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The Meaning of Work: Gender Equality, Identity at Work and Protecting our Planet


The Meaning of Work: Gender Equality, Identity at Work and Protecting our Planet

There are over 100 countries worldwide that prevent women working in certain jobs. In fact, 59 countries don’t legislate...

6 Minutes Read

There are over 100 countries worldwide that prevent women working in certain jobs. In fact, 59 countries don’t legislate against sexual harassment in the workplace. In 18 countries husbands have the legal right to prevent their wives from working.

Work is not the privilege of the few. The rise of women at work over the last 100 years has been phenomenal – now women make up nearly half of the workforce, but the rise of women up the ranks of work is happening painfully slowly. Only 4% of FTSE500 companies have a female CEO, and only 25% of senior leaders are female.

The business case for diversity at work is rock solid, it’s time to face up to it. Greater diversity of thought leads to better ideation and innovation – the cornerstone of successful work in the digital expanse of Industry 4.0. Getting more women into work is one thing, but how do we move from a focus on diversity to an emphasis on belonging, and getting the best out of every individual in the workplace?

Work is a fundamental part of our human identity. This reality is something that we’re forced to confront head on amid the accelerated rise of intelligent machines in the workforce. Unsurprisingly, we are desperately seeking meaning and purpose in our work. Purpose-driven work leads to a fully-engaged workforce, the benefit to organizations in productivity now widely reported. Despite the fact that 89% of business leaders agree that a strong sense of collective purpose drives employee satisfaction, only 46% said their organization has one, according to research by HBR.

Instead of empty promises and pleasantries, organizations are expected to take a stand, speak their mind (not bite their tongue), and adopt a challenger mindset. Recent research revealed that 33% of people said they would actively buy more goods or services from a brand they already purchase from, if that brand took a stance on a controversial issue aligned with their beliefs.

Purpose-driven work gives workers the chance to love their work every day. Instead of craving Fridays, workers will welcome Mondays. Furor around ‘hustles’ and #mondaymotivation shouldn’t be confused with over-work and burn out – they’re simply reminders that it’s motivational to work for something that you truly believe in.

Oftentimes we’re told to “pick a career” or to find the thing we love, because when we do “you’ll never work a day again.” The idea that there’s one perfect person is just as illogical as there being one perfect occupation. The joy of modern work is that we aren’t shackled to one career – we can experience multiple careers, shifting our work to suit our interests and goals as they develop throughout our lives. This is particularly impactful for oft-overlooked demographics in the workforce – stay-at-home mothers and, previously retired workers. A segment that certainly can’t be ignored, when you consider that by 2024, 25% of the U.S. workforce will be composed of workers over the age of 55, and a third of those workers will be older than 65, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We must, question the value of purpose-driven work. It can no longer be that work is simply about the pay-check. Instead, organizations must consider a smorgasbord of motivators that make up the compensation package for employees. Some might value the pay check, others a higher title – but more and more we’re seeing employees want better education opportunities, more holiday time, flexible working and less rigid role definition.

Let us zoom out for a moment to consider the wider world of work. (And I mean the whole world, not just the western economies that we’ve for too long considered the center of “work.”) The pressure on organizations to combat global issues – climate change, diversity and inclusion – is red hot. It all ties in to meaning and mission. Organizations have to work out how to support global missions like moving from unsustainable recycling practices to better methods championed in the circular economy. Consider ‘Loop’ (from Terracycle), an initiative that sees multinational consumer brands such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble partnering with Terracycle to use the “milkman model” for a range of consumer products. The collect-and-refill model replaces disposable with reusable packaging that is made from materials that (unlike plastic and paper) maintain 100% of their value when recycled, such as glass and stainless steel.

The cost of sustainable practices is a burden to companies and consumers alike. Living green for the sake of tomorrow puts us in the red today. But is green about to become financially green too? Entire business models now exist around recycling, and the resulting products are items that consumers already clamour for. Adidas has developed a shoe made entirely from recovered plastic sea waste. Remember – it’s not all about the Benjamins in the new world of work. The value of recycling and green business initiatives has moved beyond the $0.05 or $0.10 per bottle saved and advanced into a full-on economic driver.

Meaning is the new currency for work. It’s an imperative for individuals, organizations and the phenomenal planet that we live on.

The CFoW’s latest book, From/To: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Future of Your Work but were Afraid to Ask deep-dives into 42 shifts of where work has come from and where it’s going to – including those highlighted here.

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