thought-leadership Thought Leadership

September 19, 2022 / 3 minute read

The Business Case for Culture of Humility

Written by Margaret Finley, Director of DEI and Head of Corporate Affairs

Our labor market has seen some of the biggest disruptions in a century play out over the last two years. The pandemic created opportunities and roadblocks, and while we can debate which changes are beneficial, it is clear that companies large and small must rethink how they recruit and retain the employees who keep their businesses running and successful.

For me, it is always about culture. What experience are you creating for your employees? In what environment are you asking them to work? Can your people bring their authentic and whole selves to work, without being forced to code switch to succeed?

As a Black woman, I have often felt I needed to code switch ­­–– to assimilate –– in order to succeed. I love my job at ADS for a number of reasons, but a big one is that here, for the first time in a long career, I do not feel that I have to do that. My leaders and peers respect what I bring to the table and don’t expect me to assimilate. That doesn’t mean we don’t have disagreements. But it does mean we discuss and challenge one another respectfully, seeking alignment rather than assimilation.

We have a phrase for this way of interacting with one another: culture humility. It is a level of humbleness that each individual, especially those at the top of an organization, where culture is created, brings to each conversation. It recognizes that we have an opportunity to learn from one another. It is a fundamental truth of business that companies historically have been led by white men, mainly older white men. Culture of humility creates a space that is psychologically safe for people to share their ideas and experiences, primarily when those experiences differ from those of historical leaders. It allows open and respectful conversation without fear, retaliation or shunning.

It is, I think, the first step toward creating the kind of culture that allows employees to feel it is safe to invest themselves and their energy into a company. If I feel psychologically safe in a workplace, I’m significantly more likely to bring my best work to the table — and to stay on a team long-term.

ADS is that kind of place, and we are seeing business benefits from that culture.

Earlier this month, ADS released its FY2022 Sustainability Report outlining the progress we have made in our ESG commitments. Our environmental successes are the highlight, but I was inspired by seeing our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work collected in one place. We issued our first DEI culture statement in Fiscal 2022. Our goals are business-based, but they are designed to empower people who corporate America has historically overlooked. Our goal is to develop a diverse workforce, create an inclusive workplace, engage with our external partners and support our communities. In FY22, 55% of our director-level hires were women.

I’m pleased and proud to be a part of this team. And as a person who, prior to joining ADS, often had to code switch to succeed, I feel myself breathing easier here and feeling comfortable and confident in voicing my ideas and asking often difficult questions.

It is a reminder to me, and one I would share with anyone else on this journey: If you stay true to who you are, you will find your place and your people. I’ve found mine here, and I would welcome a conversation that might help you find your own.


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