Imagine showing up to work, and being greeted in the parking lot by someone yelling and throwing insults at you because they felt you took their parking space. Then imagine that same person follows you into the building and continues to yell at and berate you, even in the presence of others. After asking the people at your office to remove the person harassing you, they inform you they aren't "empowered" to do so based on company policies. They offer you a free meal instead.
Would you feel safe, welcome, or like you belong at your workplace? Most people wouldn't. That includes the woman this happened to. Earlier this year, this series of events played out for Asha Grant, a member of The Wing, a co-working space for women. Grant and a guest, who are both African-American, were threatened by another guest of The Wing, a white woman, who was allowed to stay at the facility. At the time, the staff noted there was nothing they could do about the "sticky situation."
Grant ended her membership at The Wing following the incident. Last week, founders of The Wing finally issued an email to their membership explaining what happened, and acknowledging that their handling of the situation left much to be desired:
In attempting to mediate the conflict, we failed to resolve it in a way that made either side feel supported. Our handling of it left everyone involved feeling disappointed, and the Black member felt especially unprotected and let down.
Business is about belonging. In a statement to Zora, founders of The Wing clearly expressed the feelings they create that make their customers feel like they belong: "Every day at The Wing, thousands of women across the country come to our spaces because here they feel empowered, seen, supported, and safe." But unfortunately, the company failed to live into this promise when it mattered most. I reached out to The Wing for comment, but haven't immediately heard back.
When it comes to making your customers feel like they belong with you, you first have to create a company culture that supports your team to consistently deliver that kind of experience to each and every one of your customers.
Here are four lessons you can use to create a culture where both your team and your customers feel like they belong with you.
1. Define the culture and environment you want to cultivate.
When you know the feeling that you want your company culture to induce, it makes it easier for you to lay the groundwork to build an environment that lives into your vision. If you don't define your vision for what you want your culture to be, it will get shaped for you.
2. Be clear about what will and won't be tolerated in your policies.
Your vision and your company culture has to have some teeth, if you want it to be more than just lip service. That means having policies that clearly spell out what types of behaviors will and will not be tolerated.
And then if any of those behaviors that fall below your unacceptable line do rear their ugly heads, you have to act swiftly to remedy the situation, in accordance with your policies, to set the tone that you are serious about preserving your culture and values.
3. Empower your team to take action to uphold values and preserve culture.
Company culture is established from the top-down, but it only thrives when everyone understands and feels like they have a stake in preserving, shaping, and nurturing it.
You've got to empower everyone on your team to shut down bad behavior when they see it happening. The negative impact of allowing behavior that isn't in keeping with your culture and values, signals your acceptance of it.
As a leader, you can't be everywhere or see everything. So your team has to be there to pick up mantel when they see something happening that isn't right.
4. Solicit feedback regularly to see how you can improve.
You will never be done with your efforts on cultivating a strong company culture. It is something you'll have to constantly work on to ensure that it functions, evolves, and lives in ways that serve your team and your customers.
While The Wing may have succeeded in creating safe spaces for many women, admittedly, they did a poor job of creating that welcoming environment for women of color that day.
As you work to build and nurture your company culture, be sure to solicit feedback from your team, to ensure that the way your business and team operates serves them, and makes them feel like they belong.
Strong company cultures lays the foundation for how you consistently treat your customers. When your culture has cracks and holes in it, it's no surprise that you'll end up with customers who don't feel like they belong. Plug the holes, by following the steps above.