Updated: Jan 27
In my work, managers often get caught up in discussions about "the system". I once worked with a research institute and it seemed to be impossible to co-create measures for a more inclusive work culture - because everyone was so distracted with the hurdles by "the system". This was in spite of the fact that through an employee survey we had a very clear understanding of people's pain points and needs. To me, it seemed obvious that change was in our hands- and to my workshop's participants it seemed obvious that there was little we could do.
While I understand that initiating change is more difficult for some than for others, I strongly believe that hiding behind "the system" is a harmful strategy. Harmful not only because it inherently means resignation, but also because others will not resign and your company might end up being in a very bad position.
Yes, it is difficult for a statistics lab to attract more female professors when there are such few women on the market. However, if you consequently decide to not do anything about your companies' attractiveness to women - the few women will go somewhere else. I see this happening all the time, particularly in male-dominated sectors. While most companies burry their heads in the sand and say: 'well, there are just too few women graduating from the universities within our fields', there is this one company that manages to attract more women than the others. And while the rest is still busy blaming skewed gender ratios, this one company develops counter-strategies and wins over the few remaining women that used to work for the other companies.
We need to acknowledge that no institution is completely isolated; we all have to cope within a certain framework that is determined by policies, incentive structures, social norms and many other factors. At the same time, we have power. It is us who make hiring decisions, live and set a certain culture, define social codes and norms and therefore reproduce or redefine "the system". Striving for change always entails, to a certain degree, changing the system - by reinventing your area of impact.
Of course, change takes effort and usually does not happen over night. Yet, there are plenty of other measures you can take to make a difference:
Placing your job postings strategically so that they attract specific stakeholder groups such as women or people with migration background .
Reconsider where you post your jobs descriptions, how you present your company on the website and what questions you ask during interviews.
Do an empathy workshop with your team and immerse yourself into the shoes of others: what would they look out for? What would be important in your company culture? How can you convey that?
Do a user-testing of the public materials with potential employees, e.g. university students to learn what they find important
Consider the three dimensions of class, race and gender that shape individuals’ lived realities the most. What do you do, to assure minorities feel comfortable in your work environment?
Although it is not easy, striving for inclusion is possible. By paying attention to diverse employees' and potential employees' needs, a company culture will be able to benefit from the advantages of diversity as put forward the World Economic Forum and leading consultancies: Companies with diverse employees show an improvement in productivity and economic growth. They perform better at problem-solving and managerial decision making. This makes sense if you think about the variety of perspectives a diverse team can rely upon, taking into consideration individuals’ lived experiences and knowledge.