Recent reports have pored over diversity statistics from technology firms for evidence of how their workforces are evolving the mix of gender, ethnicity and other traits at different grades, and how they compare to the societies and customer bases they serve.
There may be some cynicism that technology companies are doing all they can in this area. Fostering local community and specific grass-roots investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) is a good start, but for many their in-house figures have not changed hugely.
So if one challenge is the lack of pipeline of talent coming into an organisation, that still means another hurdle to progress may be the corporate culture of the organisations themselves.
Tying down corporate culture
Defining a corporate culture is complex. Using a model like the ‘Cultural Web’ (Johnson and Scholes) could help. It consists of six of factors: stories, symbols (including the physical workplace environment), systems and controls, rituals and routines, organisational structures, and power structures (meaning who really takes decisions).
An organisation may have an over-arching culture, but it is the experience of employees in their own teams and divisions that will also colour their views. Whilst employee engagement surveys are a well-used tool to understand employees’ views of their leaders, teams and the culture within an organisation and team, when it comes to driving inclusive behaviour and supporting a diverse range of employees, employee networks and resource groups are an undervalued resource.
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Many networks are set up organically to represent or promote the interests of specifically under-represented groups. So if culture is a key challenge for organisations to stay on top of, and networks exist to represent diverse groups, why not leverage these networks to hone and evolve culture as a key part of their role.
This can happen through a number of different ways in relation to the Cultural Web.
Each team and group will have stories to relate that reflect their own culture. Stories could come from within group meetings, ad hoc comments at social gatherings, feedback sessions for recruitment or promotion meetings, or during campus/external recruitment events.
Speak to those involved in employee networks about the stories they hear and behaviours they see. Whilst they are not there to act as ‘spies’, giving them the opportunity and confidence to challenge, appropriately, any stories they hear that might cause concern could be a valuable investment.
Empower network leaders to challenge and give feedback in the right way to their teams and diversity leaders. Expecting a more junior member of the network to automatically understand the right way to feed back and challenge might leave everyone susceptible to further issues, discomfort or isolation.
Routines and rituals
The way in which a team interacts can differ, depending on the scenario. Whether meeting with clients, running a day-to-day project, interviewing for recruitment, or during social events, network members will have unique insight into the workings of teams ‘on the ground’.
Building confidence in network members to share their experiences and help the organisation reflect on these, with a view to continually improving how welcome and included people are made to feel, can be an extremely valuable attribute.
Additionally, new employees may have a range of things they may need help or support with to ensure they contribute as best they can at work. Whereas many employees will speak with their line managers, some may be more reticent if the issues are personal or they feel it may cause unwanted attention. Many network groups act as a catalyst to help flag these issues and find resolutions that work for all sides.
The focus of many successful programmes is to build confidence in understanding each other and being comfortable providing sometimes-difficult messages about culture and differences experienced by the network members.
In one particular case, this led to a project to educate the business on the language and tone used by individuals from different family and cultural backgrounds, and how this might impact their responses during promotion interviews.
Using employee groups for customer group engagement and product development
This has happened successfully in banking, with products for disability – such as braille on credit cards – as well as LGBT focus in advertising and insurance products.
Equally, tech firms are now ensuring that mixed gender teams design products to avoid male-only engineers missing potential design implications. For example, where laptop design is impacted based on the type of clothes you wear and your seating position when holding a laptop.
Organisational structure and power structure
For many organisations, the real power to make decisions does not always mirror the exact organisational structures on paper.
Whilst in some cases the individuals and groups who have most influence over an organisation have evolved for a reason, network groups can help reflect back to the organisation where these are and whether they are actually having an adverse impact on company culture.
For the most part, hiring and promotion processes are well structured, balancing the need to cast the net wide – but also recruit, reward and promote the best individuals for any particular role. Some networks do play a role in amplifying a recruitment message by searching for different opportunities to reach diverse audiences.
Additionally, network group members can play an insightful role in flagging best practices at other organisations for performance management, as well as feeding back their own experiences and whether any aspects might be improved.
With all network activity, the role of HR and D&I leaders is to filter these views and assess whether they warrant flagging to leadership or taking specific action to respond.
Networks need to recognise that all problems will be taken seriously and all solutions considered, but that the organisation will have to work to prioritise which to respond to.
Harness interest and passion – but keep focussed on business goals
Not all recommendations or suggested changes from network groups may be accepted and there may be some that clash between groups. Other challenges may be too difficult to change.
Yet, if an organisation is serious about looking to change and improve culture to support attraction and promotion of diverse ranges of candidates, then it needs to consider how open the company, especially the senior management team, is to being challenged about culture even if that means having to change behaviour from the inside. Using employee networks and resource groups as allies to do this is a great start.
Sourced from Patrick Voss, managing director, Jeito