When business leaders speak about equality (or equity) in the workplace, this concept is typically centered around the core value that everyone receives fair treatment, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or any other social or economic differentiator.
An equitable culture means there is a sense of transparency to decisions, and everyone knows what to expect in terms of consequences and rewards. When equity exists, the ideal scenario is that people have equal and fair access to opportunities within the workplace as it aligns with the individual’s role, responsibilities, and capabilities.
The premise behind promoting equitable company culture is to create an advantageous environment for both the employees and the employer. However, the challenge business leaders encounter when attempting to foster an equitable culture exists with their approach.
Many business leaders look at the social and economic indicators of equity relative to their employees. However, they fail to address the core driver of a truly equitable workplace culture: its leaders and their fundamental approach to engaging and interacting with employees. Inconsistency in how leaders engage their employees is counterproductive in an organization’s pursuit of driving a culture of equity.
Equality - From Ideology to Required Practice
Equity or equality has become a requirement for organizations seeking to appeal to the political, social, or economic interests of its internal and external stakeholders. Some may argue that creating equitable company culture suggests the factors associated with one’s personal ability (skills and competencies) to fulfill specific roles and responsibilities has become a lesser consideration over ensuring equality exists in theory and practice.
While this debate surrounding what equality in the workplace truly means, the fundamental objective for business leaders attempting to achieve an equitable workplace culture does not dismiss the need for focus on the foundation of equity: how people are engaged and treated.
The measure of efficacy regarding how leaders engage their employees and peers must be rooted in how they communicate and interact with others. These interactions must be explored from the time individuals are considered a candidate for employment to the time they leave the organization. This requires a close evaluation of the standards by which an organization holds their leader accountable when it comes to their behaviors and interactions with others.
If business leaders have a desire to explore the best approach to genuinely create an equal playing field for all employees to “bring their best selves to work,” they must equip everyone with equal opportunities to thrive in the workplace.
To ensure equal opportunities to thrive in the workplace exist, leadership should focus on these seven actions that are intended to help foster an equitable culture, with a focus on establishing equal:
1) Expectations and standards of performance
2) Training and development of employee skills
3) Frequency of daily follow-ups
4) Time spent during daily follow-ups
5) Frequency in sharing data-driven performance feedback
6) Display of the behaviors that comprise the company values
7) Sharing of the definitions of these values and concepts
Achieving equality in the workplace is not something that happens once, but something leaders much consider every day. Even if “equity” or “equality” is established as a qualitative metric (i.e. a 50/50 ratio of gender), leaders should focus on how these various groups are treated in the day-to-day work.
Practicing Equality Requires Discipline and Consistency
The drive to foster a culture of equality at all levels of the organization will necessitate that companies have one way to manage employees. Standards for equal and fair treatment of employees is a major first step in achieving this equality. Leaders must adopt a Leadership Operating System that defines and requires the leadership team to engage employees daily with equity.
The first step in this process includes establishing standards of performance that are the same for all as deemed relevant to their role and responsibility. These same standards must be communicated clearly to all employees so that this equality is known to all. Each person on the team will need to have no other standard of performance than the standard for the entire team. If the standard changes for one, it changes for all.
Next, each employee must receive the same amount of investment in one’s training and development from the leadership team. There can be no room for someone to say they did not receive the same training as the person next to them. There should never be any grounds for someone to say they are at a disadvantage due to the onboarding they receive.
Equality in treatment requires equality in follow-up. If the standard is for leaders to follow up with employers twice a day, they need to follow up with them twice a day. To have one or more extra follow-ups with a particular employee above the standard might be called out as unequal leadership behavior. Employees might even label this leadership behavior as “favoritism.”
Some front-line leaders find it helpful to define the script that they must follow when engaging their employees, using objective data to assist in this feedback. Feedback should not include anything other than facts and data because the insertion of any value judgment might be perceived as unfair and unequal.
Lastly, the leadership behaviors that display the company values must be the same for all leaders. For example, when an employee has different leaders they interact with, each manager will need to display similar behaviors that represent the values that underpin the company culture. If trust is a company value, then all leaders must exhibit and practice the same behaviors that embody trust. The employee should be able to expect to see these behaviors from all leadership team members.
When an employee changes positions within the organization, this employee should expect to see and receive the same leadership behaviors as their former manager. To not see this similarity in leadership behaviors will point toward a culture of inequality or at least a different culture as clearly defined by the behaviors established that show the company values.
Clarity and Alignment is a Key to Success
To align everyone with a culture of equality, all words used between the leadership team and employees MUST have the same meaning in order to have equal understanding and agreement. Different definitions used in communications will lead to different uses and interpretations of words and phrases. This leads to an unequal understanding of what is being communicated versus the message that is received, which is the formula for misunderstanding.
When definitions are not the same between leaders and employees, some employees may understand the communications, and some may not. This might look like unequal communication on the manager’s part if effective communication is defined as the message received. When everyone does not share the same definition of words used in communications, the messages received from the same manager will be unequal in understanding. This is not a good thing when companies seek a culture of equality.
At POWERS, we specialize in operational culture. We can help your organization to establish and maintain a culture of equity. Reach out to us today to learn more.