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Becoming a “Great Place to Work” is no accident

27th Jul 2022
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Historically, the tech industry hasn’t had the best track record of giving women and other marginalised groups fair compensation or a sense of belonging. Through the early noughties, certain enterprise tech vendors stood out for having “frat house” cultures. These were known for their “work hard/play hard” cultures, aggressive customer negotiations, and eye-wateringly high sales commissions. These weren’t just terrible places to work for women (and many men), the worst offending companies lost vast amounts of shareholder value and marketshare. Some disappeared altogether.

Interestingly, as the industry transformed from offering expensive, monolithic, closed platforms and applications to more customer-friendly SaaS subscription software models deployed on cloud platforms with much lower average selling prices, the most toxic characters lost interest. This opened up the field for much greater diversity and a healthier industry overall - one that I’m proud to work in.

Last week, Great Place to Work UK certified my company as one of the "Best Workplaces for Women 2022". This was based on a survey of our colleagues’ views on whether they perceive to be treated equally and paid fairly based on their age, race, gender, and sexual orientation. Of course we’re expected to uphold high standards since we evangelise belonging, recognition, and DEI culture-building to our customers. But still, not every company practices what it preaches. 

So how do companies become great places to work? In our experience, the key lies in fostering cultures of belonging through meaningful, consistent, and pervasive recognition programmes. We’ve identified five pillars of belonging at work, each of which get activated at different stages of the employee experience.

Activating the five pillars of belonging at work

Feeling welcomed

This involves introducing new colleagues and incorporating them within the organisational culture and community. It starts with thoughtful, structured organisational onboarding that includes introducing new colleagues to your organisational culture and inviting them to take part in formal and informal team building activities.

Recognition action: Send a personalised recognition like a card and/or small gift to a new employee or team member on their first day.

Feeling known

This is about understanding, motivating, and celebrating people for who they are. It may involve using personality testing individually and in teams to promote greater empathy and understanding. It can also be useful to interpret the results in the context of your company cultures and values so people understand how they fit in. Helping people to feel known can also involve tailoring meeting and coaching styles to support colleagues' preferences. It can be as simple as holding meetings at a time of day when a colleague is most energised. Finally, it’s about encouraging colleagues to make personal connections through social events, in person, and online.

Recognition action: recognising an employee’s unique competency and brokering a mentoring relationship to develop it further that might not be obvious.

Feeling included

This involves ensuring that employees feel valued and accepted without reservation. To do this really effectively, we advise regularly gathering employee feedback about inclusion in surveys and 1:1 meetings and sharing the results. It’s also important to offer a wide variety of social activities and invite everyone to them, regardless of whether you think they want to participate. You will often be surprised at how enthusiastic so-called ‘introverts’ are to attend these. Even if not, they will appreciate being invited. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are also an excellent way to promote inclusion, empathy, and understanding.

Recognition action: publicly recognise a colleague who offered a valuable new perspective during a team activity that they normally might not have taken part in.

Feeling supported

Colleagues feel supported when they are consistently and meaningfully nurtured and developed. For managers this means encouraging regular, purposeful interactions and coaching sessions beyond the formal, planned reviews. This is especially important when managers and/or their team members are working remotely.

According to a global survey we ran earlier this year, the main reason nearly a quarter (24%) of Millenials were looking for a new job is to support their career progression. This is an important topic to explore in your 1:1s. Helping colleagues to develop, not only makes them feel supported in a meaningful way, but drives better business performance.

Recognition action: Recognise a rising star’s achievement by enrolling them in coursework that meets their professional development goals

Feeling connected

In these turbulent times, a professional network feel like and actually serves as a safety net. It’s all about developing and maintaining relationships across a diverse population of colleagues. It starts by making diversity a company priority in the recruitment process and maintained through cross-functional relationship building. Online tools can help to break down silos across functions, locations, and levels - especially in hybrid work environments.

Recognition action: Recognise a colleague for taking actions that unite people across business and demographic lines.

As much progress as we’ve made in the tech industry to promote diversity and belonging, it’s still a work in progress. We have yet to stamp out the alienating ‘bro cultures’ that permeates certain companies. And there’s still too much gender and racial stereotyping in roles like HR, Marketing, and IT. But by leaning into recognition programmes that cultivate the five pillars of belonging, we can continue to improve outcomes for individuals and celebrate more companies as great places to work.

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