I’m prompted to write about exclusion today by a friend who described the bullying she’s been subjected to at work. After a protracted period of negativity, she’s talked about leaving, about taking herself away from such a toxic culture, and i can’t blame her, but we discussed responsibility and the need to drive change. Cultures rarely reform themselves.
Strong cultures are cohesive, forged around shared values, around common purpose: that doesn’t mean that they are healthy, just that they relate around shared intent. They can exclude those who differ from that view, people who are different. That’s all well and good in some cases: for example, football teams are geolocated, their supporters united in support of a particular town or city and the point of difference between them and the opponent is based on that. But when it spills over, when difference becomes bullying on the basis of race, it crosses certain boundaries. It’s wrong.
Competition locates which differences we can compete on and which are unacceptable: as a society we are ok with saying you support one club or another, but not when that support becomes located around the racial makeup of a team. These are the conventions we base our societal values on.
Sub cultures, such as those of a particular business, club or society, do not exist in isolation: they are part of our overall national culture and, as such, share values within this. There are some things decided at societal level that must be mirrored by any sub culture within it. For example: equal pay for men and women. As a society, we have decided that when men and women do the same job, they should have equal pay. It would be unacceptable for any organisation to decide otherwise. These shared values may be codified in law, or may simply be part of an accepted principle or norm.
When cultures are fractured, they may permit cohesive sub cultures based around poor values: cliques that are united in their lack of integrity. This is clearly poor both for the organisation and within the wider context of a progressive society that values difference and inclusion. But it’s not just about doing what’s right from an ethical or moral viewpoint: there is a commercial advantage to being inclusive too.
Where there is no lack of shared values across the organisation and in line with wider society, there can be no common purpose. There may be the illusion of such, but if it excludes certain elements, it’s not truly common.
Fractured cultures are resistant to new ideas, because they don’t welcome difference. In the Social Age, when creativity and innovation are founded in an agile mindset, this is a challenge. These cultures provide low permission to experiment, and experimentation is how we trial new behaviours and skills, it’s how we develop.
An exclusive culture is also indicative of low social capital, which sits at the heart of social learning and leadership approaches. Without high social capital, it’s hard to leverage the power of the communities that surround and inform us, and if we are not in touch with these, how can we hope to prosper in an age where brand value and consumer judgement is decided by these communities.
My frustration was particularly strong as my friend serves in the police: an entity supposedly the guardian of society, a society that it is supposed to reflect and protect. And the grounds of the bullying are her gender and sexual preference.
In 2014, we still battle toxic cultures, in financial services, healthcare, the army, the police. But it’s unacceptable for people to be excluded on the grounds of their gender or sexual preference, just as it would be unacceptable for someone to be paid less because they think differently. Or because they’re deaf.
Why write about it?
Because if we’re not fighting for change, we’re supporting lethargy. If the police don’t reflect the makeup and values of the society that they serve, how can they hope to have our trust? We can’t hide these issues away: we have to fight for what’s right to drive wider cultural reform.