Win-Win-Win! Constructive Cultures Benefit Women and Men, and Organizations Too

Masculine, “bro,” and hyper-aggressive workplace cultures have captured much media attention over the past few years. Whether focused on Silicon Valley or Wall Street, journalists describe the obstacles such cultures pose for women. We question two aspects of this basic storyline because it may lead organizations to believe they’re in a win-lose situation: “Who should we please—women or men?” So we asked these questions: Do such cultures exist only in high-tech and finance? And, are they problematic only for women? Catalyst research discovered that the answer to both questions is no. 

In Search of Constructive Cultures

We surveyed nearly 500 high-potential women and men who worked in a wide range of industries, using the Organizational Culture Inventory®1 to ask them about their current and preferred workplace cultures. You can find the results in a new infographic, Mind Your Culture Gap to Keep Your Top Talent 2. The overarching story our data describe is quite simple: when it comes to workplace culture, women and men are mostly looking for the same thing. They’re looking for constructive cultures that encourage employees to maintain their integrity, collaborate with and support others, and achieve their full potential. Expectations for these constructive behaviors are much preferred to aggressive norms like perfectionism, power, competition and opposition. This pattern of results was true across industries.


Why Care About Closing the Gap?

The biggest gap for both women and men is that their cultures aren’t as constructive as they’d prefer. Why should organizations care about closing this gap? One word: retention. We’ve always been big believers in the power of culture to shape the employee experience. Even so, we were astounded by the data in the graph below. They show a 50% reduction in the percentage of men and a 93% reduction in the percentage of women who indicated that they were likely to leave their current organizations in the coming year when the culture gap was narrow versus wide. In light of organizations’ struggles with “leaky pipelines” of female talent, these results should be very good news. Constructive cultures seem to be a particularly powerful lever for retaining women.


Why Does the Culture Gap Play Such a Big Role in Retention?

In part, because it influences employees’ satisfaction with their current organizations. Specifically, the narrower the gap, the more satisfied our high potentials were with their work and advancement, pay, supervisors, and organizations’ commitment to work-life quality and diversity. It makes good common sense, and our research demonstrates, that these facets of satisfaction predict retention.


Where Does This Leave Us?

Well, so much for all the media buzz that suggests men thrive and women struggle in aggressive cultures. These stories may grab our attention, but they do both women and men a disservice. In reality, organizations are in a win-win-win situation. By shifting their cultures to make them more constructive and less aggressive, they have a better shot at retaining increasingly elusive top talent—male and especially female top talent. Deborah Gillis, President and CEO of Catalyst, agrees: “This is important news for company leaders who are increasingly concerned about finding and keeping top talent and driving organizational performance.”

How will you use this new research finding by Catalyst? Where can you begin to narrow the culture gap in your organization? To keep this conversation moving, share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn and Twitter. Thank you!


1Cooke, Robert A. & Lafferty, J. Clayton (1987). Organizational Culture Inventory®. Plymouth, MI: Human Synergistics.

2Catalyst (July 7, 2015). Mind Your Culture Gap to Keep Your Top Talent. New York, NY: Catalyst.

About the Author

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Cynthia Emrich, Ph.D.

Cynthia Emrich, Ph.D., joined Catalyst in 2013 to lead the Catalyst Research Center for Career Pathways. Dr. Emrich’s research on leadership has been published in journals such as the Administrative Science Quarterly, Journal of Applied Psychology, Leadership Quarterly, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and American Psychologist. Her research on executive leadership has been featured in Harvard Business Review, US News & World Report, The Guardian, Veja and other leading publications. Dr. Emrich earned both her PhD and Master’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Rice University, and her honors BA cum laude from the University of South Florida.