Putting the "Work" Into Workshop

January 10, 2019The last few months have been event-packed for Catalyst in Europe. In the Netherlands alone, I have spoken at three conferences, two Supporter kick-offs, and one association, and also held a Supporter roundtable.

At the end of November, I was honoured to provide a guest workshop at the European Women in Technology Conference in Amsterdam together with Liesbeth Goossen, Social Care Strategy Lead at Hewlett-Packard. In it, we explored the themes of Catalyst’s 2016 research piece, The Day-To-Day Experiences of Workplace Inclusion and Exclusion.

After providing a lightning-speed overview of our findings, we put our over 100 participants to work. They examined three workplace scenarios: one in which an internal social media channel becomes full of naming and shaming behaviour; one where inappropriate comments were made to women technicians at client sites; and one where a woman expert was overlooked at a meeting. At the same time, attendees were asked to practice dialogue based on our Conversation Ground Rules tool as they worked in groups to come up with actions for individuals, teams, and leaders to amplify inclusion. 

We heard some fantastic approaches and solutions—from giving comments on social media an inclusion rating (thumbs up for inclusive comments, thumbs down for exclusionary ones) to a CEO’s boycott of suppliers who did not treat all contractors equally—and were delighted to see people at all levels and across different organisations working together to exchange both innovative and tried and tested solutions to these dilemmas. 

Many strong women expressed how they simply wouldn’t stand for being unheard in a meeting, or how their companies have inclusive meeting procedures to prevent such behaviour taking place. They also said that their women technicians would readily tell an over-concerned male client exactly what she thought of his feedback about her abilities and that her sales director would be sure to follow up with a clear message that all team members were equally qualified. Hats off to the attendee who suggested sending another woman engineer to replace the woman engineer whose ability was questioned. What a simple way to reinforce the message that women can get the job done!

However, there was one trend that struck us both: whilst we heard multiple solutions at both the individual and leadership levels, there were fewer suggestions made for interventions at the team level. Couldn’t the other men in a meeting remind the manager who’s backing Brad’s idea that Laura’s idea is nearly identical? Interestingly, participants felt almost exclusively that it was up to leaders or excluded individuals to correct this behaviour.  

On the one hand, I know how important champions for inclusion at a leadership level are. We see in our own Catalyst CEO Champions for Change initiative that CEOs who pledge to advance diverse employees through intentional acts of inclusion make greater progress on diversity and inclusion metrics than the S&P 500 average. But what I also see in our research is that when diverse employees feel ‘othered’ because of multiple, intersectional aspects of difference, they disengage from organisations, pulling back from responsibility as they feel, and are, overlooked. This ultimately results in a loss of diverse talent at all levels of the organisation.

This would confirm what I often experience when talking with local Supporters: that change is championed at the top of organisations, and tireless work is done at the grass-roots level, but at mid-management it’s proving hard to turn awareness into action. Without visible allies in the middle intentionally intervening when they witness co-workers being excluded, teams miss out on opportunities to prevent the cumulative effects that often drive their colleagues to move on to other workplaces.

At Catalyst, we encourage our Supporters to concentrate on fixing workplaces rather than fixing women, but we still regularly see that often women often focus on how to fit into, and turn to their advantage, a workplace that disadvantages them for not doing ‘all the right things.’

And organisations continue to emphasise long-term developmental programmes, which we see in Catalyst Research, do not lead women to more promotions despite their participating in such programmes much longer than men. While these programmes do acknowledge women’s uniqueness in the workplace, both uniqueness and belongingness are needed to create true inclusion. Additionally, organisations often fail to acknowledge the cascading impact of structural bias in talent management systems, which we address at not only the organisational and HR level, but also at the individual leader level in our new supporter tool Break the Cycle

Catalyst engages those in positions of power to encourage people who are different from them to succeed in a way which is authentic. We show how mid-level managers can stand up for their ‘different’ colleagues and actively include them with intentional, visible actions when they witness acts to ‘other’ them. These tangible gestures of inclusion by allies will achieve so much more for women and other underrepresented groups in the workplace than awareness programmes aimed at helping women to fit into a system that disadvantages them from the start.

Our 2019 programme of Netherlands events begins with a timely roundtable on Friday, January 11, called "Engaging Men as Inclusion Advocates," where Europe Director Jorge Ortiz and I will bring local Supporters together to look at engaging men in D&I initiatives. I’m asking all invitees to bring a male colleague with them.

Let’s see if in the coming year we can continue to encourage our Supporters to work as allies to build workplaces where we can all bring our whole self to work, demonstrating visible acts of inclusion to create a virtuous circle where all of us feel not only like we belong to the team but are also valued for the unique qualities we bring to the workplace.


The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.