How to Change Organizational Mindset Via the “Power of One”

12/20/2017 10:59 am ET

There’s a new ROI for inclusion and belongingness, which I’ve termed the “Power of One.” In my last post, I shared some facts that reveal the high level of disruptive change in our organizations today is finally leading to the emergence of a new culture, where traditionally silent individuals and groups are starting to use their voices. With the balance shifting from polarization to integration in some companies, I again challenge leaders to ask themselves: how can we expect support for gender balance and diversity across our organizations if employees lack a basic sense of common purpose and connectedness? SHAMBAUGH has identified several strategies that point to what needs to happen to change the organizational conversation and mindset, which I’ll be sharing with you over the next few posts. Let’s begin with the first two strategies:

Be a bold, disruptive leader. No matter how comfortable we may feel reiterating the standard PR pitch about diversity, we can’t wait any longer to disrupt the traditional narrative around diversity, gender equality, and inclusion. Each time an organization waves their flag and promotes their latest “advertisement” about diversity training or a “women’s initiative,” it adds to the rapidly expanding level of diversity fatigue, which contributes to the current lack of progress on gender balance and inclusion. It takes courage to be a bold leader, but it’s essential to disrupt the old narrative and join the swelling ranks of organizations worldwide that are waking up to the fact that the old numbers game—based on metrics to achieve quotas for certain employee demographics—is just a numbers game and not sustainable.

In an effort to bring real change, cultures and leadership need to let go of outdated autocratic leadership and hierarchy style that tends to stifle, rather than drive, productivity and innovation. Intentionally creating—and then holding managers accountable for facilitating—an environment in which everyone has the freedom and comfort to think and approach problems in their own way can give employees a sense of true belonging. This will ultimately lead to better creativity and engagement across the company.

CEOs have a major role to play in making this happen, and I’m happy to report that according to research from SHAMBAUGH, more CEOs are indeed piping up. Our studies reveal a growing trend where many CEOs are starting to use their platforms to address inclusion issues, stating their bold goals and expressing their commitment to achieving gender equality. Several of SHAMBAUGH’s clients have boldly stated their commitment on their websites and in the public domain to reach 50–50 gender equality within the next 10 years. As CEOs from major corporations continue to come together to have a more comprehensive conversation about representation and strategies, they’ll be able to make a significant difference by sharing personal successes and failures, and discussing what they can do together to harness their leadership to create a culture that supports gender equality and inclusion.

All levels of leadership—from C-level senior executives to middle managers—need to consistently communicate and enforce both their own commitment and the organization’s support for inclusion and gender equality

Hold others accountable. Lack of leadership accountability is a big reason behind why corporate efforts to address gender balance and diversity have not been more successful to date. All levels of leadership—from C-level senior executives to middle managers—need to consistently communicate and enforce both their own commitment and the organization’s support for inclusion and gender equality. How can leadership do this? It starts with something as simple as actively listening to women, and then using your leadership position to foster dialogue about women’s experience. As part of supporting accountability, consider the following actions:

  • Talk to women by setting up formal and informal listening forums about whether anything specific is happening in their role or the company that makes them feel excluded and then identify ways to foster greater inclusion.
  • Provide your managers and leaders with the proper training and tools to provide constructive feedback that is intended to support individual’s growth, development, and career aspirations.
  • Ask for women’s suggestions on addressing gender balance and women’s advancement, and be sure that these learnings are prioritized for action at the leadership level.
  • Middle managers and senior leadership alike can signal their commitment to gender balance and diversity by getting on the front lines and continuing to push for answers from their own leaders and management teams. In hiring or promotion situations, for example, be the one to ask other leaders:
  • How many women are included in your organization’s succession planning – interview slates for promotions or growth opportunities? Is it a gender-balanced representation?
  • How many women on your team are being given opportunities to expand their visibility into more strategic roles or stretch assignments? Is the number of women given these opportunities fewer than the number of men?
  • Are you personally making an effort to sponsor or mentor women on your team or in your company?
  • What specific actions are you taking to improve your value and effectiveness as a sponsor or mentor?

More and more organizations are now recognizing that overused first-level solutions to address gender balance and diversity aren’t enough. Leaders can leverage the pair of strategies above as a company scorecard to start to change the conversation, confirming that employees understand not just the what or the how behind their work, but also the why. What will be your commitment today to start moving the needle for creating an inclusive culture – gender equality? In my next post, I’ll share two additional complementary solutions that can also help change the organizational mindset via the Power of One.

Rebecca Shambaugh is a contributing editor for Harvard Business Review and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results

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