HR professionals as enablers and accelerators of culture change

21 July 2022
Katy Murray

by Katy Murray

Director, Catalyst Collective

Humanitarian Human Resources 2022 conference (HHR) keynote, Katy shares select insights from last month’s conference on how to make a difference as a culture changer in aid organisations.

We can imagine the biases and barriers that exist inside our organisations (for example ableism, racism, sexism, homophobia, white privilege and so on…) like a wall of interconnected bricks. Its massive and we can’t scale that wall on our own. As people professionals we may feel overwhelmed at times with the enormity of cultural change and discount ourselves, think we’re not enough to make a difference. BUT you play a crucial role to model and lead the way for others to be part of creating kinder, more equitable, psychologically safe and inclusive workplaces. We can take our own little pick axe and pick pick away at our own section of the wall. We can look up and see others all at their sections of the wall. We can know that with time and consistent pick pick picking, this wall is going to come down.

Consider what does this wall look and feel like inside your organisation?

Take a mini audit of your workplace to get a clear picture of how biases and barriers are playing out..

Where are your pay gaps, is there flexible working, how are you accommodating people’s access and flexibility needs. Take a look at your senior team, who has access, what are they modelling in terms of workplace culture and the kind of leadership that is rewarded inside your organisation.

What’s your attrition and retention data, and segment that down so you can see who’s more impacted. Is there a level at which women or parents or people of color tend to leave, for example. That’s a data point to get more curious about.

What does it feel like to be part of your company? Who’s included, who’s excluded. Who’s having a tougher time, who’s experiencing bias and barriers and daily micro aggressions. Who’s thriving, who seems to be having the most fun, who’s getting promoted and visibility opportunities? Who’s not.

What about in your meetings, who’s voice gets heard, who gets interrupted, who gets the air time.

There’s a more in-depth audit process available in my book Change Makers but even this mini audit will reveal to you areas for change and improvement inside your workplace culture.

What’s your role to be part of bringing the wall down?

How are you using your voice, your access and your privilege at work to make a safer place for others? As a people professional you powerfully influence the workplace culture around you.

Here are five points of culture enabling and accelerating, ways that you can nudge and influence the system of your organisation:

  1. What you model in your own behaviours sets the tone. What you ask for from your team, peers and senior colleagues raises the bar.
  2. The feedback you give and the way that you call out microaggressions when you notice them happening. Believe colleagues when they share data and lived experience with you about microaggressions, bias and barriers they’re experiencing. The way that you listen, take it seriously and then act to address these behaviours and dismantle these structures is crucial.
  3. The way that you talk about the kind of culture you want to create. Start conversations across the organisation about what an inclusive team looks, feels, sounds like. Talk about psychological safety, mental health and wellbeing, trust, belonging and what are the conditions and behaviours that create it. Have an open conversation with colleagues about what you will personally commit to, and invite their contributions and commitments too.
  4. Create space at the table, increase visibility and extend opportunity. Who can you invite into spaces where you have access? Whose work can you ‘big up’ when they’re not in the room? Whose voices can you amplify? Where can you open doors for stretch assignments, promotions, exciting new projects. Advocate for those who have less privilege and access, and who mayn’t be in the room when these conversations are happening.
  5. The access that you have to senior leadership and board, the data and recommendations that you share with them.

How does it feel to be where you are at the wall?

Culture change work can be lonely, heavy, oppressive even. What do you need to stay sustainable at the wall? Your own wellbeing, desires, joy and sustainability in your work are all valid. Consider your own self care needs and how you can connect with peers for support and accountability.  Taking really good care of yourself is part of how you make a wider contribution.

Thanks to Kelly Diels for the wall analogy.

Katy’s book Change Makers a Woman’s Guide To Stepping up without Burning Out at Work takes you through a process to step even more into your culture changing leadership, using your voice and activating your privilege, and to do that while centering your own well-being.

You can find more on Katy’s work on her website.

Learn more about CHS Alliance’s work on good people management and culture change in aid organisations.