Culture Change and EDI as We Head Back To New-Normal

Marcie Cochrane, P.Eng, MBA

Project Leader, ACEC-BC

Eighteen months into the COVID-19 pandemic, as workplaces begin to reopen, organizations are seeing an opportunity for a culture reset. For many, this includes ensuring a practical commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is reflected as part of the shift.

If there’s anything a global pandemic can teach you, it’s that the unimaginable can happen and it’s still possible to do something about it. In the early days of 2020, when people had no idea what COVID-19 had in store, organizations large and small, local and multinational, began pivoting fast to survive. “We’ve always done it this way,” was no longer acceptable; “let’s give this a try!” was.

By the end of March 2020, many people found themselves working from home, representing a fundamental cultural shift for organizations around the world. Eighteen months later, the complexity and challenges of COVID-19 have revealed many workplace gaps and inconsistencies, and evolution away from pre-pandemic company norms. Today, many leaders are making the choice to embrace change by design rather than default, examining the areas of their company cultures they need to amplify and protect, and those where they want to encourage a new way forward.

“We define culture as the water you swim in,” says Sheila Bouman, Co-Founder at High Impact Lab, an organization ACEC-BC has partnered with to deliver leadership training as part of the ACEC-BC Leadership Program. “It’s how the work gets done – between employees, customers, partners, and stakeholders. And you only notice the culture’s not working quite right when the temperature changes.”

The Team at High Impact Labs often applies Kurt Lewin’s Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze change-management model when working with clients. The model is built around the idea you cannot force a block of ice into a new shape without breaking it. Instead, you need to melt the block (unfreeze), mold it into the shape you want (change), and freeze it into the new shape (refreeze).

Sheila Bouman continues, “there are certain circumstances, such as a global pandemic, that force an unfreeze. Once in a state of unfreeze, cultural change is inevitable, regardless of whether an organization is prepared to embark on the change or not. The choice that remains is for leaders to decide if they will take an active and deliberate role in evolution of their organization’s culture to design and define what they want and need for the future.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down in tragic and heartbreaking ways, but it has also been the catalyst for an unfreeze in organizations, including companies within ACEC-BC’s membership. COVID-19 has provided inspiring examples of resilience, innovation, agility, and adaptability and the pre-pandemic status quo is no longer appropriate or acceptable, especially when it comes to workplace equality, diversity, and inclusion.

The pandemic has increased awareness of marginalized groups in the workplace. It has highlighted the challenge of balancing work and family obligations, as well as illuminated many systemic and structural inequities that exist within workplaces and across society. And it has underlined the need for genuine effort given to equity, diversity, and inclusivity in the workplace.

As a result, employers are looking at their return-to-work strategies through the lens of inclusivity, examining the ways their cultures have evolved and recognizing the risks to employee retention and performance if they aren’t intentional in their approach. Pre-COVID, they might have looked at EDI as something they should be doing but it’s now become an important part of their culture-remolding efforts.

Looking to strengthen equity, diversity, and inclusion in your new-normal workplace?
  • Model the EDI behaviours and attitudes you want to see
  • Engage your employees and diversity groups to guide and support the changes you hope to make
  • Use data and analytics to help you make EDI decisions and measure your progress
  • Evaluate, reimagine, and revamp your programs and policies through an EDI lens

ACEC-BC continues to add articles and resources to support ACEC-BC members in their efforts to build equity, diversity, and inclusion into their post-COVID workplaces. Access this content here.

About High Impact Labs

High Impact Lab partners with leaders on strategy, culture and their own development. Culture LAB, an applied culture evolution process, involves leaders and their teams to assess the current culture and to define the right culture for the future. The process is customized to engage, challenge, inspire and build shared accountability to create the conditions for people to thrive. Learn more at highimpactlab.com

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