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Companies Lose When Employees Feel Excluded

Feeling different from colleagues can result in limited opportunities and downsized aspirations, new Catalyst report finds.

NEW YORK (January 16, 2014)—What happens when employees feel like “others” at work, and sense that they don’t really belong? Catalyst’s new report, Feeling Different: Being the "Other" in US Workplaces, shows that feeling different from co-workers—whether because of gender, race/ethnicity, or nationality—can not only make employees feel isolated and excluded, but can impact their career advancement and ultimately their aspirations.

The net result for companies: a tremendous loss of potential talent.

Feelings of exclusion can be compounded when someone feels like an “other” in more than one way, such as being a black woman in an office of white men.

Anyone can feel like an “other” in the workplace. It can be a woman in a male-led workforce, a male in an industry filled with women (such as nursing), an LGBT employee, or an expatriate working in a foreign country.

Key Findings:

Women who feel different from their workgroup based on race/ethnicity may come to be excluded in important ways. Compared to women who do not feel racially/ethnically different and all men, they:

  • Receive fewer promotions.

  • Are less likely to be at the senior executive/CEO level, despite being qualified to lead.

  • Are less likely to have high-level mentors—and may therefore be less often recommended for important opportunities.

  • Feel more limited by a lack of access to high-visibility assignments.

  • Are more likely to downsize their aspirations; this is especially true if they have children and spouses/partners working full-time.

But the study suggests that feeling different doesn’t have to mean feeling excluded—especially if companies and co-workers show employees that their differences are an asset. Catalyst recommends that organizations create a sense of belonging by making “others” feel valued for their differences, rather than uncomfortably conscious of them, and putting mechanisms into place to make sure they have equal access to sponsors and hot jobs.

“When employees feel that their ‘otherness’ is seen as a strength, rather than a challenge, everybody in the company benefits,” says Deborah Gillis, President and CEO, Catalyst. “By ensuring that everyone feels included and valued at work, companies are positioned to celebrate and leverage the unique talents and perspectives that each employee brings to the table, creating a workplace where everyone can thrive.”

Interviews available.

Read more about the study and its methodology.

View the infographic.

Read a blog post by the study’s lead researchers.

AT&T, Bloomberg, BMO Financial Group, Cardinal Health, Inc., Chevron Corporation, Credit Suisse, Dell Inc., Deloitte LLP, Desjardins Group, Deutsche Bank AG, EY, General Motors Company, Hewlett-Packard Company, IBM Corporation, KeyBank, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, McDonald’s Corporation, Sodexo, State Street Corporation, UPS.

Founded in 1962, Catalyst is the leading nonprofit organization expanding opportunities for women and business. With offices in the United States, Canada, Europe, India, and Australia, and more than 700 members, Catalyst is the trusted resource for research, information, and advice about women at work. Catalyst annually honors exemplary organizational initiatives that promote women’s advancement with the Catalyst Award.