Institutional what?

Institutional racism does not exist according to some, because they think it is always down to the individual. Presumably they use same argument about sexism, and other forms of discrimination? The reason it matters is that the underlying issue may affect your business even if racism itself is not a problem. Perhaps you operate in an area where there are no ethnic minorities? I have written about the reputational risk of antisemitism previously, but the problem is wider than that.

What do I know of institutional anything?

Wherever I have worked or studied, I have noticed that there is a culture. You find one in every institution, every workplace, university, school, or club. There are certain things you can say or do and others you must not, because there are underlying attitudes and beliefs. People who think or feel differently will not fit in unless they adapt and nobody wants to be the odd one out. Many writers have dealt with this theme, among them was C S Lewis, who wrote most amusingly about it in Screwtape Proposes a Toast. 

Where does institutional thinking come from?

Sometimes you find a strong individual who imposes his or her thinking on everyone, but often people inherit their ideas from previous generations and all the present members began with different opinions but the culture has moulded them.

Institutional thinking needs challenging.

People usually pick up their ideas without any scientific basis for them, and they say things like:

  • It’s a well known fact.
  • They’re all the same.
  • It’s the way it is.

The wrong beliefs can include assumptions about others based on race, religion, gender, orientation or class, but they can also include attitudes towards:

  • the work (it’s all pointless)
  • the management (they can’t be trusted)
  • Health and Safety (unnecessary)
  • experts (they know nothing)
  • the public (they are there to be milked not served).

Your business might suffer if you do nothing about such a culture.

How can you change institutional thinking?

Cartoon man with question mark. How do you challenge institutional thinking?

How do you challenge institutional thinking?

It has to come from the top down.

  • Lead by example.
  • Don’t treat it as a joke when someone makes fun of minorities or treats women badly.
  • Use induction and ongoing training as an opportunity to put across better ideas.
  • Take complaints of bullying seriously.