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Fostering an Inclusive Workplace

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Ruth Sacks reflects on the recent accusations of sexual harassment at Lloyds of London

People are beginning to actively select companies to work with based on their approach to ethics, inclusion, and diversity.

‘Laddish culture’, as mentioned in the recent articles about Lloyds of London, is not exclusive to Lloyds, or to the finance and banking sector. Lloyds has spoken openly about its initiative to change this and make lodging complaints easier.

Many of us are uncomfortable with certain language, attitudes and behaviours that may be used about us at work and in social situations that are work related. Making a complaint can be hard. Challenging unacceptable behaviour and calling out offensive attitudes is even harder. Most of us would prefer it not to happen in the first place.

Every time an instance is left unchallenged, it remains acceptable, which means it is likely to be repeated. But, responding constructively requires courage, resilience, and support.

People blame ‘the culture’, it has always been this way. "No-one has ever complained before" and "It was only said in fun" are phrases many women will have heard as a pushback with the implication that an organisation can’t – or won’t – do anything about this.

It can take time to develop an environment where an individual can feel confident raising an incident of unwanted behaviours or offensive comments. To do so one would want to be treated with respect, be heard, and to receive a supportive response without finger-pointing or ridicule.

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Moving from an attitude of "That’s how it is" to "This is no longer acceptable" takes much more than a policy change. Fear of being ridiculed, of being laughed at for not accepting the ‘joke’ and therefore adding insult to injury understandably makes a willingness to challenge even more difficult. Women and men need to feel free to speak up and speak out about acceptable behaviours and language – and it’s particularly important that men do so, and, are seen to be doing so. Only when we are clear about what is offensive can steps be taken to call it out and do something.

Finding ways to reduce the fear of ‘telling it like it is’ is difficult but very worthwhile. Both men and women have to be able to talk about those attitudes and behaviours which upset, insult, or demean them/others. A formal process to challenge and complain is one step of many. Creating time and space to agree ways of working which support the values of the company gives currency to acceptable behaviours.

Ideas to support policies and encourage constructive culture change include:

  • Identifying male and female champions across the organisation
  • Agreeing what you mean by acceptable behaviour and promoting it actively
  • Endorsing immediate and longer-term benefits over unacceptable behaviours
  • Agreeing what you will say and how you will treat unacceptable behaviours and the language used when these happen
  • Saying it loud and agreeing engaged support from role models and sponsors across the organisation
  • Being clear about expectations
  • Telling people what you will do and then doing it!
  • Sharing and celebrating successes

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Ruth Sacks is Principal Consultant for Boardroom Focus. You can find out more about her impressive career here

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