How To Diversify Your Team – Tip #4 Zero Tolerance

by | Oct 10, 2021 | All, Women in Leadership | 0 comments

I keep saying how important it is to apply the zero tolerance rule. But why zero tolerance? Why not accept small deviations that do not hurt anyone?

The great advantage of zero tolerance is that it eliminates the need to ask questions, it eliminates any grey area. Let’s take the consumption of alcohol. At parties, we regularly ask ourselves: “I had 3 drinks in 5 hours, I am 60 kilos, am I within the limit? (You have 1 hour.)” Whereas if you take the option of not drinking at all, no more questions, and you enjoy the evening without taking any risks (and there I lost half of the readers).

For sexism, the principle is the same.

We tend to judge the relevance of a gossipy or “borderline” comment by the gauge of our own experience, except that it is really important to understand that the level of acceptance will depend very strongly on the interlocutor, his past, his potential previous traumas. A person who has been harassed will certainly be much more sensitive to biased remarks.

In the same way, one should not think that just because a slightly biased joke seems to be well accepted, that it does not cover a deeper problem.

It is very difficult to differentiate between a person who appreciates a joke because he or she went to engineering school (by chance) and is accustomed to this humor, and one who will keep quiet to fit in with the group, but feels strongly attacked. So, you might ask, how do you do it? Well, simply by refraining from making potentially sexist jokes. Using the famous “would I say that in front of my sister/mother/wife” trick?

The accumulation of these jokes not only puts the majority of women in an uncomfortable position, it maintains a culture where women are only welcome if they fit in.

Indeed, if the only way to be accepted by a group is to conform to the prevailing sexist humor, one runs the risk of not bringing the true diversity of thought that is so important to the team and for which women were hired.

“We can’t say anything more”?

And I’m going to pause for a few seconds to give you time to hit me with the killer argument, “We can’t say anything anymore!”

You may think, and rightly so, that it brings good spirit to make jokes in a team, and I’m the first to do so, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of one category of people, especially if that category is underrepresented in a group. So I’m certainly not suggesting that we stop using humor in the office, but that we avoid topics that may offend.

It is the role of each and every one of us to stop these practices.

Managers have a crucial role to play. The minimum, of course, is to set an example, but in addition to that, we have to make sure that everyone is aligned with the Zero Tolerance principle.

About 15 years ago, I was the Angola director of my company. Very quickly, I sent the message that I wanted to be informed immediately of any ethical incident, no matter how minor, involving anyone on the team, regardless of their position.

I was told one day that one of the young female engineers had literally broken down on the oil rig where she was assigned. She was the victim of regular jokes, for example, one time she found her safety boots painted pink… Being a woman on a drilling platform requires a lot of strength of character. I could totally understand how she could be upset and the feeling she could have of not being “up to it”, why she had fallen apart. Each joke taken individually can be accepted, but the accumulation added to the particular circumstance of being the only woman, in the middle of the sea, in the middle of 80 men made it much more complicated.

When she came to my office, I not only believed her, reassuring her that her reaction was completely legitimate, but I acted. I called the director of the drilling company, who immediately decided to intervene on his side.

In another similar case, not knowing how to contact the director of the company involved in the complaint, I simply went to his office, unannounced, to tell him about the incident. Once the surprise wore off, he also took action. These incidents sent a very strong message to the teams that not only were these behaviors unacceptable in our company, but also that victims would be listened to if they encountered a problem.

I realize these are pretty extreme cases and I imagine most readers have never seen a rig or are not in a similar management position, but the principle remains the same regardless of the environment. Any incident should be treated with the appropriate level of severity, no matter how minor it may seem, and at the right level of the hierarchy.

So I suggest that you take a moment to observe what is going on in your department, all antennas out, listening for non-inclusive behaviors, to not only correct your own but also to explain to your colleagues how what they (and sometimes they) are saying may offend. The general atmosphere of the team will be much better.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

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Magali Anderson

Magali Anderson

Chief Sustainability Officer at LafargeHolcim

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