Entrenched cultural problems don’t disappear without firm actions.

There has been a lot said in the media of late about the state of cultures in Parliament House, in the media and in the corporate world.

We know that issues of gender equality, equal opportunity and gender-based harassment and violence have been present and commonplace in society and workplaces for decades.

In organisations, we have our discrimination and harassment policies and our gender equity quotas and annual reporting requirements and our EAPs and more… Yet what has really changed?

When you look at how organisations and people talk and behave today, has much progress been made for women in real terms and in everyday behaviours that they experience?

Sadly, not much; as is evident from the wave of protests and outcries that we are seeing and hearing from women across Australia today.

Why is it so?

The answer is that all of those policies and quotas and reporting requirements have (in the main) just been dealt with as compliance requirements. That is to say that they have been seen to be about minimising risk of exposure for not having done the due diligence of getting a tick in that box because our lawyers or government or our customers said that we had to.

This is a common failing of policy settings and organisational mindsets in all sorts of areas. For example:

  • When we do SWOT analyses, what are the first things we focus on? Weaknesses (where can we be hurt) and threats (how can we be hurt) – so right from the start, we focus on our risk not our strengths.
  • In implementing quality assurance processes in business, the motivation most often is getting the tick for accreditation on your brand because you want to be able to qualify for that next tender or to satisfy a key customer requirement for certification.
  • With WHS policies and procedures, the focus first and foremost is to get documented systems in place, instruct people to use them and have evidence of that instruction so as to nominally be able to demonstrate satisfaction of the primary obligation to have safe systems of work.

This means, in reality, they are only real to the extent that they generate a risk management strategy and process. Does that have real impact on organisational cultures and behaviours? Probably not.

Too often policies set out commitments or principles that are simply not supported by processes or leadership mindsets and actions. Or we decide that for operational reasons we will create an exception, for example, “we can’t afford to lose Harry, even if he did that.” Or we don’t have the time to do what is required.

These scenarios just create contradictions with the end result that people just don’t believe it because ‘the rhetoric’ and ‘the reality’ are miles apart.

What should we do about it?

The first thing we need to do is to acknowledge that the traditional risk management approach to implementing change doesn’t change behaviour all by itself.

The second is that the risk management process has to be real. That means that we need to genuinely explore and address the policies, processes and people who present risk in reality to women in our workplace ie in the policy settings, processes, attitudes and behaviours that define our culture.

It is also essential that leaders open their minds and hearts to the experiences and perspectives of women – not through a risk management lens that is about fixing a problem but through an engagement lens which is about obtaining the best outcome.

Be clear about what we are wanting to achieve (our purpose in this) eg: that might be “We want a workplace where equality and safety are real for everyone every day.”

Articulate some clear principles or strategies that underpin that purpose and provide the foundation for effective action, eg:

  1. Women genuinely have a voice that is heard and listened to and acted on.
  2. There is an organisation-wide process of risk assessment – a deep reflection on the people, the language, the policies and procedures and the behaviours within the organisation that present risks or disadvantages for women (directly or indirectly).
  3. There is an organisation-wide commitment to change and to not be bystanders who allow gender-based discrimination and harassment to happen.
  4. There is an ever evolving, effective and inclusive plan to deliver our “workplace where equality and safety are real for everyone every day”.
  5. Every person is held accountable for their language and behaviours and management of their relationships through regular conversations, education and coaching and, where they are not enough, discipline.
  6. Our leaders “walk the talk” in practice without exception and take proactive steps to support equality and safety for women throughout our organisation.

If you really want to change the dynamic of the conversation, the process and the outcomes, consider using Appreciative Inquiry as your change management framework. It uses a positive psychology approach centred on strengths that is much more engaging and positive to work through than traditional change processes.

It is a big challenge

This is a massive challenge for organisations and for society as a whole – for women and for men and also for people who identify as gender neutral.

We have generations of institutionalised gender inequality that have defined people’s beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that we have to challenge if we are to make progress towards true gender equality.

And it isn’t going to happen overnight – it requires commitment, perseverance, resilience and passion to keep the momentum and achieve results.

It also requires respect, understanding and patience to generate and sustain lasting change.

Getting help

There are resources available through several of the main industry associations to help with equality in the workplace and there are also specialists out there who can assist. At Ridgeline HR, we have recently launched a new suite of services centred in positive psychology which are essentially about making better workplaces where organisations and their people flourish.

Equality, diversity and psychological safety are all key components of Better Workplaces.

If you are interested in exploring this further, call Peter Maguire on 0438 533 311 to arrange a free initial consultation.