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By Florence Robson
ompany culture is more than just a buzzword. Often dismissed as a ‘nice-to-have’ – the after-work drinks, office pool tables or unlimited holiday – in reality an organisation’s culture is its shared ethos, the beliefs, values and behaviours that people bring to work each day, and how that ultimately contributes to business growth.
It has the power to make or break a business, affecting everything from hiring to brand reputation and, ultimately, profitability.
It is also crucial to equality in the workplace. Data from McKinsey, based on 50,000 companies, showed that businesses with a male-female ratio of between 40-60 percent showed more sustained and profitable results than those with unbalanced teams. But the same report also emphasises that gender balance can only deliver results if it is addressed systematically throughout the organisation, supported by a culture in which everyone feels comfortable bringing their unique ideas, perspectives and experiences to the table.
Whether you’re building a company from the ground up or are managing a team within an established organisation, anyone can contribute to a workplace culture where everyone feels included. To delve deeper into the topic, at our first ever Stack conference at Oakley Court last month we assembled a panel of expert women, all of whom know a thing or two about building businesses that thrive.
The panel was sponsored by Veuve Clicquot, who has been celebrating pioneering businesswomen for nearly 50 years via their Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman Awards. The first and longest-running international awards to champion women in business, the Bold Awards are inspired by Madame Clicquot, whose tenacity and creativity in the face of numerous social obstacles transformed the Veuve Clicquot brand into the successful champagne house we know today.
Today, the awards celebrate women who push boundaries on behalf of other women in their industry, just as Madame Clicquot did two centuries ago. This year, the winners included Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, who led the development of Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine, and The Stack’s very own Sharmadean Reid, who won the Bold Future award.
Hosted by Sharmadean, the Access to Company Culture panel included four women who embody the idea of the ‘bold woman’: Emma Ilori, Head of Womenswear Elevation, FLANNELS; Janine Leccia, Talent Management & Acquisition Director, LVMH Fashion Group; Pip Jamieson, Founder & CEO, The Dots; and Agnes Mwakatuma, Founder, Black Minds Matter. Here are their top tips for building and maintaining a health company culture.
“Our main goal is to support and encourage people we work alongside to look after their mental health, even providing therapy for the whole team.”
Everything starts with trust
Having had several bad past experiences, Emma takes company culture very seriously. For her, trust is the foundation of any good relationship. “Being someone’s manager, there has to be a two-way trust”, she says. According to Emma, trust breaks down when people believe they have to change the way they behave when they reach a certain level of seniority. “If you’re not showing up and being authentic to your team, how are you expecting them to buy into your vision, respect you and show up as themselves?”
Janine agrees, listing “Trust and connection, deep and attentive listening, and transparent honest communication” as her core values for building a truly inclusive company culture.
Support women to access leadership roles
Leaders drive culture – so how do you ensure that your company has proper representation at the top? It starts with being intentional about the actions and talent management practices that actively help women to access more senior leadership roles, says Janine. “This means looking at inclusive recruitment practices, and development and promotion opportunities, ensuring women have the necessary access to training, development, coaching and mentorship to grow and achieve their career ambitions.” This approach is working at LVMH; The Group has gone from 23% to 44% of women holding key leadership roles since launching the EllesVMH initiative in 2007.
“Empowered employees play an active role in shaping and upholding values of equality and a culture of inclusion and belonging”
Align your culture with your team’s actual needs
It’s all well and good introducing benefits that appeal to you as a leader, but your employees might have completely different needs and priorities. That’s why Agnes dedicates time to getting to know each of her colleagues on a personal level. “I want to understand their goals and mission but also what their struggles are, so that I can tailor the way we work to fit them.”
In practice, this approach has led to Agnes introducing policies to suit her team, rather than the other way around. “I noticed most of the women I work with have period pains, so I introduced menstrual leave. We also let people take days off for anxiety and let the single mums in the team pick up their kids when they need to, no questions asked.” Running an organisation focused on mental health, Agnes is keen to make sure the company culture embodies their values. “Our main goal is to support and encourage people we work alongside to look after their mental health, even providing therapy for the whole team.”
Ask for everyone’s input
Your values and principles should be at the heart of your company culture but how do you make sure that your team is on board? By inviting them to join you in defining those values in the first place. That’s exactly what Sharmadean did as she was building The Stack. “I brought everyone into a meeting room and shared six questions that I wanted us to work through. They included things like ‘Why do we exist?’ and ‘How do we want the customer to feel?’. Everyone wrote down their answers and then we came together to group the common themes. Now our principles include things like ‘Launch and learn’ (meaning that we constantly release and learn from the results) and ‘Smartest idea wins’ (a good idea can come from anywhere).” ”
Janine has witnessed the value of a collective approach at LVMH. “Empowered employees play an active role in shaping and upholding values of equality and a culture of inclusion and belonging”, she says. “We see this through the rise of Employee Resource Groups, for example, in different brands & regions (born through our intrapreneurial initiatives), that drive greater awareness and education and celebrate diverse employee communities.”
Give your team autonomy
To have a genuinely healthy culture, you need to create an environment where every single employee feels confident expressing themselves and sharing their point of view. For Emma, a regular influx of new, young team members has been vital to maintaining fresh perspectives at FLANNELS. “We have a graduate scheme that is open to everyone, even if you don’t have any experience or have never been to university, and we also have an innovation programme where we pay for accommodation, subsidise food, and cast the net really wide in terms of how we market it. It means we have loads of young people joining the team from across the UK.”
FLANNELS actively encourages team members to challenge everything, in line with their value to ‘Think without limits’. “You can feel this energy when you’re with them!”, says Emma. “They suggest ideas that are so much more relevant than anything I could come up with.”
Ultimately, building a company culture is a process of constant iteration. Your original culture might not fit as your company grows but by offering your team the freedom to be creative, express themselves and form micro-communities within the organisation, you can create a culture that everyone will want to nurture and protect.
How to build a healthy company culture, with Pip Jamieson, Emma Ilori, Agnes Mwakatuma, Janine Leccia and Sharmadean Reid
By Florence Robson
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