HR · 1 October 2019

3 signs that your workplace is white, male and stale

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Before you think that the title of this piece infers we’re going all ‘reverse racism’ on the white man, we’re not. However, as offices are traditionally white male spaces, (with women and ethnic minority workers only being included in more equal numbers relatively recently), a lot of work still needs to be done to unpick systems that could make people outside of this dominant group feel uncomfortable and unequal.

Even if a business owner and their staff posses an outwardly inclusive and diversity-friendly approach to running an office,  exclusionary systems can endure without people realising.

These subtle forces can create an environment that makes other (non-majority) employees feel alienated and disenfranchised in the workspace.

Again, let me reiterate that we’re not demonising white professional men here, they deserve the same rights and considerations as every other kind of employee.

‘WMS’ is a state of mind, not a person or people

Being truly inclusive it down to the right attitude – not ticking quota boxes.

White, male and stale‘ is more of a state of mind rather than the mere physical dominance of white professional men in an office environment.

It’s when certain cultures are allowed to manifest (often without people meaning them to) whereby other groups can feel left out and even offended by the practices that are allowed to play out.

If employers permit this kind of environment to ensue, the result can be that their business becomes a toxic place to work, (that’s my understanding of the ‘stale’ part).

Here’s how employers can stop their businesses from falling into this trap…

Settle on your culture and ensure people are the right fit

If you establish a set of commonly held cultures at work, you can see who oversteps them and who is a toxic employee.

The prime reason for hiring a candidate should be based upon their talent and ability to undertake their role well. However, if they aren’t a good culture fit, it doesn’t matter how great they are, it won’t work.

The extent that your staff engage with your business social events speaks volumes about the social and political dynamics at play in your office. For example, are male and female employees mingling at the event, or are they chatting in separate groups? Are certain employees leaving as soon as possible while others are letting loose?

That’s why it’s imperative that employers ensure all employees fit a general culture of productivity, wellbeing and equality in any workspace. Hiring an employee who discredits this compulsory work culture through their ill-fitting behaviour could be an employee that causes alienation and offence to others.

1. Your ‘meet the team’ webpage looks a little ‘mono-male’

What does your ‘meet the team’ webpage say about your business?

Is your ‘team’ webpage on your business site a little male and mono-racial?

Then you might want to think about making your hiring efforts a little more inclusive. This doesn’t mean compensating on quality by hiring the first person who’s not a white male and doing so regardless of their ability.

But it does mean making a bit more effort with your hiring approach, including adding disclaimers to any posting about your company’s desire to be a truly inclusive employer.

This could encourage more quality, ethnic minority candidates to apply if they feel that a business has stated its desire to be welcoming to different types of candidates.

Declare your intention(s) to be diverse and inclusive

However, achieving a truly diverse workforce made up of the best talent possible takes time. And if your company’s team page still has women and other minorities dotted around in a sea of white male faces, then maybe think of not having a team page until the business has more of a diverse representation of employees. Or else you might put some candidates off applying.

What’s more, putting up the profile images of one or two more diverse colleagues might be seen as a ‘token move’ by potential candidates for roles, as from some perspectives, (perhaps from ethnic minorities themselves), it might highlight the inherent ‘whiteness’ of an organisation if the moves made towards apparent diversity are seen as obvious or clumsy.

2. Your office banter and activities don’t bring people together

How inclusive are your office social events? Do they ‘cater’ to all interests?

Depending on the majority demographics of a certain office, a culture can take hold whereby office chat, including ‘banter’ and the sorts of social events that are organised, can be defined (often subconsciously) by that dominant group at the expense of other people’s interests and enjoyments.

Certain conversations and cultures dominate the office…

Let’s use a stereotypical and hypothetical case to showcase this point.

Say a majority of an office team is male, into football and drinks alcohol. In this case, it’s likely that this majority group will lead and dominate office conversations based on their shared interests, and could leave out other employees who don’t share these interests.

This can include conversations that either exclude or even offend minority employees and could lead to the creation of a work social life that doesn’t appeal to everyone in the office.

People might ‘forget where they are’

If the human makeup of an office looks a certain way, say it’s predominately white, male and middle class, it can be easy for those employees to forget that there are other types of people sharing the same space, (such as women), meaning that words more reserved for a men’s locker-room situation could be said that could alienate and offend. The same goes for discussions about race.

3. Your office is the ‘playground’ of one majority group

Are your office social events dominated by a certain kind of behaviour or group?

This is when inappropriate comments or ‘jokes’ can surface and offend others. Remember that an office should be a ‘safe space’ for all. This means a place where people from all different identities and backgrounds can work together without fear of being alienated or offended – this doesn’t mean a safe space for partisan jokes or ‘banter.’

Are people socialising in factions?

The extent that your staff engage with your business social events speaks volumes about the social and political dynamics at play in your office. For example, are male and female employees mingling at the event, or are they chatting in separate groups? Are certain employees leaving as soon as possible while others are letting loose?

Watch these occasions closely, especially so if you’re managing employees from different cultural and social backgrounds who may not engage in or enjoy alcohol-based social activities.

To limit the chances of office factions, lack of togetherness or the domination of any ‘lad behaviour’ in the office, consider changing the nature of the type of parties your business puts on.

Perhaps more neutral and activity-based bonding events such as paintballing or a walking trip would be preferable. These kinds of activities can form more of a level playing field where all members of your team can enjoy themselves – and each other’s company in a more equal way.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Annie May is the Features Editor at Real Business and Business Advice. Following her graduation from LSE, she embarked upon a freelance career in current affairs journalism. Annie has written on subjects varying from African history and contemporary politics to community business and current affairs news in London. At Real Business and Business Advice, Annie is passionate about highlighting inclusive and diverse business disruptors and organisations for our evolving readership. Annie believes in fostering community inclusion and has volunteered for organisations such as Fairfield House, a UK based Rastafari centre and a senior citizen association for ethnic minority men and women.

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