Special to WashingtonJobs.com
By Dr. Lynn Friedman
December 1999

Look before you Leap: How professionals can assess whether an organizational culture is a good fit for their temperament

Prior to taking a new job, it is important to assess whether the work environment is a good fit for you. While this is important for anyone, it is especially important for those, who by virtue of their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, or some other dimension, feel themselves to be vulnerable to discrimination. It should be noted that all organizations have cultures and consequently, all have “out” groups and “in” groups. Often these groups have nothing to do with demographics. Rather, they are a function of professional differences. That is, in most settings, those who fit a corporate prototype succeed and those who do not, fail. So, how does one undertake the elusive process of assessing where one stands, particularly before a job offer has been tendered?

As you proceed through the interview process, or prior to accepting the job, use your informal networks to try to assess the following. What sorts of people have been promoted? Who has rapidly progressed through the ranks? Describe the corporate “stars.” Where do they fit demographically? Personally? Professionally? Are they all men? All women? All one ethnic group? What are they like on a one-to-one basis? How do they dress and act? What are their expressed values? What are their professional skills and talents? You need to assess who succeeds in this organization. You can obtain much of this information simply by asking tactfully who the rising stars are in the company.

It is also important to try to learn, albeit indirectly, about who has failed. Who were the last three people to be fired or to leave under less than happy circumstances? Describe them with regard to the same dimensions that you have used to describe “the stars.”

Now for the most important part, who do you look like? By virtue of your demographic, personal and professional information, to whom are you most similar?

After undertaking this personal assessment, what do you do with the information? For example, does the fact that a place historically has only promoted white men, mean that women and people of color should not apply? No. Does the fact that an organization historically has promoted engineers and not computer science types mean that computer scientists should not apply? No. However, it does mean that those who do not fit the corporate prototype may have a harder road to travel. And most importantly, they should make every effort to walk that road with their eyes wide open.

Beyond this, people who do not fit the traditional mold should ask questions designed to assess their chances for promotion. For example, a woman might express an interest in meeting some of the women in leadership positions. If the interviewer tells her that there are none, she might diplomatically inquire as to why the interviewer thinks this is so, and, what if anything, is being done about it. The computer scientist might make some similar inquiries. The answer will be most informative.

Also, informally, you may want to attempt to learn what mechanisms have been implemented to address bias. I am not for a moment suggesting that one should not attempt to break barriers or be a trailblazer, only that one can and should takes steps to assess whether this will be a necessary requisite to success in their new organization.

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