How to Tell if a Company (Actually) Values People-First Culture

Katie Zink
4 min readMay 22, 2020

As a job seeker, you are faced with so many decisions to make, all while under immense pressure. Especially now, you’re at the mercy of what positions even exist, timed perfectly with where your skillset lies.

My near-term prediction is that companies who are hiring now will be faced with increased turnover rates once things stabilize. Candidates may not be able to afford to hold out for their next ideal fit and will accept positions to suffice for the short term.

With unemployment rates surging, what’s to come of job seeker agency and choice until we’re well onto the other end of this economic crisis?

Under typical circumstances, the median tenure for salaried employees is 4 years. There’s something to learn from this. Because it no longer ultimately benefits modern professionals to stay with one company our entire career, we have the power to uniquely design our trajectories. Codependence is not a career path.

Another thing you have control over is the culture and community you want to be apart of and ideally, add to.

So, how is organizational culture currently defined?

The underlying beliefs, assumptions, values and ways of interacting that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization.

It’s really difficult to initially detect the total realities of a company’s working culture, and if aspects of it are only expressed or actually lived. There’s a big difference.

Some things to consider when weighing your decisions around accepting a new job are often that of an actualized DEI commitment. This means:

  • Benefits and policies that truly serve you and your unique identity in the long run.
  • Equitable interviewing and hiring experience.
  • First impressions of your next boss and leadership team that demonstrate empathy and allyship.
  • A clear path to progress in your career and growth opportunities.
  • A culture that hears, recognizes and supports all voices.

…and not just surface-level, perfunctory efforts for the sake of optics or reputation. Company leaders, now I’m speaking to you.

Modern professionals expect institutionalized inclusion. In order to attract diverse talent, employers need to be able to identify and articulate where they are on the spectrum to reaching this.

Champions in the DEI space are excited that minds are opening and there’s even been a line item created in budgets for education and new initiatives. However, we and prospective diverse talent aren’t falling for “check the box” efforts.

Especially given COVID-related uncertainties and the woeful lack of people-first responsive measures taken across the United States, this is a key time for leaders to reassess policies and practices to demonstrate institutionalized DEI.

Here’s what I’ve been hearing in my conversations lately:

Company A: “We sent a few of our managers to Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion (JEDI) training a few weeks back, but I haven’t heard much report out to the rest of us regarding what they learned. Seems like scattered one-off efforts, but no strategy.”

Even when companies are ready to do the work, there is rarely a strategy in place. Training is a clear and pursuable goal, but to cut to the chase without an intentional strategy and scalable plan, efforts stall out eventually. The justification of spending time and resources with it becomes more difficult.

Going through all the trouble of scheduling a company-wide training or revamping all marketing materials are good efforts, but something so one-off or one dimensional will end in fatigue, frustration, or be seen as inauthentic.

Company B: “I think we are all passionate about the subject, but I’d like to see a bit more organizational, day-to-day style of approaching it, instead of just leaving it to our managers to handle.”

Passion goes a long way in this work and can often manifest as in-good-faith efforts, but without anyone to guide the bigger picture (while keeping the people represented), it won’t lead to the transformation needed.

Lily Zheng says it well in a recent article,

“Be creative about finding the right people to help you tackle the specific challenges you identify. Your company may already have people with the necessary skills or expertise but who aren’t in formal DEI roles.

Consider temporarily flexing their role to allow them to take on these challenges. If you choose to work with an external firm, try to find a group that offers flexible, context-dependent services (rather than off-the-shelf solutions).”

Ultimately, having an objective point of view and the ability to recommend proven techniques can serve as your north star.

For companies looking to demonstrate your value on people-first culture, this can be measured.

Consider:

  • The self-identification rates of your org. Do employees feel safe indicating their true identities?
  • The disparities between people who identify in majority groups and people who belong to underrepresented minority (URM) groups. What factors exist or maybe even contribute to that divide?
  • Employee perception of management. If everyone feels that managers are unfair it’s one problem. If only URMs feel that managers are unfair, it’s another problem.

Originally published at https://katiezink.co on May 22, 2020.

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Katie Zink

DEI Strategist | Facilitator | Writer | Believes we’re all capable of our own revolution. Learn more about my signature consulting program at katiezink.co