When companies implement gender diversity practices that work they realize several benefits. Likewise, research shows diverse workplaces put more women in favorable positions to experience job satisfaction and offers them greater upside potential for career growth.
In this 3-part series, which includes our previous and subsequent posts, we cover diversity programs companies implement which either deliver on, or fall short of, achieving their desired outcomes. Having knowledge of both effective and unsuccessful diversity practices allows you to identify which organizations deploy them properly. You can use this knowledge as a guide to benefit future decisions related to your career. In today’s post, we cover modified grievance systems. It is the second installment in this series.
Flexible, or Modified, Grievance Systems
Previously, we covered how most employers feel they need some sort of formal system to handle employee complaints. However, many companies install them primarily to adjudicate grievances. In legal liability situations, it turns out that judges like to see formal structures such as these in place. Because of this, mandated grievance systems have become a “feel good” best practice, which often helps organizations defend themselves in court. You can’t blame an organization for trying, nor should you fault them for avoiding potential lawsuits. However, your job is not to only identify IF a company has diversity programs, you want to know if a company PRACTICES diversity programs successfully.
The challenge with formal grievance systems, from a woman’s standpoint, is that they have a way of backfiring. Rather than facilitate more diversity, they run counter to the desired outcome. That is, research shows, formal grievances prevent companies from achieving diversity because they penalize those who bring biases and wrongful practice to management’s attention.
Companies who want the competitive advantages of a diverse workforce have learned that failure often lies in the formal structure and execution of such grievance systems. The main culprit seems to be the common practice of finding a manager to blame who’s then subjected to a formal hearing process before a disciplinary board. This practice, along with the subsequent reaction of managers to retaliate against employees who register such complaints, is predictable and often baked into formal grievance structures.
Below the surface of formal grievance systems lies human behavior, much of which is unconscious. It’s why behaviors can be unpredictable and is often why we don’t use our best judgments. It is also why most of us are unaware of our biases. A growing body of research proves that those of us who think we are the most objective are, in fact, the most biased. So, if you are a company trying to correct the type of human behavior called into question by grievances, why would you publicly ridicule a manager who could be unaware of his/her problem? If you are serious about diversity, you wouldn’t. That’s because such practices will never get to the underlying issue and correct the problem by modifying undesirable behaviors.
Therefore, some of the best industry practices now build around what’s called a “flexible complaint system.” These allow companies to maintain the appearance, and protection, of a formal compliance system while practicing discretionary implementation of grievance resolution.
There are many workable versions of a flex structure. Most involve formal reporting and due-process for hearing complaints, which factors recognition of employee rights and accountability of management into the process. The path of resolution, however, is less formal. A solutions-based approach reframes the mindset of always applying “zero tolerance” and finding-a-scapegoat-manager policies. Solutions come from a working perspective of decency, mutual respect, fair mediation and equitable resolution. By doing so, these practices avoid exposing the employee to subsequent retaliation and the manager to public judgment.
Irrespective of these practices, companies will largely be measured, as they always have been, by their behaviors and outcomes. How, and if, a company acts upon their diversity programs will demonstrate its commitment to culture and help build its employment brand or reputation.
If diversity solutions commonly perceived as effective don’t work and popular programs such as grievance systems need to be modified, then which practices can be counted upon by employers and workers alike to improve diversity?
In our next post, we will outline diversity practices that have gained buy-in of both managers and employees. These types of practices have been shown to be effective in moving a company toward greater diversity and they also benefit the careers of more women employees.