Why should anyone really care about cool corporate cultures?

First there was Corporate branding – Coca Cola, Virgin, Apple to name a few.   Then came Personal branding, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Tony Robbins, Homer Simpson etc etc.

What’s next?

All your prospective recruits think it’s gotta be cool to work in those Silicon Valley tech giants, or the big four accounting firms, even working for one of the high street Banks or City Law Firms might seem cool to some but is it?  How would they know or more to the point how would you know?  Do you have a cool corporate culture or are you even on par with your industry peers?

If someone fresh out of UNI with a hard-earned degree ready to take on the world, someone you want in your team, wouldn’t it be nice to know that their career options are not as they probably think, simply hit or miss.  Sadly, that is exactly what they think and even more so if they’re female.

Oh sure the Corporate Brochure, the website and the super well-crafted job-post espousing visions, missions and values has them salivating to get an interview.  They all do their job to paint the perfect picture.

As you know talent equals productivity which then typically equals profit for the shareholders.  So yes, they are extremely valuable to you, so it makes perfect business sense to invest heavily into recruitment and to attract bright talent.  However, the disingenuity of the next bit, keeping them happy, after they’ve been recruited typically beggars belief.

Many people stick it out even when unhappy.  Sure they get paid for showing up and going through the motions, but you know that can’t be healthy.  Their mental health must suffer, I suspect there’s a study or two out there that links poor corporate cultures with mental health issues.

There are many, many obstacles to create the perfect utopian corporate culture.  It’s highly unlikely one actually exists anywhere in the world, so more realistically what you need to deliver is a satisfactorily cool/great place to work.  A place where the teams are happy to trade their time for your money, a place where they’re happy and content.  And it’s not just “tick along happy” to be there, it’s knowing your culture will allow them to progress, learn and be challenged type of happy.

The challenge for the corporate is when there are many hundreds or thousands working with you.  How can they make it cool for everyone?

We have identified over 18 potential flashpoints a “cool corporate culture” would need to recognise and accept.  If any one of those are triggered for whatever reason an organisation would need strategies in place to tackle the issue before we would class them as a cool place to work.

And I don’t mean your workplace policies.  Those are all enshrined in law so it’s pretty much for certain that every corporate has their workplace policies and procedures filed away somewhere in an HR department cabinet no doubt.  But what about the other areas that make a corporate culture truly cool that aren’t legislated for?  And this is where I segue into the female agenda given that’s our true focus here.  Bear in mind though, men have a huge role to play in all of this which we’ll tackle later in this series.

For now, let’s put aside the gender pay gap, the lack of women on boards and the appalling low number of women in STEM and construction related industries and focus on culture.

By the way, the first two issues I mentioned above have government all over them, yet according to the current World Economic Forum’s estimate its goping to take 217 years to bridge the gender pay gap at the current rate we’re going and we’re still many percentage points below the government targets for female board representation.  And that is simply very UN cool.

From bullying to babies

Its hard to imagine how a new female recruit can spot during the interview process the umpteen issues that make a difference to the way women are allowed to perform in the workplace?  They really can’t and you can’t really be sure its all you think it is either, of that we have experience.  It has very rarely been the case that when questioned about culture do the different layers of management and staff agree.

There is a check list of issue/challenges which – once identified and understood – any business can rectify.

Simply stated, there are two high level considerations you absolutely have to know for sure exist within your “corporate culture” your recruits should be aware of before giving up a significant piece of their life to you:

  1. That you help or allow for women to develop their careers without hindrance or prejudice.


  1. That the organisation wants to harness the talent and potential of the women they employ.

Here, in no particular order, are the other typical issues that should be considered;

  • Career development. The idea that women might want to forge a long-term career in the same way that men traditionally do is still alien to some companies. Are you convinced the architecture is in place that allows women to understand their achievements will be recognised and rewarded with promotion?
  • Is advice, shared experiences and sensitive counselling on offer and easily found?
  • It can take many forms, ranging from the psychologically subtle to serious threats and actual physical abuse.
  • Female staff need to be able to trust that their achievements, views or complaints will be passed through lines of management up and down the organisation. One should be certain this confidence is built into the fabric of the business, whatever its scope or size.
  • Support for returners. For a whole range of reasons from maternity and health issues to the pressures of caring for a relative. How is the need to occasionally take these temporary career breaks managed or accepted?
  • Sadly, women still seem to suffer most often from ageist attitudes in the workplace.
  • Sexual harassment. There are effective ways of deterring it, countering it, reporting and dealing with incidents so is that something you have in place?

Some others to consider

  • Unconscious bias.
  • Leadership development.
  • Whistle blowing.
  • Support for life stage pressures and influences.
  • Physical and mental well-being.
  • Training Opportunities.

So, the sad reality is that the checklist above is not exhaustive and is typically hard to address.  There are specialists for one or other or many of the issues, but we have yet to come across a co-ordinated approach with a success measurement as the focus.

So I ask again rhetorically this time, how would anyone really know if a cool corporate culture you’ve been promising your new recruits is real?

Don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderfully cool and visionary companies doing their best to have the perfect female friendly environment.  Trouble for them is they can’t really brag about it or get the message out there in any way you can actually trust. What I can tell you though is that they must also employ the coolest of CFO’s.  I’ll explain later.

It’s only going to get easier for all is when the laggards realise they could relatively quickly reduce their recruitment costs and that retaining productive staff is as worthwhile to their bottom line as retaining customers.  It shouldn’t be when their peers start attracting all the best talent away, which in turn leads to productivity waning and market share slipping away, only then will Boards truly take an interest in creating a cool corporate culture.

Earlier I asked what’s next on the branding totem pole and with the scene now set it’s time to share.

Employer Branding must come next and is really the missing piece to the corporate productivity puzzle.  If an Employer wants bright young talent to trade their time for money and for them to be productive. then they have to make it super cool for someone to want to work and remain there – it’s a no brainer, right?

Productivity goes up, recruitment costs go down and the “happiness index” goes through the roof.  Even the most strait-laced, old fashioned, stuck in their ways CFO’s must realise that.  You would think so, but the reality is that the majority of advocates to make the culture cool comes from some visionary manager lower down the pecking order.  These guys probably have a very small budget allocated for training so they play at it as best they can.  If the CFO doesn’t buy into a program of significance usually it doesn’t happen.  Let me say it again in case a wanna-be-cool CFO is reading this – productivity goes up, costs go down and the CEO and Board suddenly become superheroes if their teams operate in a cool corporate culture.

Not only should a cool corporate culture have a recruitment policy which they all do, they should also have a modern retain and a release policy as well.  And many do not.  Take Zappos for example, they are famous for “The Offer” and this is what they say after a week or so to their new hires, “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.” Zappos actually bribes its new employees to quit!

Why? Because if you’re willing to take the company up on The Offer, you obviously don’t have the sense of commitment they are looking for.

Amazon pays employees $5,000 to quit.  Obviously. terms and conditions apply but the sentiment is based all around culture.  “We want people working at Amazon who want to be here,” Amazon spokesperson Melanie Etches told CNBC Make It via email. “In the long-term, staying somewhere you don’t want to be isn’t healthy for our employees or for the company.”  These are billion-dollar companies for a reason other than good timing.

What we’re suggesting gets out in front of all that somewhat.  What if the company had a badge that actually told everyone they really and truly have the culture women would want to work in. What if all those points I mentioned above plus more were addressed, measured and reviewed regularly from a truly independent third party?

Now that would make the choice of where to give their early years of service a hell of a lot easier.

Becoming Venus Accredited tells the world where the female friendly working environments truly are – our definition of cool corporate cultures.

Our Moonshot is to unlock the potential of 100,000 workforces to drive greater profitability, and provide women with clear, supportive pathways for career advancement.

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