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The rules of the workplace were written over 100 years ago by men for men. Today, we still see a “boy’s club” mentality throughout every industry.

In fact, a recent Harvard study shows that male employees are promoted faster than their female counterparts while under male managers. Conversely, the study found that under female managers, all genders receive equal promotional treatment.

Researchers predict that about 40% of the gender pay gap would be expunged if male-to-male promotion advantages were eliminated. But eliminating boy’s-club toxicity isn’t going to happen overnight. 

So how does a company change its culture

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Let’s explore what it takes for a company to make a cultural shift toward more equality in the workplace.

Company culture shift: Change the focus of recruiting

Knowing what skills are needed to get a job done is the easy part of recruiting. Sifting through resumes for a candidate’s pedigree is as simple as scanning for the right text. Where they went to school, how much experience they have, and what titles they’ve held are all easily identifiable and quantifiable.

It takes more skill to predict how the new team member may fit into the office dynamic and what contributions and new skills they might bring to the table. This requires a more personal approach in the interview process. Rather than spending time during an interview only on someone’s professional background, it’s important to spend time discovering whether the candidate is an emotionally intelligent individual who can not only contribute to but enhance the team. 

Changing the focus to hiring for passion as well as for skill can bring a different kind of employee to your organization. Skill can be taught, but passion is innate. It’s either there or it isn’t. 

From culture fit to culture add

A lot has been made about “culture fit” in today’s hiring climate. Hiring managers are told to emphasize the likelihood of a prospective candidate to adapt to the core values and gel with the diverse personalities that make an organization.

But improving company culture isn’t about maintaining the status quo. Looking for a culture “fit” may be more akin to fitting a square peg into a round hole. This approach requires much of the employee, setting the expectation that they must adapt to the culture, rather than the existing culture evolving and improving over time.

A culture “add,” however, is someone who joins an existing organization’s culture and brings something to the table. This lets the whole become more than just the sum of its parts.

A culture add lets a CEO say, “What is my current company culture missing?” and allows the employees to benefit from the new gifts brought to the team from a diverse hire. More importantly, it weeds out those who might bring an “ends justifies the means” approach to job performance.

It takes everyone to create an inclusive company culture

When you have kind, inclusive people on your team, it creates a kind culture. Hiring with an eye toward improving culture starts with leadership making emotional intelligence as much of a key performance indicator as any other professional requirement. This gives hiring managers and team leaders the ability to incorporate this into their recruiting, hiring and management practices.

But CEOs can’t just dictate this from on high and expect the rank and file to march in line. CEOs need to display the kind of qualities they wish to see in the employees their hiring managers bring on board. Part of this means activating solutions for change — setting the tone by emphasizing core qualities or pillars that guide the organization. 

Communication

CEOs need to communicate with their employees, not to them. Transparency makes employees feel more secure in their jobs. It’s the CEO’s job to make sure employees know what’s going on and make them feel informed.

When leaders communicate at a high level, it helps team members feel more secure about communicating back to them and to each other. In a toxic workplace, open communication can be viewed as aggressive or pushy. In an empathetic workplace, communication fosters honesty and an open exchange of ideas.

Sharing

Sharing is more than just communicating. It means bringing something personal to your communication. When the CEO isn’t just a person constantly hiding in a corner office, it brings humanity to their leadership style.

When employees share with each other, it means they’re talking about more than just work. They’re engaging on a more personal level, which goes a long way toward improving the culture of a workplace.

Vulnerability

Some view vulnerability as a weakness, but nothing could be further from the truth. To admit a mistake, acknowledge a fault, or ask for help takes courage, and that courage should be acknowledged. Workers should feel safe to share what is on their mind — from difficulty with a task, to issues with child care or hardships at home — without fear of it adversely affecting their job.

The best leaders inspire people to do their best, and that works in both directions. When an executive shows their vulnerable side, it can inspire greater commitment from their employees. Showing compassion to team members who are having a tough time by providing support, whether it’s offering to help or words of encouragement, can go a long way towards employee dedication and satisfaction. When we create a space for vulnerability, we create a culture that feels safe, and a safe culture is a productive one. 

Company culture and the happiness factor

The goal of corporate culture is to create a workplace where everyone feels valued and where all employees can contribute and succeed. An improved corporate culture can certainly make people happier in their personal relationships with their bosses and other team members.

It can also make organizations more effective. Employees that communicate, share, and feel comfortable to express vulnerabilities can overcome obstacles that inhibit other teams’ performance.

Companies that improve culture with an eye on diversity, empathy and kindness can turn a “Great Resignation” into a “Great Retention” by creating an environment where everyone wants to work, and no one wants to leave.

Shelley Zalis is CEO of The Female Quotient (The FQ).

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