Unsticking the 'sticky floor' for genuine workplace meritocracyby
From a lack of mentorship to deeply ingrained systemic biases, seemingly invisible forces are keeping certain employees tethered to the ground floor. Joanne Lockwood, an expert in inclusive culture and CEO/Founder of SEE Change Happen, offers innovative strategies for facilitating their upwards progress.
Are we ready to confront a discomforting truth?
As HR professionals, we'd love to believe that we're sprinting towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace, but the hard truth is we're barely making baby steps.
Despite lofty debates about shattering glass ceilings, an alarming number of our colleagues remain firmly rooted to this challenging ground floor.
Confronting our workplace reality
They are engaged in a daily tug of war, striving to extricate their careers from the relentless pull of the ‘sticky floor’, longing to ascend to the heights their abilities and tenacity warrant.
This is our workplace reality, and it's high time we faced it head-on.
The ‘sticky floor’ phenomenon represents an unyielding adhesive force that keeps certain employees – particularly those from underrepresented groups – trapped in low-wage, low-mobility positions.
It's a stubborn residue that grips those who are just setting foot on the career ladder, hindering their progress from the get-go.
But what exactly makes this floor so stubbornly sticky?
The ‘sticky floor’ phenomenon represents an unyielding adhesive force that keeps certain employees – particularly those from underrepresented groups – trapped in low-wage, low-mobility positions
Let’s unpack to unstick
Let me unpack this a bit more…
Firstly, there's the issue of skill development. Employees who get stuck often lack access to the training and opportunities needed to acquire the necessary skills for advancement.
They might be overlooked for these opportunities due to unconscious bias or simply because they're out of sight, focusing on their existing duties.
Believe in yourself
And then there are the psychological factors at play. The feelings of imposter syndrome – the belief that one's achievements are undeserved and the fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.
These feelings can discourage individuals from pursuing advancement.
Additionally, self-limiting beliefs can also inhibit individuals from visualising themselves in higher positions, thus restricting their ambitions.
The absence of mentorship is another critical factor.
Employees who get stuck often lack access to the training and opportunities needed to acquire the necessary skills for advancement
The importance of role models
Without mentors to guide them and champion their cause, employees on the sticky floor may find it challenging to navigate the unwritten rules of career progression.
A lack of role models can also make it hard for them to envision themselves in leadership positions.
We must not forget that in many cases ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. Many organisations lack role models in senior positions who represent and give aspirations to people from marginalised communities.
Bias: the stickiest of all?
And, finally, let us not forget the structural and procedural biases that might be systemically ingrained in our organisations.
These biases can influence every aspect of an employee's journey; from recruitment and performance reviews to promotions, forming a hidden force that keeps the floor sticky.
To unstick this sticky floor, we must acknowledge and address these complex issues. Here are three innovative strategies for doing just that.
Without mentors to guide them and champion their cause, employees on the sticky floor may find it challenging to navigate the unwritten rules of career progression
Promoting a culture of allyship across all organisational levels
Encourage employees to consciously support their colleagues from underrepresented groups, amplifying their voices, and actively helping to dismantle barriers that may inhibit their growth.
Developing transparent communication and feedback channels
We can do this by providing safe spaces where employees can share their experiences and concerns without fear of retribution.
This two-way dialogue can lead to a more inclusive environment that values every voice.
Prioritise data-driven hiring and promotion strategies that diminish the impact of personal biases
This could include structured application and interview processes, anonymised CVs, and standardised evaluation criteria.
Here is my challenge to you. Let us not allow these conversations to linger solely in the realm of metaphors.
The sticky floor, the glass ceiling, the broken rung – these aren't simply clever turns of phrase. They symbolise real and pressing challenges that require our focus and action.
Let’s make it our collective mission to unstick the sticky floor once and for all, creating workplaces where everyone – regardless of their race, ethnicity, or gender – has an equal shot at upward mobility.
After all, isn't that the true essence of meritocracy?
If you enjoyed this, read: 12 possible indicators of a dysfunctional workspace
Joanne Lockwood is the founder and CEO of SEE Change Happen, a diversity, inclusion & belonging practice with a specialism in providing Transgender Awareness and support to organisations and businesses.