THE POWER OF SYMBOLS AND NORMS

Barriers can be very visible, even blatant, just like this “no high heels this way” sign at a global headquarters I recently visited. Here, women might get the impression that they have to take a detour and who knows if their extra mile will even get them to the top floor? Of course, the sign forms part of a corporate safety policy and serves as an important protection. It is, however, at the same time one of the many symbols that accumulate to manifest mono-cultural norms. Minorities find it easy to spot and identify many of the micro-inequities in the management world while the dominant mainstream group has to be made aware. For them, many aspects are so implicit (= assumptions) and given (= facts/cornerstones) that they won’t even consider anyone’s responsibility for corporate cultural norms –let alone their own ability to change any aspect of it. Obviously, the level of awareness – not for diversity alone, but also for the dynamics of differences and for the overall complexity of the topic – determines the approach a manager in charge of Diversity will choose. When Diversity was young and so were the stakeholders, a D&I strategy, process or programme always role-modelled its own message. With D&I maturing and rising up through corporate ranks, many  of the new stakeholders are part of the mainstream management culture themselves. They, hence, apply a different set of tools when developing, designing and implementing Diversity. When these tools are taken off the mainstream shelf, they will fight the fire with gasoline and – literally – burn the topic. Experience shows that you can’t start a diversity programme with KPIs and accountability frameworks before key stakeholder support has been enlisted. You can’t set targets until you are done with your homework (analysis, audits and surveys). And you can’t start with workshops when you don’t have anything to offer as a follow up implementation framework. So, here we are, the D&I Community, with a greater diversity of stakeholders than we expected to have. We are now called upon to practice what we preach and embrace those different approaches while relying on our competencies and transfer knowledge and skills. Exiting times. Enjoy our post-holiday issue