We’ve all heard about the gender divide in the workplace, ‘the glass ceiling’ and the fact there are not enough women in the boardroom. But it’s time to move the conversation forward and provide solutions in a digital sphere where both men and women can participate.
There are countless self-help articles and books on how to ‘disconnect from the internet’, cope with email anxiety and successfully create an online presence.
Clearly there is a disjointment here, where the question is to consume, or to be eventually consumed by the digital sphere.
“Data shows that digital not only changed how we shop, how we commercially engage with each other, how we interact, it’s fundamentally changing the world that we work in,” says
Kathleen Mitchell, Vice President of fashion retail brand, Stella & Dot. When listing a hierarchy of needs for women in the workplace, ‘cash’ came in third, while the first two priorities were ‘purpose’ and ‘flexibility,’ says Mitchell.
Julia Leong, a London-based fashion designer, is part of a WhatsApp group chat that consists of three people — an accountant, a journalist, and herself.
“The discussions we have circle around career, work and purpose. We offer practical advice to each other. In other words, it’s an online support group,” says Leong. While such personal support networks can be useful, it may also be worth considering throwing a career roadblock question into the web and look beyond our personal networks to ensure an objective advice-giving premise.
Rather than a forum, where replies can take over a day or more — a lifetime in the digital world — there is now the option to use instant online interaction for work purposes. Imagine pairing up with a buddy, or an unofficial mentor when you need a pep talk ahead of your upcoming presentation, or face a burning workplace dilemma that keeps you up at night.
An app called Rungway appears to build that bridge. At first glance, the app looks like a fusion of dating apps OKCupid and Tinder. Here’s how it works: You create a profile, include your profession and current employment status, such as student, intern, or professional; select the areas and key points for discussions you are able to contribute such as interviews and sexism at the workplace; pose your own work dilemma in your profile; and swipe away left or right to view individual profiles and questions in which you can discuss in a private chat.
“When I’m thinking about using digital for leadership, how can we empower women to get rid of this ridiculous notion that asking for help is a bad thing,” says Julie Chakraverty, founder of leadership and culture app, Rungway.
Various questions and topics appear throughout the app such as “Relationship building before maternity leave”, “How to handle political questions” and even “To cc, or not to cc?” from both men and women. Such questions, while they may appear as no-brainers to some people, reflect the core of this support ethos and could aid work related stress.
According to a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE): “Work related stress depression and anxiety continue to represent a significant ill health condition in the workforce.” Among the primary causes included “Consistent over time with workload, lack of managerial support and organisational change.”
“What’s interesting that in the questions, women use the app far more than men, where the men will ask, ‘How do I stop rushing in a meeting?’, a woman will post, ‘I’m not good at meetings,’” says Chakraverty. It is important to note that both men and women are asking the questions, but the framing of the question is different which implies there is a certain gender imbalance that needs to be looked into, but the lack of confidence in career development still involves both men and women. However it is evident that the use of the digital ecosystem is able to provide a two-way solution to network and support in moving forward the discussion of leadership in a purpose-driven landscape.
It is key to note that while work stress varies between individuals, some of the reflective discussions can be mitigated amongst professional support networks outside of the office with new apps such as Rungway. While brands look to champion internet access in rural areas around the world, metropolitan users on the other hand need to continue to push the status quo beyond memes and social media gratification. In order to ask uncomfortable questions around leadership in the workplace, it is up to everyone, men and women, to take up the advantage of creating a functional and supportive digital sphere.