The culture gap that stops your policies from sticking (and your employees sticking around)



The culture gap that stops your policies from sticking (and your employees sticking around)

27th May 2018

Author: Roz Hinds


I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the last few months to the apparent gap in organisations between policy and culture, particularly when it comes to areas like parental leave and the subsequent talent drain.

Following legislation in 2015 all businesses in the UK were required to offer shared parental leave options as standard practice.  This policy was designed to give much more flexibility and equality when it came to care giving roles, however, recent figures show that take up of the shared parental scheme stands at just 2% (according to a report published by EMW in 2017).  If we believe that women’s role in the workplace can only change when men’s role in the home changes then this is a critical challenge.

So why the reluctance to adopt this new policy?  I believe the answer, whilst partly rooted in some practical aspects such as finances, largely lies in cultural factors.  Policy can only be successful when organisational (and to a larger extent societal) culture supports the changes.

When Total Jobs commissioned in depth research in 2016 into the take up of SPL one year into the scheme the results were pretty telling.  Almost 80% of respondents had heard of the scheme and cited being present as a primary carer, reducing gender stereotypes around parenthood and work/life balance as key benefits.   And yet over 80% of respondents feared it would have some kind of negative impact on their career and 65% worried about discrimination in the workplace.  Pretty shocking perceptions by any standards.  In this instance, culture clearly does not support policy.

We see a similar pattern when it comes to women returners (i.e. women returning to the workplace following a period of extended leave such as maternity leave).  Whilst policies exist to help women return to the workplace in practical ways – phased return, keeping in touch days and childcare voucher schemes – the psychological support platforms are less in evidence.  Research shows that almost two thirds of women felt less, or no, confidence when returning to the workplace.  And this is further corroborated by the findings that just 16% of women experience career progression following taking time out to have children.  It is clear that adequate support for women returners requires a dual approach – i.e. at both a functional as well as a psychological level.

Culture plays a significant role here.  By culture I refer to the attitudes and behaviours that manifest within an organisation.  Organisational culture must work harder to address underlying biases and embrace the social changes that impact upon the workplace – a workplace still defined by a pre-war construct when women stayed at home and the physical manifestation of the workplace was central (i.e. work as a place you go to vs something you do).

These underlying biases include recruitment biases, management biases, gender bias and diversity bias (in the widest possible sense).  We must tackle these in order to create a more open, accepting and flexible culture in the workplace.  Workplaces that consist of high performing diverse teams and strong talent attraction and retention rates.

Coaching can play a significant role in this process.  Whether that’s by supporting employees as they transition between significant stages or by challenging the perspectives held by leadership teams, perspectives that may be acting as a barrier to positive change.  By integrating coaching approaches an organisation creates a platform for the psychological support that is crucial to achieving a cultural shift and which gently, but firmly, closes the gap between culture and policy.

For more information on how coaching can support your organisation please get in touch.

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