Diversity and Change Management

How do you change a culture, and in this case corporate culture, to increase acceptance and promotion of diversity?

Over the holidays, I read an article in the Economist about how to change the mentality of men in criminal gangs in Mexico and Central America. The idea is to help men get away from a culture of violent machismo and thereby improve the situation of the women in the community.

What has this to do with diversity in the corporate environment? you may say. There is no violence between people in corporations. Well, if we remove the word “violent” in the paragraph above, the rest may actually mean more to you. Continue reading.

A person named Sergio Muñoz (potentially a Chilean Chief Justice, but the article doesn’t tell) who was sponsored by UNDP for crime-prevention workshops , says that “You can’t hope to improve the fate of women if you don’t work with the men, because these patterns of masculinity are repeated from generation to generation”. Rings a bell? Like, “the Old Boys’ Club”? This is exactly the same phenomenon as in the corporate environment, only voiced in a different context. 

According to the article, this “anti-machismo” approach was first rebuffed by officials, as the masculine culture was so entrenched, and wanting to change it might have been perceived as touching a cultural taboo. The taboo part is officially no longer a problem in western corporate culture, although in many industries it still persists (refer to my previous post). It is most likely still present in traditionally strong patriarchal cultures, even if they do business internationally. There, men just don’t take out paternity leave, and they don’t deal with family issues, as a matter of course.

Time and time again, articles now speak about the era after “Lean In”, where not only women’s behaviour affect their position in the company, but where the corporate culture in general will play a role in women’s opportunities and development at work. Or for that matter, anyone’s opportunities.

So how do corporations change? If they want to become more efficient, they restructure, they apply “lean” principles to their activity, they change their sales or product strategy. Often, these initiatives are launched by top management to improve the company’s performance. Sometimes, selling strategies for example, are launched by sales managers who see an opportunity to improve, and who then sell in the concept to the bosses to get support. However, sale strategy is not necessarily about an entire corporate culture, while lean principles are, or can be.

Traditionally, change management that spans over an entire organisation is something that is introduced by the boss, to make sure that the company and its employees change the way they do things. A global adherence to the change increases chances to succeed with the change and to improve the organisation. There is a whole science about how to make the people down the ranks adhere to a new idea. But you probably already know this.

Funnily enough, when it comes to diversity, and especially gender diversity, it seems many movements still start from the bottom and go up. Especially women get together and create support groups for women, women’s networks, and so on.

But, if the corporate top does not proactively support these movements (they are always supported as a principle), and instead continues with business as usual, how is this type of change expected to be successful? Breaking the habits of the Old Boys’ Club is not easily done from outside. If change management drives other types of conceptual change in an organisation, why is it not used for diversity programmes (be it gender, or in general)?

I don’t want to be totally unfair. Some organisations, like Ernst and Young, today have diversity managers and specific programmes in place sponsored by top management. This is a great thing. But more organisations should do it, especially in Europe. There are programmes for corporate compliance, because it is legally mandatory. There are tasks forces for ethics (because it is looks good and adds goodwill to the company, or the lack of it adds badwill?, and) because there are anti-bribery conventions in place that, especially American, companies introduce as part of their contractual requirements. But there are also conventions on equality, regardless of gender, origin, and religion. However, this somehow seems much less “à la mode”, and less urgent to implement.  

The business case of diversity has been proven time and time again, so theoretically, this should not be an issue. The anti-machismo programmes in the Americas have struggled, but change has been possible through internationally sponsored programmes and official support. Is corporate diversity still a cultural taboo? Hardly everywhere. Or has the sales pitch simply not made a breakthrough to the top yet?

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