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Creating Space for Everyone.

How can company culture facilitate an inclusive work environment? 

By Clare Beresford

What is a good company culture?

Creating Space for Everyone.
Creating Space for Everyone.

A well-defined culture provides a collective understanding of the behaviours and actions that are valued, recognised and rewarded. We know businesses only fulfil their greatest potential when everyone is pulling in the same direction, aligning to deliver optimal performance. When company culture is clearly understood, it drives innovation, generates enthusiasm, motivates people to bring their best efforts, helps the decision-making process, and creates an engaging environment of mutual support and trust. When a business fails to create a positive culture, on the other hand, this is likely to lead to increased turnover, disengaged employees, and poor work ethic[1].

Our recent poll on Linkedin found that 87% of employees consider a positive company culture as being equal to, or more important than, salary when looking for a new role (results can be found here). Therefore businesses should prioritise the importance of investing time, energy and resources into building a great culture in their attraction strategies.

Below, are some proven tactics for building a positive culture, centred around equity and inclusivity:

Putting an effective company culture into practice.

Listen: Whilst this may sound obvious, it goes without saying that if leadership fail to take an active role in listening to their teams’ perspectives on how to build a compelling company culture, it is a lot more challenging to diagnose where their culture currently stands, as well as taking strides to improve it. A great culture is driven by the behaviours and values of the workforce. Regular workshops, one-to-one meetings and anonymous employee surveys are effective ways of creating an employee-driven approach to improving culture. Ensure you also take the opportunity through these channels to test to what extent your workforce considers that you offer a diverse, inclusive and equitable working environment - for example, does each employee feel able to bring their authentic self to work? This creates an environment where sharing different outlooks is encouraged.

Acknowledge differences in a sense of ‘belonging’: The concept of culture, and feeling a sense of belonging, are multi-faceted. Given that they can mean different things to different people, it is essential to gather, and value input from, everyone across the organisation[2].

Studies have shown that women, on average, feel less of a sense of belonging than their male counterparts, and for women of colour their sense of belonging is even lower[3]. Harvard Business Review reported that a high sense of belonging was linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick leave. To put this into context, for a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52 million[4]

Encourage honesty: The responsibility that leadership has is establishing a culture which encourages open communication and honesty. This means that, regardless of their status or identity, employees feel that they can contribute, take risks and exchange ideas without fearing judgement. Creating psychological safety as part of culture building starts with the behaviours modelled by leadership teams. These include vulnerability, risk-taking, learning from mistakes and building relationships based on trust[5], alongside accountability, should individuals fail to integrate these behaviours in their day-to-day work. 

Take Action: Ensure you use your employee feedback to form an action plan and take steps to improve your culture. Document the culture and behaviours that you are striving for. Note that company-wide culture is largely shaped by which behaviours are rewarded and which are not, in line with the concept of positive reinforcement[6]. Therefore, be clear about which behaviours will be valued, recognised and rewarded and ensure these are reflected in all of your policies, developmental opportunities and promotions. Recognise your cultural champions whenever you can. 

You should communicate to employees as often as you can about how the feedback they have shared is being used to inform your people and culture strategy. Test the effectiveness of your implementation plans through further discussions and surveys. Be sure to ask questions in exit interviews around how you can improve your culture and to what extent you are achieving an inclusive place to work. This will often be your best source of honest communication from your workforce. 

Culture and equity, diversity and inclusion should remain a standing item on any leadership agenda.

Company Culture and Technology.

While company culture is instinctively a people-led area of business, advancements in technology are now well-placed to assist and guide decisions.

Advanced psychometric testing allows you to get to know your employees on a deeper level, objectively analysing aspects of their characteristics to map their strengths and challenges. Those building teams can therefore make informed hiring decisions and complement team members against each other.

At Laurence Simons, we partner with Lumina Learning for our psychometric testing. Lumina is unique in that it not only measures an individual’s strengths, but predicts their behaviours when working beyond their limits, which Lumina calls ‘overextension’.

Laurence Simons recently conducted research into over 140 General Counsel Lumina Spark profiles, to create our report General Counsel Under the Magnifying Glass, exploring the innate characteristics of a General Counsel. One aspect of the report which our readers found particularly pertinent was the wider impact on the legal team, should their General Counsel begin feeling “overextended”. This can often involve them becoming argumentative rather than logical, or overbearing rather than demonstrative. The ability of the Chief People Officer and/or the Human Resources team to recognise when the General Counsel feels overextended, means the wellbeing and cultural foundations of the organisation can be maintained, even during difficult periods[7]

Recognising Neurodiversity 

As it was recently Neurodiversity Celebration Week, and Autism Acceptance Day is approaching, we felt it an opportune moment to highlight the benefits this kind of diversity can bring to an organisation. Neurodiversity includes conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others. Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace can bring numerous advantages, especially in legal settings, including: 

  • Innovation and creativity: Individuals who think differently can use their creativity to bring new perspectives and innovative solutions to problems that may not have been considered before. 

  • Increased productivity: Neurodivergent individuals can bring a unique set of skills and strengths to the workplace. For example, some individuals with autism may have exceptional attention to detail or may excel at tasks that require high levels of focus. 

  • Increased employee satisfaction: When companies create a culture that embraces neurodiversity, it can lead to increased job satisfaction for all employees. A diverse and inclusive workplace helps create a sense of belonging and fosters a positive work environment. This ultimately affects a company’s bottom line, with companies with a diverse workforce 35% more likely have receive greater financial returns than those without[8].

In the legal profession, where attention to detail and precision is critical, neurodivergent individuals can bring unique strengths that can be leveraged to improve overall performance. In fact, JPMorgan Chase reports that professionals in its Autism at Work initiative make fewer errors and are 90% to 140% more productive than neurotypical employees[9].

In conclusion, the benefits of adopting an inclusive workplace and investing in company culture are hard to ignore. The past few years have altered many employees’ needs and expectations around their working environment. This includes how companies take care of employee wellbeing, and to what extent they engender a diverse and inclusive workplace, for example through their flexible working practices. Organisations need to adapt in order to attract and retain the best talent. Taking steps to promote a great culture is no longer a nice to have, but a strategic imperative. Those that learn to prioritise this and get ahead of the curve, will reap the rewards.