Spaces for safety

How do we create spaces for our identity that feel safe at work?

In Perspective

December 06, 2021
Anushka smiles at the camera and crosses her arms.
By Anushka Joshi December 06, 2021
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From a young age, we are conditioned to commodify our skills and talents to achieve a traditional definition of success. Grappling with the idea of industrialization of self in college, it seemed every skill and interest I had tied back to what I would do, what I would create, and who I would be. 

The balance and compartmentalization of a 40-hour workweek no longer exist. Work blurs into our life in an unprecedented way, and now demands a new dedication to employees putting emotional safety and support at the forefront of their needs. 


As the lines between work and personal life are increasingly blurred, Flower Purple it is not just our skills that bleed into what we do, it is who we are.


How do your race, gender, and interests, among other facets of identity, impact how you show up to work every day? As the workplace is a dominant community where you spend the majority of your time during the week, it’s crucial that it is an environment that promotes psychological safety.

Psychological Safety

Harvard professor Amy Edmondson coined the term “psychological safety” to describe the organizational structure of teams with open and honest communication that allows employees to have a sense of comfort about their ideas and identities at work.

Creating spaces for ourselves

In today’s digital world, you can find an online space for just about anything. From Reddit communities to niche Twitter subcultures to Instagram pages that provide information on your interests –– you can find a space to feel seen and heard. One of the greatest features of the internet is the ability to connect with one another. 

The significance and need for community for young people has grown –– especially in a digital landscape. We can access nearly anything at our fingertips, and that freedom can leave us lost in a vast portal without proper redirection. In digital communities, we can find belonging and emulate the value of smaller local communities, with the added benefit of finding spaces that speak to our true value. Rather than being landlocked in the hometown that you’ve outgrown, the online world provides a sense of belonging and inclusion when users find solace in their communities of choice.  

While social media platforms were designed to facilitate community, young people are taking advantage of this digital world and are creating spaces that reflect what is missing in their physical worlds. 

When I was a freshman in college, I co-founded a media community called GEN-ZiNE which is dedicated to addressing contemporary issues through the eyes of Generation Z. It evolved from a magazine to a media community, where young voices are amplified in order to rewrite the future as we want to see it. It’s a community that reflects the love and hope we want to see in the world.

Youth-led Communities

GEN-ZiNE is not alone in the mission of echoing unheard voices––we’re in company with Parachute Media, which is a space for women and non-binary people of color, as well as the Conversationalist who aims to break out of echo chambers through conversation. These are among many of the communities built by youth to amplify our voices (see AmbassCo, Future Coalition). 

If we are able to create community ourselves, then it is possible to implement in a company with resources. 

As young people, we have taken advantage of the digital world and lower barriers to create spaces for ourselves, and have found success in creating viral communities with ease. We are pros at harnessing our power to create spaces that we feel reflected in. Feeling empowered in spaces online or offline outside of the workplace have set the expectation and required workplaces to facilitate similar levels of belonging — particularly when they often have more resources. 

Larger companies, like Microsoft, succeed at addressing employee identity from a multitude of angles. My friend, a fresh-Microsoft employee, age 22, identifies as a Hispanic woman in the workforce. She can show up to work and join an employee resource group for her Hispanic heritage, and another community that speaks to being a woman, and also communities that speak to her intersectional identity. However, not every company takes approaches like this one.

Out with the old and in with the new

There are many companies that fall on the spectrum between grassroots communities and companies that dominate our economy. For those of us who end up at smaller to mid-sized companies, there is still a need for the culture of the company to reflect their employees and have spaces and communities for all team members. 

The value of positive company culture is backed by data that serves the growth of companies too: happy employees are 13% more productive. Employees that feel unsupported are likely to quit, causing turnover within the company. Companies are increasingly adopting a more holistic culture approach both for their employees within and for consumer appeal


13%

Happy employees are 13% more productive.


It begins with listening to your employees and asking what they need to join your company, feel comfortable, and ultimately become an engaged team member. Start by asking, “What do you need to be successful?” Feeling comfortable in the workplace could mean having a community for heritage, sexual and gender identity, or ability. Workplace confidence could be achieved through equitable solutions, mentorship, and additional support. Once employers hear what employees need, the next step is to ask, “How can we provide you that support?” 

Redefining the role of work and community 

When I first questioned the role of work in my life, I was navigating how success would be measured in my life beyond having a career path. How was work going to play a role in my everyday life and in defining who I am?

I ask the same question today, but through the lens of redefining the role of work and community. As I begin on my career journey alongside my peers and recent graduates, we are navigating the realities of a work-life balance –– from determining how much time is healthy to spend working to understanding the role that work relationships play in your life. 

With each generation, work plays a new role in our lives. Company culture, and communities for inclusion, must reflect a new generation who has different expectations for a workplace than in previous generations. 

Or maybe we’ll just continue to build our own 😉Perspective dark

Anushka smiles at the camera and crosses her arms.
Anushka Joshi, Co-Founder, GEN-ZiNE

Anushka is the co-founder and Editor in Chief of GEN-ZiNE, a grassroots media community for young people to rewrite the future. She graduated from USC in May 2021 with Order of Troy, Magna Cum Laude, and Media & Entrepreneurship awards while studying Communication with a minor in Media Economics and Entrepreneurship.  Committed to designing media for social change, Anushka believes in the power of storytelling to empower communities and echo unheard voices.

Anushka is the co-founder and Editor in Chief of GEN-ZiNE, a grassroots media community for young people to rewrite the future. She graduated from USC in May 2021 with Order of Troy, Magna Cum Laude, and Media & Entrepreneurship awards while studying Communication with a minor in Media Economics and Entrepreneurship.  Committed to designing media for social change, Anushka believes in the power of storytelling to empower communities and echo unheard voices.


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