Become a micro-advocate to support organisational change

by Dec 19, 2018

Make an impact on behavioural change as a micro-advocate

Contribute to changing the system through your actions as a micro-advocate. We can all contribute to making workplaces more inclusive.

To create a more diverse and inclusive workplace, we need to talk less and do more. But it’s hard for most of us to know what we can do in a meaningful way in our everyday working lives, when we are not in positions of leadership. But there is no doubt that the micro-advocate can play a role in organisational change. It’s something we can all do, no matter how junior we are.


Out of the “in-group”

People in the dominant culture of any organisation don’t understand that there are many elements of going to work that they take for granted. Simple things fall into place for them. Certain experiences are normal for the “in group”, which creates expectations. Part and parcel of this is guaranteed career progression and promotion opportunities, recognition and credit for success, no matter how small, and appropriate and fair compensation.

They don’t think to doubt it. Today employees are also asking for psychological security and respect in their places of work. You would have thought this should be a given, but for those in an “out-group” it is not.  Work is a place of stress, isolation and anxiety. For that particular golden group found in any organisation which has a command, control and patrol leadership-style, life carries on as it always has, oblivious to what is going on for others. They are unable to walk in other people’s shoes.


Unconscious discrimination

In many businesses’ recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion processes systematically exclude specific types of people. This deprives organisations of the possibility to tap into a diverse workforce to achieve business success. It also prevents individuals from excluded groups to achieve their potential.

But what can we do as individuals in our everyday working lives to help create a workplace that is more inclusive? How can we become a micro-advocate even in an environment where leadership commitment might be inconsistent and many of the processes are still old school? Is it possible to be a catalyst for change and be that micro-advocate in our own area of influence? I think it is.

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3 ways to become a micro-advocate

  1. Become aware of your own biases

One of the most interesting exercises I ever did was to take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test. I discovered that I exhibited gender bias! I couldn’t believe it. After interviewing Esther Perel, a relationship therapist, at the Unleash Conference in Amsterdam recently, I now understand we all bring traces of our original relationships to the workplace. This was the way I was raised. So, I have to be very mindful of those biases. I urge everyone to complete the test as it can be a real eye opener. It is free and something you can do independently to your employer. If you run a team, request that everyone in your team does it.  If you are a team member, still propose it.

  1. Build a diverse network

If you are not in a leadership role or in a position to instigate systemic change, you are not going to be able to introduce blind CVs or other recruitment technologies that require investment. 85% of openings are publicised via networking, so it makes sense to make your network as wide as possible.  What you can do is what I call “fish where there are fish.” Look for candidates in other places where you may not usually go to source talent. Where that is will depend on the nature of the opening. It could mean reaching out to specific groups such as minority groups, schools or professional organisations you don’t normally connect with, creating outreach bodies, offering to speak in university career days or becoming a mentor to someone outside your group.

All will help you build a diverse network which can be a funnel to openings in your organisation. Question whether any short lists contain women or any minority groups. Make sure that you do your best to manage bias during candidate assessment discussions. All of these small steps will help.

  1. Be an Upstander

Nudging organisational and behavioural change involves advocacy. This means shifting from bystander to upstander and being willing to intervene when necessary. To achieve this you have to become aware of any non-inclusive practises in your organisation and then speak up when you feel that they are damaging to morale or the organisation. Micro-advocacy is impactful when it is carried out successfully, and even more so if you manage to bring your colleagues on board. You can also propose a charter to agree the red lines for your department with regard to which practises you all agree are acceptable or otherwise. Or alternatively, propose it as a team member. Someone’s banter can be hurtful to their colleagues.

But first this means setting some ground rules for key areas such as the way meetings are run and their timing, interruptions, timekeeping and so on.  Are your events male coded or excluding to colleagues with disabilities?  What behaviours make your colleagues feel excluded, anxious, insecure or uncomfortable?


The downside of cultural change being a bottom-up effort is the risk that any micro-advocate initiatives may not be in sync. The organisation could then end up with a number of different value-system silos all doing their own thing. The other problem is that when the change is driven from below, the tail starts wagging the dog. It begs the question then, what is the leadership doing?

So yes, everyone can become a micro-advocate and contribute to enabling behavioural change through one to one engagement. But there is no substitute for a strong and strategic leadership vision, backed up by systemic change which everyone in the organisation embraces. Even then the micro-advocate will play an important role.

Unconscious biases affect all our decisions, but it is possible to manage them. Make your company more inclusive, and more aware, with our Unconscious Bias Training Workshops.



Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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