Changing hostile Corporate Culture

If the culture of an organization does not change, all other efforts to support it fail, as managers at a company learned recently. The company had established a zero tolerance policy, and fired workers who were guilty of harassment; workers complained that the work environment remained deeply hostile. Although the incidents of harassment decreased, women workers still felt threatened and powerless because the culture and environment that allowed the harassment to occur in the first place, had not changed. The company managers were still struggling with these difficult issues.

Approaches for changing corporate culture: Managers can start by actively using symbols for the new values, such as encouraging and celebrating the promotion and disciplining of employees who display behavior that does not fit a diverse workplace. For women executives juggling a career and family send a clear signal that personal and family issues are important and do not limit career advancement. Culture change starts at the top,with CEOs and top executives demonstrating a strong commitment to making diversity part of the organizational mission.

Managers throughout the company can be educated to help transform the culture.  For one thing, they can examine the unwritten rules and assumptions. For example, many men may not discuss unwritten rules with women because they assume everyone is aware of them and they do not want to seem too patronizing.

Companies are addressing the issue of changing culture in a variety of ways. Some are using surveys, interviews and focus groups to identify how the cultural values affect women. Others have set up structured networks of people and women  groups to explore the issues they face in the workplace and to recommend changes to the senior management.

Many policies within the organization were originally designed to fit stereotypical male employees. Now leading companies are changing structures and policies to facilitate and support a diverse workforce. A survey conducted showed that majority of the companies which were surveyed had formal policies against work place indiscipline and structured grievance procedures and complaint review processes. Companies were also developing policies to support the recruitment and career advancement of diverse employees. At least half of  companies had staff dedicated exclusively to encouraging diversity. Managers were given bonuses and promotions to ensure that they diversified the workforce.

The successful advancement of diverse group members means that the organizations must find ways to eliminate conservative thinking. One of the most successful structures to accomplish this is the mentoring relationship. A mentor is a higher ranking, senior organizational member who is committed to providing upward mobility and support to a professional career. Mentoring provides direct training and inside information on the norms and expectations of the organization for weaker employees. A mentor also acts as a friend or a counsellor, enabling the employee to feel more confident and capable.

The career progress of high potential employees who were initially weak found that all those who advanced the furthest shared one common characteristic – i.e. a strong mentor or network of mentors who nurtured their professional development. Women are much less likely than men to develop mentoring relationships.  Women might not seek mentors because they feel that job competency should be enough to succeed, or they might feel uncomfortable seeking out a mentor when most of the senior executives are white males.  Women might fear that initiating a mentoring relationship could be misunderstood as a romantic overturn, whereas male mentors may think of women as mothers, wives or sisters rather than as executive material. Cross race mentoring relationship sometimes leaves both parties uncomfortable but the mentoring of minority employees must often be across race since there are few minorities in upper level positions. The few minorities and women who have reached the upper ranks often are overwhelmed with mentoring request from people like themselves, and they may feel uncomfortable in highly female mentoring relationships which isolate them from the white male status quo.

The solution is for organizations to overcome some of the barriers to the mentoring relationships between white males and minorities. Mentoring programs are also consistent and require the diversification of middle and upper management.

Many people have special needs of which top managers are unaware. For example, if a number of people entering the organization at the lowest level are single parents, the company can reassess job scheduling and opportunities for child care. If a substantial labour pool is non-English speaking, training materials and information packets can be provided in another language.

In many families today, both parents work, which means that the company should provide structures to deal with child care, maternity or paternity leave, flexible work schedules home based employment and perhaps part time employment or seasonal hours that reflect the school year. The key to attracting and keeping elderly or disabled workers may include long term care insurance and special health or life benefits. Alternative work scheduling also may be important for these groups of workers.

Changing organizational structures and policies is important because it demonstrates a concrete commitment to supporting diversity. If managers talk about the value of a diverse workforce but do not do anything to ensure that the diverse workers have opportunities and support in the workplace, employees are not likely to trust that the company truly values diversity.

  • Milwa Nel

    The quickest way to change organisational culture is to change the whole top structure. If interventions to change the culture is not succesful, the workers are still getting the same messages from top management.