Humans have long adapted to their environments as a matter of survival. Our entire evolutionary path has largely been a matter of successful adaptation: tribes that attuned their behaviours to changing environments survived, while those that did not modify their approach typically perished. Apply this principle to contemporary existence, where life is anything but stagnant. Our working lives are in a constant state of flux: people come and go, policies change and systems are updated. Many workplace practices are undergoing rapid change and resistance often follows. The question of adaptation and survival surely must be asked at some point along our organisational trajectory. When it comes to increasing diversity in our workplaces, are we brave enough to accept and understand deeply those who are immensely dissimilar? Can we prove that we can adapt and thrive?


Most leaders hire for “culture fit.” When an interviewee is hired because they “fit” the culture, we know that the health of the team will become a little less strong. Alternatively, when we hire for “culture value,” we are improving the health of the team. Metaphorically, we can describe this process as akin to receiving a vaccine. The team may feel that it has been injected with a virus, something foreign; yet this leads the team, over time, to become immune to attack. Essentially, the team has proved itself able to adapt to the change, becoming increasingly resistant to anything that can harm it. We all know what happens to those who do not adapt to their environments. It is either adapt, or perish. The two do not co-exist.


Unfortunately, the likely result for most people who are hired and, later, recognised as not fitting the current culture is that they are “managed out.” What has occurred, perhaps inadvertently, is that the team has proved that it cannot adapt to the change that was presented to it; the challenge was too uncomfortable and the change too confronting. As with a foreign body, the easiest, perhaps the only, solution is to expel the foreigner. No adjustments need be made, no behavioural ills transcended. Consequently, what the team has lost is a growth experience. This cannot continue to be a reflection of the person’s “ill fit” to the culture; rather, it should become an introspective journey for those doing the “expelling,” because it was they who perhaps failed, not the incomer.


Most of us have heard of in-groups and out-groups. The strength of any team is perhaps its ability to adapt to those who enter, regardless of differences, and to approach the perceived differences with an open mind, in essence, less binary thinking concerning the incomer.


When hiring, be aware that "culture fit” won’t necessarily make your team healthier. It may make your team a little less resistant, a little less aware and a lot less plastic. It may pose a threat to the future survival of the team by reducing its ability to adapt.


About the author

Theaanna Kiaos is an Organisational Anthropologist. Theaanna's research of specialisation is ethnography. Her academic research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning in organisations, managerial ideology and normative control with a particularly strong focus concerning how these interconnected phenomena impact marginal cohorts in the workplace. She has been interviewed on SBS World News and has also been interviewed as a subject matter expert by Women's Agenda and Shortlist.


Contact: Theaanna.Kiaos@diversityfirst.com.au


How do you know whether your culture is really inclusive?


Measuring D&I initiatives is important for several reasons. Firstly, the planned initiatives need to be measured in terms of how they are specifically supported by the organisation’s culture. Secondly, the results need to be presented to senior executives and Boards in order to demonstrate progress and maintain commitment. However, this is where problems can arise, because D&I measures are typically implemented superficially. Deeper insights are more complex and difficult to extract (and track). Companies that benchmark predominantly use quantitative measures which offer very little depth in relation to culture. Not only are these metrics highly transient; they also provide only surface level indicators of the success. Beneath this surface level analysis lies the truth – differentiated and often individual fragmented perspectives that cannot be explored through the use of surveys.


Popular D&I indexes, used by a number of organisations, adopt largely quantitative methodologies that are problematic; these can actually undermine the development of D&I cultural change by reinforcing positive, albeit false, assumptions. Such indexes while helpful, use mostly surface level measures that specifically capture simple statistics, like percentages of cohort workforce compositions and pay gap statistics, as well as using a range of questions with standard “yes or no” answers and or numeric responses. Such approaches lack thick description and the question of depth should arise, but often does not.


The oversimplification of D&I data capture for an index could be considered problematic, because it can portray an organisation favourably, while deeper analysis may reveal a very different story concerning D&I within the organisation. Measuring D&I through quantitative surveys can also, rather ironically, silence minorities, creating an unspoken culture of dissent. Minorities, who have less power to challenge issues, will often avoid drawing attention to their workplace experiences. It is, therefore, critical to ensure, when analysing and benchmarking organisational D&I, that deeper, emic approaches are utilised.

Those responsible for D&I, including HR Managers, D&I Practitioners and People and Culture Specialists, need a way of capturing what is going on within their organisation and move beyond the seductive allure of simplified, quantitative measures of D&I. As Professor Joanne Martin, put it: ‘no one can capture the complexity and richness of a culture in a sequence of numbers.’


While we prefer the ethnographic approach to assist organisations develop their D&I framework or strategy, we also understand that organisations do not yet fully appreciate the reasons as to why the ethnographic research approach is essential to understanding D&I culture in organisations. The answer is this: ethnography ascertains what is going on in the organisation at the deepest level.


Further, the development of cultural inclusiveness is not a linear progression towards some enlightened state; yet, many of the approaches which we have observed view it from a fully integrated perspective, with limited depth of sub-cultural analysis. Again, this is due to the oversimplified methods of assessment.

We encourage those organisations genuinely wishing to become more diverse and inclusive to think deeply about utilising simplistic benchmarking tools and to consider what is not being presented to you in these measures, who is being silenced, and who, if any of us, benefits from this superficial and oversimplified data capture.


Reference

Organisational Culture: Mapping the Terrain, Foundations for Organizational Science Series, 2002, p.12. Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.

About the author

Theaanna Kiaos is an Organisational Anthropologist. Theaanna's research of specialisation is ethnography. Her academic research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning in organisations, managerial ideology and normative control with a particularly strong focus concerning how these interconnected phenomena impact marginal cohorts in the workplace. She has been interviewed on SBS World News and has also been interviewed as a subject matter expert by Women's Agenda and Shortlist.


Contact: Theaanna.Kiaos@diversityfirst.com.au



It’s time we talked about unconscious bias training. There has been a fair bit of debate lately about the benefit or otherwise of this popular approach to addressing our biases. There are many companies who have implemented the training; Starbucks in the US is probably a well-known and widely cited example of an organisation that orchestrated a national wide closure of their stores to conduct unconscious bias training after two African American males were arrested in the store for no apparent reason.


Of all the companies we know who have taken part in unconscious bias training, not one of them are able to tell us, with absolute confidence, that it has resulted in sustainable behavioural change. And when we ask if leaders have become more insightful through the application of the key learnings, often there is an uncomfortable silence that follows. Not many are able to communicate to us how, under what circumstances, when and where they have become "more conscious" in their working lives.


In our view, the debate over whether unconscious bias training is a good or bad idea is not the right debate. What we should be asking instead is - does the unconscious bias training form part of a comprehensive strategy? If the unconscious bias training is just one item on a shopping list of initiatives being systematically rolled out, then the chances are that it will fail, or even worse, result in resistance and backlash.


Often, when people become aware of their biases it can lead to a defensive reaction because this newly acquired information does not fit with an individual’s version of themselves. Creating an environment of safety and trust is therefore imperative. Equally imperative is the capability of the consultants who educate around this topic and how this initiative is integrated into the overall D&I strategy.


Not only is unconscious bias training difficult to comprehend for those newer to heuristics, cementing the learnings into one's consciousness requires a high level of self-awareness to begin with. Organisations need to think about rolling out these initiatives, and the timing of these initiatives, i.e., when will my workforce be most receptive to accepting this new information and integrate this knowledge in their day to day life for long-term behavioural change?


Solutions to such complex problems are usually not as simple as rolling out one-off trainings. Rather, such complex problems require, firstly, deep level analysis and a carefully thought through strategy which often requires a multitude of approaches to address both structural and cultural issues. Whilst unconscious bias training may form one of the recommendations, it should never be carried out in isolation of, or without due consideration for the organisational culture.

In summary, unconscious bias training should provide the opportunity for employees to reflect on how their biases impact themselves and others, and of course share practical tools to allow them to engage differently when they are back in the workplace.


About the author

Theaanna Kiaos is an Organisational Anthropologist. Theaanna's research of specialisation is ethnography. Her academic research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning in organisations, managerial ideology and normative control with a particularly strong focus concerning how these interconnected phenomena impact marginal cohorts in the workplace. She has been interviewed on SBS World News and has also been interviewed as a subject matter expert by Women's Agenda and Shortlist.


Contact: Theaanna.Kiaos@diversityfirst.com.au

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