With the advent of womxn building their own in society, how might we create enabling environments for them to thrive?
I had a chat with the Head of Innovation and Transformation with our engineering partner about introducing externalities into a traditional work environment, in this instance, it was exploring the benefits of bringing a child into corporate. This got me thinking about a more heated topic.
This scribbling of thougths aims to explore how to release talent and creativity of women in workspaces through gender-neutral environments.
Decoding: language as a device to create a new identity
“Women” and “woman” originate from Old English, where “man” was used as a gender fluid pronoun much like “one” and “they” have turned into today. However the feature of “man” or “men” still creates a notion of being a subset in society. A growing trend of of women-oriented organisations around the world are taking on a new way of using words to give womxn ownership of their role in society and fast closing the gender gap.
As of late, many woman-oriented organizations are taking on alternate spellings of the words “woman” and “women” in efforts to be more inclusive. “Womyn” and “womxn” are two of the most commonly used substitutes to avoid using the suffix “-men” at the end of the term, but others like “wimmin,” “wimyn,” and “womin” are also sometimes used.
This presents an increasing insight into the power of independence and being recognised as an autonomous presence in society, creating, making that which was not there and with it the independence and strength to define.
Trying to thrive in circumstances that were not designed for womxn
I have chats with womxn daily and learn of the frustration resulting from womxn trying to assimilate;
- Through language — pronunciation and the ability to articulate without features of sexism or patriarchy in the workplace,
- Through recreational outfits — the notion of womxn needing to attend every social occasion to get ahead,
- Through ‘social order’ — the nuance that a womxn’s head will not be higher than that of the man,
- Through vulnerability — in many cases showing signs of weakness to advance in situations where this is not the case
A push for a more effective model
The biggest suggestion coming from these chats was the need for ‘a safe space’ that does not conform to social nuances, a defined space that weather any discriminations and ineptitudes, a place where womxn can be; as competitive, as liberal, as expressive,
Let’s expand on this idea of ‘a safe space’.
We are seeing a democratising of opportunities and work through independent labour and employment. Couple this with the advent of smart-startups, freelancers, the gig economy and a rising mass of independents, the above scenario is suggestive that co-working spaces are safe havens for the upstarts.
Co-working is a model empowering to the upstarts mentioned above, by affording them depth and latitude to establish as businesses that can compete openly with rationed resource. Perhaps more casual and fluid, these spaces still exhibit the same prejudice as formal, corporate environments.
How might we re-imagine a co-working space tailored for womxn?
Some science behind a womxn-only co-working space
The rationale for this may ultimately come down to hormones — stress hormones such as cortisol, that is.
A recent study by Indiana University researchers found that “token” womxn in male-dominated offices exhibited chronically unhealthy levels of cortisol. Previous studies have also shown that male-dominated workplaces can trigger social isolation, not to mention the potential for sexual harassment or stressful interpersonal interactions that can lead self-doubt.
It wouldn’t be a big stretch to imagine that some co-working spaces out there may have this kind of atmosphere.
Imagining a womxn-owned and led co-working space
- An empathetic work environment with aesthetics to complement the subtleties of womxn,
- Organic ways of focused networking and seeking mentorship from womxn without bias and the male banter often found in work environments,
- Inspire and rejuvenate womxn via a sense of ownership and independence from another being,
This was a glimpse of a small thought on inclusive & enabling spaces and am hoping to explore this topic a bit more through more facts- and evidence-based learning by using human-centred principles to push the needle for healthier work spaces.