In this #metoo world a veritable can of worms has been let loose to squirm their way into all corners of our organisations. What’s going on? Who in your world is a seething mass of resentment waiting for their turn to speak up or an exploding volcano of anger shouting out already about perceived slights or assaults?
If I have learned one thing across my life it is that sometimes things need to be spoken about and then discussed properly. The elephant in the room does nothing but bring misery, inefficiency, frustration, stress and one almighty smell if all escape routes are firmly shut for any length of time. And if that happens you might as well as flush down the toilet all your good intentions around employee wellbeing and high productivity.
But while people are finding their voices and beginning to deal with the elephant in the room, I am reminded of what we included over two years ago when first publishing our infographic on unconscious bias gender issues – if just 10% of your managers or leaders deny bias issues, deny the pay gap, deny sexual harassment, deny the need for equality, deny that these create a problem for business, then every single attempt you make in your business to address diversity issues will be sunk before it ever gets going. https://www.jaluch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/UB-QA.jpeg
At an in house unconscious bias seminar I delivered recently one of the ‘deny -ers’ I come across so recently, a female senior leader, hogged approximately 20% of the valuable seminar time by testing what I was saying, denying the issues, and arguing with me. Her colleagues sat and listened but no one said anything. So instead of learning about the research and beginning to think about change, we were caught up, as she no doubt fully intended in her quagmire of delusion and self-absorption.
In other seminars the deny-ers are male. It doesn’t matter what gender. What matters is that there is a whole bunch of deny-ers out there who undermine all the good work that is so often being done, simply in order to ensure they continue to see the world through their own distorted prism and narrow field of vision. How the heck are companies supposed to succeed when so many senior leaders have yet to look in the mirror and see that their attitude needs to change? Is self-preservation and maintaining the comfy status quo more important than business continuity? It would seem that that is what many boards of directors are permitting.
Just this week a middle manager was spouting off to junior female staff that he didn’t believe there is any such thing as a gender pay gap and unconscious bias is all a load of twaddle. What an ignoramus, yet he is tolerated, allowed to continue in his position of influence, and is unchallenged by senior leaders who seem yet to grasp how commercially damaging it is to seek to develop 90% of your staff whilst leaving your 10% of doubters, arguers and idiots unchallenged.
When seatbelt laws came in the 1970’s, I am guessing that 90% of the population got on board and started to comply, no doubt compliance coming, in part, as a result of the education process that was undertaken about the damage to faces and bodies that comes about as a result of not wearing a seat belt. But while 90% complied, there was no doubt about 10% of the population who refused to be told, who refused to adapt and who refused to believe that the statistics about injury were either true or relevant to them. They continued to not wear a seat belt as they were too dumb to work out that some changes in life are there to make life better for all.
In the same way I struggle to understand why, despite 40 years of discrimination laws, tens of millions spent on research into diversity issues and billions spent around the world on diversity training over the years, I am not seeing any sanctions in businesses against the deny-ers. People who deny harassment, bias, pay gaps etc and who take no responsibility have got to be told how their denial impacts the progress of the whole organisation and they have got to be sacked if they refuse to get on board. A long period of tolerance of the dinosaurs has got to be at an end as its time organisations started imposing low level sanctions on those who refuse to comply and stop being so tolerant of those who deny the statistics until they are blue in the face. Your tolerance is killing your businesses. If you wait for these self-preserving, ignorant directors and senior leaders to get on board with what is necessary in the modern world, your business might just have gone to the wall while you are waiting.
But as with seatbelts, sanctions don’t have to be dismissal. Dismissal is for serious or repeated ‘crimes’. So why not take a minute to think about how you deal with someone in business who ‘refuses to follow instructions’ or who ‘deliberately ignores the processes and procedures’ or who ‘acts in a way that is in direct conflict with the Company’s vision and values’. They initially get invited to a disciplinary for misconduct and get issued with a first level warning. And if over time they don’t get ‘on board’ then they might end up with a second level warning and then a third, before ultimately being dismissed.
Surely a senior manager attending one of my seminars about bias who goes out of their way to undermine the entire diversity agenda of their organisations through their childish argument and digging their heels in is actually refusing to buy in to what their organisation says is important? Is that not refusal to follow a reasonable instruction or refusal to toe the company line? That cannot be tolerated if money and time spent on diversity is to give you a return on your investment. And whilst consultation and discussion is good and valuable surely, at some point, you have to say ‘this is what we have decided is important and you now all need to accept that and work with us rather than thinking that the subject is open for never ending debate’.
Refusal to learn (with fingers stuck in their ears as they go la la la) about bias and discrimination is surely akin to a director refusing to listen to warnings about the commercial dangers of ignoring new data protection rules or denying the need for personal responsibility in health and safety practices. Its time to get tough and tell a few of these senior people they need to grow up or get out. The world is changing, expectations are changing, the commercial hit of not changing has become too great to tolerate those who are not moving with the times. Out with the dinosaurs for enough is enough!
Thoughts, comments and ideas all welcomed as always. Thank you for taking the time to read this article written by Helen Jamieson, Managing Director of long established HR and Training consultancy firm Jaluch.