How to… create an inclusive workplace culture

31 May 2013

In an edited extract from the Women 1st ‘Little Book of Diversity', we explore what elements of a workplace culture might be holding women back

An organisation's culture can be summarised as "how we do things around here" and ultimately influences who fits in and who doesn't.

There are lots of different models for exploring organisational culture. One is called the cultural web and can be used to help you analyse your current culture and identify what needs to stay, go or be added if you want to achieve your strategic goals.

Using this model, you are encouraged to explore different aspects of your workplace:


Rituals and routines - the 
daily behaviour and actions 
of people that signal acceptable behaviour. This determines what is expected to happen in given situations and what is valued by management.

Symbols - the visual representations of the company including logos, how plush 
the offices are and how formal or informal the dress codes.

Organisational structure - 
this includes both the structure defined by the organisation chart and the unwritten lines of power and influence that indicate whose contributions are most valued.

Control systems - the ways that the organisation is controlled. These include financial systems, quality systems and rewards (including the way they are measured and distributed within the organisation).

Power structures - the pockets of real power in the company. This may involve one or two 
key senior executives, a whole group of executives or even a department.

The key is that these people have the greatest amount of influence on decisions, operations and strategic direction.

Apply a gender "lens" to this exercise: are all your organisational heroes male? 
Do your women feel the need 
to dress in formal business suits? This can help to establish what factors are hindering any gender strategy, and establish what needs to be encouraged and reinforced, and what needs to be changed.

Get communication right Internal and external communication is critical 
to the success of any gender programme.

Internal communication is particularly important and can often be badly handled.

Women may misunderstand your motivation or the intention of the policy and may fail to engage and support initiatives. They may feel 
that their ability is being questioned or be concerned that colleagues will assume they have only been given a job because of their gender, critically damaging their authority and potential
to be effective.

Programmes aimed at changing women need to 
be handled particularly sensitively.

Men also need to understand the aim, objectives and detail 
of the policy to avoid any 
build-up of resentment or misunderstanding. Men need to be treated fairly, too.

Tip Ensure any gender champion appointed by the board is sufficiently senior, influential and respected within your organisation and is committed to this agenda. You need your champion to talk actively about women and gender equality publicly, and you need to identify lots of opportunities 
for them to do so.

Don't assume your gender champion needs to be a woman; in fact, it can have more impact if it is a senior man.


The "lived experience" of women in your company
â- How men view women, how women view men and how women view women in your company
â- How important - and, potentially, how big a problem - gender equality is
â- If people think solutions lie in "fixing" women
â- If either conscious or unconscious bias is at play - such as opinions about women with children working at senior levels
â- Levels of support, scepticism or resistance for initiatives to help women secure senior positions

You can find this out by exploring…

â- What stories your employees share about your organisation and what these say about what your organisation believes in
â- What heroes, villains and mavericks appear in these stories - and is there a gender angle?
â- If women feature in a positive or negative way in stories - or at all
â- How employees and customers expect to be treated, and what behaviours these routines encourage
â- If any status symbols are used - such as dress codes - and what these mean to men and women
â- What image is associated with your organisation? Could this be interpreted differently by men and women?
â- If the organisation structure is formal or informal, flat or hierarchical, and how this

Impacts on women
â- If employees get rewarded for good work or penalised for poor work, and if this has a different impact dependent on gender
â- Who has real power in the organisation? What do these people believe in and champion? Who makes or influences decisions, and what is their view on gender issues?

Get senior-level commitment

A critical step to ensuring the success of any business intervention is the ability to secure support from the most senior people in an organisation. The business case can play a critical part in this, but it is important to recognise many senior managers will also happily commit to helping women progress in their organisation because they believe it is the right thing to do.

Responsibility for diversity generally rests with either HR or CSR, but regardless of where it sits it will only get traction if it is seen as a business imperative and integrated into overarching business objectives.

Having a grasp of the key equality arguments, the historical context - as well as the financial arguments - can help you to formulate a much more compelling argument. You should not assume that every business leader will require a hard economic case to take action on this agenda.

Like anything else, you will know you have secured commitment when you have agreement on targets for regularly reporting progress. It is also helpful if you can get a senior manager to take individual responsibility for securing the success of any gender programme.

Checklist â- Make the agenda a business issue, not a women's issue or about fixing women
â- Make a strong business case to senior management
â- Explain the specific barriers to women progressing into senior positions in your organisation
â- Justify your proposed approach
â- Get senior-level commitment and internal and external endorsement of your plans
â- Consider appointing a gender champion and/or setting targets for accountability

The Little Book of Diversity a practical guide to supporting women in the workplace

The Little Book of Diversity provides realistic advice and guidance to businesses in the service industry looking to increase the number of women in senior positions and to help talented female employees to achieve their career ambitions.

It is packed full of tips, practical ideas and case studies from companies including McDonald's, PepsiCo, Shell and IBM - organisations which actively champion gender diversity within their management teams and reap commercial benefits as a result.

â- The Little Book of Diversity is available in hardback for £14.99 and can be ordered at An e-book version, priced at £9.95, will be available soon from the same web address.

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