with other roles
- Highest potential: I see a recreated dependency. I am about freedom, inner strength and independence.
Main Insights Arising
The following insights emerged during silent journaling by all participants immediately after the exercise.
- The city of New York was so distanced throughout
- Hiring managers bowed
- There is a difference in support versus empowerment
- The venture capitalist never changed
- Networks can be keeping women back as they maintain the status quo
- The marginalized woman went from Invisible to visible
- Leadership is more difficult to convince than the boards
The amazing.community Prototypes
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.
- A design thinking session, Design the Design, was held at IBM NYC (June 25, 2018) to design three personas:
- woman returning to the workforce after a career break (re-entry);
- woman who wants to pivot to a different field or career path (pivot);
- woman who wants to start a new business (entrepreneur)
- An ongoing research effort was launched whereby a design thinking volunteer conducts interviews aligned with each of the three personas to enhance them.
2. Needs Map and Lexicon:
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.
- At Design the Design, the team articulated the initial set of persona needs and the types of questions the women might ask when researching their next step;
- The team is developing a “facilitator kit” for a training session called “Understanding Artificial Intelligence in a Non-Artificial Way” that is used to train participants about design thinking and AI development in comfortable and welcoming environment. Participants will then apply both of these skills to co-create a chatbot (amazing.bot) that is responsive to the needs of women 50+. The chatbot algorithm can be continuously expanded and refined with new questions and curated recommendations.
3. Conversation Tree:
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.
- At Design the Design the team identified areas that women 50+ might want to explore when starting their re-entry, pivot, or start-up phases. These will become the conversation nodes that will be built into the lexicon of the amazing.bot.
4. Corporate Action Initiative:
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.