How to change a male coded culture

by | Feb 19, 2018

 Take action & make changes to end a male coded culture

A male coded culture can be toxic and deters talent from joining your company. Here are some simple changes to make a difference from a CEO who is initiating change.

A CEO of a B2B company told me that when he took on his new role, he found he was inadvertently leading an organisation in the heavy engineering sector with a male coded culture. It wasn’t his intention. His wife is a lawyer with a full-time and demanding job and he fully supports gender equality. He has three kids and Google calendar he says “rules our lives.” He came into an environment where there were almost no women in key senior positions. He continued:

“I say almost because I really didn’t pay attention.  The HR roles were held by women. I think we may have had some female junior engineers and accountants and all the admin staff were women. But that was it. I decided I wanted to do something about it.”

He shared what key steps he took to gradually change the male coded culture in his own organisation.


Changing a male coded culture requires the following steps:

#1 Diverse and inclusive thinking

It was obvious that to get changes from what they had always done, I had to do something different. So I decided to mix it up by involving a whole range of employees and created a small "action tank." As opposed to a think tank, I wanted to see results, not a lot of talk and paperwork. This "action tank" included employees of different ages, seniority levels, disciplines, educational backgrounds and obviously both men and women. I was going after diversity of thought.

"We came to agree that we were a pretty homogenous group with very little racial or gender diversity. That became apparent as we looked at our white skinned, male group in the meetings."

#2 Creating diverse networks

To change our talent pipeline we started to build relationships with different organisations, schools and universities to extend our reach. Many of our hires came from employee referrals which is always safe and reliable, so we tried to shift that. We ran an open day for the local schools to try to encourage female students to consider engineering as a career option. We offered summer internships to extend their experience and a sponsored graduate programme with post-graduate career and training opportunities.

Contact 3Plus for help with Executive Search and Diversity Recruitment.

#3 Working on our biases

We worked towards creating an environment where the senior managers truly listened and empowered their teams. For some, not to have the old school badge of seniority and authority was an adjustment.  Some struggled and left. We now run all our job ads and communications through Textio, to screen for a bias in language. As well as this, we checked our website for balanced images - they were mainly men before, the women were displayed in what was clearly junior roles. Even the little icons were male. We made sure that our cafeteria was neutrally decorated and the reception didn't have images of our all male board! This came from feedback from the women in the "action tank."  They said it set the tone of the company. The absence of women would be off-putting for any candidates. They didn't want to see only images of the company soccer team (male) on the walls either.

#4 Male allies

There is a surprising amount of resistance to what seems like common sense. Some long-term colleagues and network contacts have been open in their confusion about my initiatives. They don't get it. And it's not just older colleagues. Within the group some were very closed, especially when a couple of decisions we made didn't work out. They pulled the "I told you so" line. We made a point to run inclusive meetings and worked towards creating a bias conscious culture. People felt safe calling out things that bothered them which they could then discuss without fear of repercussion. We tried to build an atmosphere where men and women could be self-scheduling and respect family and carer obligations. Many of the men said they actually felt released.

We have to understand that gender balance is not part of the way many men were raised. Their Moms either stayed at home or worked part-time and their dad's followed their careers. In school if they followed STEM subjects it was a male dominated environment and another male coded culture. You can't shake that off over night.

I really believe if you are willing to listen and walk in the shoes of others then eventually we will get there. I'm not saying it won't take time.

Tackle these issues head on with our Managing Unconscious Bias workshops.

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Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.
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