In Road to Respect I share what I heard from one client when I asked him about gender distribution in his organization. “Like most workplaces we have more women working in administrative positions and more men working in management.” He was describing the cultural norms,” the way it is” in his workplace.
It is possible to make some assumptions on the basis of what my client told me. We could assume that women just aren’t interested in working in management in his organization. We could assume that they might not be qualified, or capable. We could assume that his company is run by a bunch of misogynists who are determined to keep women out of the boardroom. Then again, I am sure you are familiar with that old expression about assumptions.
The facts are that Canadian women earn the majority of undergraduate and master’s degrees and make up just over half of all Canadian workers. And yet, as I discussed in my previous post, they are not progressing into leadership ranks. The reason has everything to do with those cultural norms my client was describing.
Every workplace has cultural norms. It is those norms, those embedded and ingrained workplace practices and behaviours that determine who gets hired, what jobs they do and what their career progression will look like.
Ms. Clinton referred to those norms in her APEC presentation when talking about why women are not reaching their potential at work. “In the United States and in every economy in APEC, millions of women are still sidelined, unable to find a meaningful place for themselves in the formal workforce. Some barriers are left over from a different time and haven’t changed to reflect new economic realities or concepts of justice. Some seek to preserve an economic order that ensures that men have the higher-paying jobs to support their families. Some reflect lingering cultural norms…” 1
The problem with cultural norms is that without an interest and curiosity to learn about them, combined with a deliberate and strategic plan to shift them, they tend to be persist. When KPMG, one of the Employers of Choice I feature in my book started looking at their norms, they discovered a whole host of “micro-inequalities” embedded within their culture. They also found a direct correlation between those micro-inequalities and their ability to retain top talent.
One of the practices they adopted to expose those cultural norms are leadership roundtable discussions, called “Dead Moose on the Table” conversations, designed to explore common misperceptions and myths affecting decision making. At every level of the firm, employees participate in conversations aimed at raising awareness about assumptions and attitudes that may be affecting workplace relationships.
The goal is to remove those barriers, those lingering cultural norms Ms. Clinton talked about. Consistent with Ms. Clinton’s rationale, KPMG made this a strategic priority not just because it is “the right thing to do”, but because of the “clear business reasons” primarily the war for talent.
“For businesses where intellectual capital is the major input, the challenge is particularly difficult. Knowledge workers can pick up their marbles and go elsewhere. Unless you are seen as an employer of choice, you won’t attract or retain the kind of people who will develop and execute the business strategy that puts you ahead of the pack.”2
In today’s highly competitive, challenging and diverse marketplace we no longer have the luxury of clinging on to outmoded barriers and cultural norms, or of allowing our emotions to cloud work related decisions.
Take a moment to consider this question which highlights my web site’s home page.
“So what’s it like to work around here?”
What would your employees say?
Now ask yourself whether or not you want to attract and retain top employees.
If the answer to that question is yes, the next question must focus on your workplace norms.
Are they designed, structured and operating to ensure that you are able to attract and retain employees that will support your business success?
How does gender influence career progression in your workplace?
To figure that out you need to start talking – with your colleagues and your employees to find out “what it’s like to work around here”. You can hold individual conversations, team meetings, focus groups, use an on-line questionnaire or all of the above.
Here are some questions to help get the conversation started.
- What assumptions might be underlying your hiring practices?
- What considerations are given when making decisions about who gets trained for what?
- What barriers might exist that affect the ability of women to enter or advance in your workplace?
- Are “micro-inequalities” affecting employee’s perceptions of how they “fit” in the workplace?
- What opportunities are being created to ensure that employees can speak up about their desired career paths?
- What strategies have you adopted to ensure that all employees are supported to be successful?
Be curious, rather than judgmental about what you discover. This is not about figuring out what is wrong to lay blame. I have no doubt that had I entered into such a discussion with the client I refer to above, we would have discovered that no one had intentionally set up barriers to the advancement of women in his workplace.
The fact is that men have traditionally always been in positions of power. Most of us prefer to work with others that are “like us.” Our systems are set up to maintain the status quo. The question is whether or not the status quo is supporting the best business outcome.
What do you think?
1 Women Are Vital in the Participation Age,Posted: 9/16/11 01:05 PM ET, Huffington Post, Canada, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hillary-clinton/post_2423_b_966393.html?ir=Canada
2 Beth Wilson, national leader enterprise practice and Canadian managing partner, KPMG, Address to the Vancouver Board of Trade, November 16, 2006
Erica Pinsky M.Sc, CHRP, is a respectful workplace solutions expert and author of the highly acclaimed book Road to Respect: Path to Profit. A provocative and inspirational speaker, trainer, author and consultant she works with business to build workplace cultures that attract and retain top talent in an environment free from discrimination, harassment, bullying and destructive conflict. Contact her at 604-266-1267, Erica@ericapinskyinc.ca. www.ericapinskyinc.ca