The value of a positive workplace culture has been well documented. Maintaining that positive, enabling culture is an ongoing challenge for organisations. It takes constant care and attention. In an ideal world a workplace culture is a conscious intention of the senior leadership team. And sometimes they are evolved by staff in the absence of anything else. When this happens it can be that the voices of a vocal few become louder and louder, eventually taking over – creating the dominant paradigm and fostering a mono-culture mentality.
The problem with workplace mono-cultures is that they only afford one way of thinking and being. They create an environment where there are only 2 options for people - either be accepted through enculturation or be banished to the hinterland. A mono-culture creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality – if you are one of 'us' you are with us, and if you are one of 'them' then you are against 'us'. This reinforces silos, which are the bain of an organisation. The stronger the silo borders are, the more knowledge is hoarded and learning is withheld and the less functional organisaitons become because they have become disconnected and inward focused.. The risks included people becoming marginalized, losing confidence, and/or becoming disengaged. . For some organisations there is the additional challenge of a disengaged workforce that don’t leave because they have the golden handcuffs on. Adaptability and agility become more problematic, innovation (which thrives on having a multiplicity of perspectives) is stifled and groupthink thrives.
Diversity is the antidote for organisational mono-culture syndrome. Diversity is about acceptance and respect and plays an important role in generating balanced, dynamic work communities that thrive. Taking a wide view, diversity is about everything that makes us the unique human beings we are. There are the ‘obvious’ differences that people think about in relation to diversity including things like gender, age, ethnicity, religious beliefs, political beliefs socio-economic background and education levels. Diversity is also about how people learn, think and behave.
Workplace learning can help re-balance a monoculture by fostering a safe space for people to learn from each others differences.
3 tips for using workplace learning to foster diversity
- Design programs that speak to the two levels of learning: 1) the content that must be learned and applied; and, 2) the learning experience itself.
- Conscietise the diversity in the group and the value it brings
- Facilitate group problem solving activities so people need to navigate their differences