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Can Company Culture Change?

Updated: Mar 4, 2021

AVA was created to help professional women like you advance your career in a solution-oriented, actionable learning community.  


Our blog Should I Stay or Should I Go discusses how women often face toxic work situations where they don't feel valued or appreciated. Many are asking themselves, "should I stay at my job or quit". The fairest route is where women stay and the company culture shifts. Is it possible? There are success stories, but not many. And it is not easy. Fortunately, because of public outcry, legislation, and investment companies drawing a line in the sand, inclusive work opportunities are on the rise.

Chances The Culture Will Change

.According to SHRM (the Society for Human Resource Management), "an organization's culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization. This culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors and understanding."

Culture is usually an asset to a corporation but becomes a problem when it needs to change or adapt to external environments, such as societal shifts or market competitiveness. A company's culture is deeply embedded, comprising of intertwined goals, roles, processes, values, communication practices, attitudes and assumptions, and is therefor difficult to change.

In his article, 10 Attributes of Culture That Make It So Difficult to Change, Micheal Watkins, lists these as the top barriers to it's change:

  • Culture is an essential source of shared identity.

  • Culture is the organizational equivalent of the human immune system.

  • Organizational culture is shaped by societal culture.

  • Organizational culture always is multi-layered.

  • Organizational cultures are dynamic.

  • Culture is resilient.

All of this is to say, not only is it hard to change, it often fails.

Most enterprise transformations focus on changing business metrics and, at best, employee behaviors—and not the thinking what created the need for a transformation in the first place. And, not surprisingly, 70% of them fail. Companies with failed transformation programs identify employee resistance or management behavior as the major barrier (72%) to success. McKinsey Organization Blog, Organizations do not change. People change!

As you are thinking about staying and hoping for a culture change, consider the difficulty of the task, the time it might take and where your needs and values fit into this.

Lasting Change Requires C-Level Sponsorship

Change is possible with leadership support and the right focus.

Because organizational change is such a paradigm shift (Change Driver Tool), it requires a high degree of change and a high amount of resources. Real, lasting, organization-wide change must come from the top.

In general, the most fruitful success strategy is to begin with leadership tools, including a vision or story of the future, cement the change in place with management tools, such as role definitions, measurement and control systems. Forbes, Steve Denning, How Do You Change An Organizational Culture?

Once leadership is on board, it helps to implement tools like EURECA or ADKAR. They are a way of getting the employees and entire organization on board with the change. Notice that both of these models require a lot of communication, training, and encouragement.

Evolution Not A Revolution

If you are considering staying and you want to be part of the change, know that you are committing to an evolution. And sometimes for those on the team, especially those in lower power positions, it can actually hurt you.

The time frame depends on how big the change is but true organizational culture, like shifting form a discriminatory, toxic environment to a trusting, inclusive environment takes a minimum of 2-3 years. If you want to stay, know your own appetite for the time and effort it will take to change.

Additionally, if you are in the middle or lower levels you often don't have enough power or influence to be the one that starts the change. Speaking up can actually hurt your career trajectory. We have heard many stories of retaliation and misery. None is more prominent than the experience of Google women speaking up about discriminatory behavior and the subsequent retaliation:

Stapleton, who is a marketing manager at Google-owned YouTube, found that her work had been assigned to others and she had been demoted. Confirming the culture of retaliation, she revealed that she was not only ignored but asked to go on sick leave even though she was hale and hearty. It is only after she sought legal help and the matter was formally investigated by Google that the demotion was withdrawn. However, she admits that the environment at work is still far from pleasant and makes her want to give up the job.

Successful Culture Transformation

At our virtual panel, Discovering and Building a Female-Friendly Work Environment, Trindl Reeves, Principle and Chief Sales Officer at Marsh & McLennan, shared how she lead a successful culture transformation in their San Diego office. 10 years later, the Growth in Relationships and Opportunities for Women (GROW) program is fully inclusive and is nationwide. How did they do it?

In 2010, we launched our women's initiative, GROW, in an effort to attract, retain, educate and support the women of the firm. GROW's Mission: To provide women of our firm equal opportunities through empowerment and education.

Trindl was the first outsider and the first female to be a partner of the San Diego office, which only had 16% women. When she started, she inadvertently represented a challenge to the equity of the men at the table. Trindl worked hard herself to earn the respect and trust of her superior and peers by doing her job well and getting results. She took things further when she championed an initiative, spurred on by her CEO, to help women grow, which ultimately transformed the company culture.

Here are some of the keys to how Trindl did it:

  • She got CEO support and advocacy.

  • Trindl herself was high up, and had earned power and influence.

  • She invested a lot of time above and beyond her time-intensive job.

  • Trindl reached out to other organizations that had done it successfully to see how they structured their programs.

  • She took baby steps initially. She didn't take on the whole culture. She focused on skills-building for women.

  • She let those that needed to change come along at their own pace.

What Does Success Look Like

You know change is working when it generates its own momentum. In the ADKAR model, the last two stages are the engagement zone meaning employees are embracing the change on their own and helping it move forward. Trindl knew it was working and still is today because...

  • The CEO proudly and proactively promotes GROW.

  • Men are talking about it too.

  • Men and women are actively participating in the mentoring component.

  • GROW is included on the company website as an asset.

  • 1/3rd of the management team is now women.

  • Over half of middle management are women.

  • They have started diversity and inclusion resource groups.

Yes, change is possible and in the foreseeable future, more probable.


A passion project, AVA was founded based on our deep conviction that all women need to proactively help other women in the workplace - no matter what industry, level, background or career goal. We take an inclusive, solution-oriented, candid approach to sharing tools and skills for women to be engaged, satisfied and successful in their work. We provide content and in-depth, safe workshops to learn and practice the tools and skills you need to Assess, Visualize, and Advance your career.  

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