Creating a ‘How Are You?’ Culture: Insights From the Future of Work Summit
Top global leaders shared their takeaways for building inclusive cultures after the pandemic.
“I was a senior woman leader with 2021 responsibilities but living a 1950s life,” said one woman about her life during the pandemic, in response to a Financial Times survey.
Is the pandemic propelling women forward to the future of work—or pushing them backward? We explored this question from many angles at Catalyst’s Future of Work Summit on 21 April 2021. Over 1,100 people attended virtually from across Europe, Africa, India, and North and South America—some waking up as early as 3:00 am!—to zoom into presentations from CEOs, senior executives, and other thought leaders.
Here are a few key takeaways:
Encourage candor and show empathy. Many employees have suffered severe burnout trying to juggle work and home responsibilities. Stephen Caulfield, VP of Dell Field Services and GM Dell Bratislava, stressed the need for a genuine “How are you?” culture, where employees feel comfortable speaking up. “Organizations have to tell their people that it’s okay to not be okay. And then provide support and infrastructure to help them through that,” Caulfield said.
“People must understand that empathy is a skill that can be cultivated,” added Catalyst’s Lauren Pasquarella-Daley. Make sure staff feel trusted to get on with their work, but also supported, and bring your humanity into the workplace. Lucy Warwick-Ching, Communities Editor of the Financial Times, shared that staff at the newspaper have been given wellness days to support them.
Value humility and vulnerability. Solvay CEO Dr. Ilham Kadri stressed that leaders need to lead with their hearts as well as their minds. Leaders need to “learn to groom, coach, mentor, sponsor others, and produce successful leaders,” Kadri said, adding the company is working to be a “human-centric organization.” Geraldine Matchett, Co-CEO at DSM, also emphasized that leaders need to be more caring, collaborative, and courageous. “It’s about having vulnerability and openness to talk about the human side and what we live.”
Seize the opportunity to remake workplaces. What will the “new normal” of corporate life look like post-Covid? Leaders spoke about a hybrid approach that combines remote work with time spent at the office.
Matchett said that companies must be strategic when planning for a hybrid model. She said it’s important for teams to customize what works for them and to constantly reevaluate. To help prepare for the post-Covid workplace, DSM created an online tool to learn about employees’ preferences.
Fiona Carlin of Baker McKenzie warned organizations not to revert back to cultures of “presenteeism.” She shared this valuable piece of advice for companies moving to a hybrid work model: “Ensure that when people are in the office, they prioritize quality time and engagement.”
And Catalyst President & CEO Lorraine Hariton expressed optimism for the future: “We haven’t had an opportunity like this to reinvent work since the industrial revolution.”
Challenge racism at work. Systemic racism is a global issue—one that every country must confront. Erika Brodnock from the London School of Economics said companies must shift away from performative to tangible action. She noted that, when it comes to diversity and inclusion, “There is no pipeline problem; the problem is ‘mirror-tocracy.’ That means that people are making investments, hiring decisions, and building networks with people that look like them, sound like them, or went to the same educational institutions as them.” Change will not happen until Black people and other racial and ethnic minorities are not “locked-out” of these institutions, she added.
And, as I added during the discussion, leaders need to listen to people of colour and learn from what they are experiencing to help drive change. I said, “Challenge assumptions. Ask questions, listen, and believe what you hear.”
And Catalyst’s Dnika Travis shared these strategies for leaders to address bias and racism: Look at the world through an intersectional lens. Have courageous conversations. Explore your own blind spots. And be vulnerable; recognize that we all misstep.
What is clear is that the pandemic has accelerated the future of work, and we now have an opportunity to tackle inequities, challenge biases, and get real about how, when, and where work gets done.
Executive Director, Europe, Middle East & Africa
Allyson Zimmermann is the Executive Director of Catalyst’s operations in Europe, Middle East & Africa, and is responsible for overseeing the EMEA operations and shaping the strategy for Catalyst’s continued growth and Supporter engagement. Since 2007, Allyson has driven Catalyst’s presence and Supporter base in Europe and now that extends…