An enduring hurdle preventing a truly diverse workplace is the persistent problem of unconscious bias. If HR can overcoming this, organizations reap rewards such as lower turnover and better leadership options.
Turnover is costly for organizations, in time, money and productivity. The national annual average is 9.8*. In an organization of 4,000 employees, this translates into 400 new employees a year, and 1,200 (30% of the total employee base) in a three year period.
These numbers directly feed into the perception of HR as a cost centre and not a revenue raiser in many organizations, as recruitment costs can weigh heavily on the bottom-line.
Pamela Young, author of Stepping Up, believes that through optimizing diversity to achieve growth, this turnover rate can be reduced greatly. However, before tackling the diversity issue, organizations must be aware of the unconscious assumptions that dwell at the surface of organizational cultures.
Evidence suggests that Canada has come to a standstill in workplace diversity, particularly around established diversity areas such as gender. Geoffrey Court, head of people and culture at Salmat – an organization which boasts a Woman In Leadership Council among other diversity initiatives – told HRM many organizations are struggling.
“It’s hit a plateau in the last 10 years; women aren’t advancing any faster … some big changes have been made, but some even bigger ones have yet to be made,” he said.
Young stated that organizations must first address the four cultural bind spots before embarking on diversity innovations:
The power of assumptions
While many organizations will combat attitudes and behaviours they view in the organization, this does not get to the underlying issue. Beneath the surface, these behaviours are driven by unseen cultural assumptions.
“Sustainable permanent change can only be achieved when the assumptions that drive attitudes and behaviors are revealed, challenged and aligned with your goals,” Young explained.
On Page 2: Visibility, culture and HR
Changing only visible layers
Mentoring, leadership and skills programs are all well and good, but again miss the heart of the issue, according to Young. “Fixing women through leadership and mentoring initiatives, or pay equity and flexible work practices, will not adjust a macho culture.”
Although these initiatives may help accommodate for female staff, decision-makers or other leaders in the organization many not be swayed to change the path of the organization, ultimately keeping any ‘boys’ club’ mentalities intact.
Recognize and respect subcultures
Most importantly, organizations must not underestimate the existence of multiple assumptions and values that may exist in the organization. Subcultures that operate within an organization will see different thought patterns and beliefs emerge, which can result in an array of unconscious assumptions existing, all which must be approached with the same level of respect as the next.
The impact of other cultures
On a broader scale, external cultures that employees bring into the workplace can cause tension. When this tension arises, employees must often choose whether to integrate or leave, with the latter resulting in increased turnover and higher recruitment costs.
The need to address these issues transcends the individual organization.
“If [organizations] can influence attitudes and behaviours in society we’d have fewer problems with behaviours that impact performance at work,” Young stated. “Over time that would help to build a more unified and cohesive workforce reducing the costs of staff turnover and preparing stronger businesses and communities ready to take on the economic challenges of the 21st century.”