How to Fix a Toxic Corporate Culture
Updated: Jan 15
Do you know how many of us have lived in environments where the corporate culture was toxic?
For me, it lasted three decades.
I navigated toxic corporate culture and sat in continuous trauma, because what other choice did I have?
I was born in 1964, which is the tail end of the baby boomer generation, and I was raised to believe that I'd grow up, get a good job with benefits, then stay there until I retired. That's what my father taught me, and that's what I believed for most of my childhood, until I went and found myself a good job in corporate America.
But my father didn't teach me the other parts of corporate America. I learned very quickly that in corporations, the air on the top is thin and the culture creates impediments for Brown and Black people to excel.
It's so gross and I can't do it justice in this one article. In fact, I'm in the process of writing a book about it. If you'd like to be notified when the book gets published, click here to join the waitlist.
But I will try to get a few key points across when it comes to toxic corporate culture, and the steps it will take to fix it.
What is a Toxic Culture?
When I talk about a toxic corporate culture, what I mean is that there are two worlds: the things people say, and the unsaid current. The unsaid current is where there is trouble. People don't always say what they mean, and they're often saying one thing to your face and another thing entirely behind your back. This results in paranoia, in wondering what someone's email actually meant, and it has a very negative impact on the mental health of the employees who have to deal with it. And, the employees who are disproportionately affected by this toxicity? Are black and brown people.
Hiring 'Tokens' is Not the Answer
You cannot fix these cultures by hiring a few token black and brown people. If you do that, you're sabotaging the bigger picture because you're perpetuating the problem.
You're essentially putting the responsibility on one or two people to fix generations of toxic white culture in America.
It just doesn't work. Not for the company, and certainly not for the diversity hires.
I raised my son to not set foot in these types of organizations. Because toxic corporate culture does not appreciate the confident, smart, educated man my son is. In fact, the insecurities of white culture are actively working to take people like him down.
I use the term ‘the air up high is thin’ because it was told to me a little differently in my 30s. I was ambitious. I thought I could outwork the toxic situations I knew existed. I thought if I showed how hard I was working, the toxicity wouldn't reach me.
But working harder is not the answer.
In fact, a mentor of mine, a black leader took me aside one day, and said, “Cindi, the higher up the flagpole you go, the more your butt shows.” I was shocked to hear this (and of course, he didn't use the word "butt!"), but the longer I worked in corporate America, and the more I was promoted through the ranks, the more that phrase stuck with me.
And I realized he was right.
It's Time to Stand Up to Toxic Corporate Culture
The crab pot mentality of clawing you down every time we start to rise a little bit, the suction of the culture comes and starts trying to tear you down and tell the world you're not worthy. I just watched the movie Confirmation. It's the story of Anita Hill when she dared to stand in her truth.
I felt really connected to that movie because I'm an Anita Hill of my time. I sued a major corporation in the Seattle area and won because I refused to allow people in that company to claw me down because of their own behaviors and because of their own insecurities.
That lawsuit cost me dearly in many ways (even though I won), but I am so grateful that happened because I'm sitting here talking to you today to help you to understand these cultures.
The answer is simple: Remove the toxicity. I can talk more about that to you. You can reach me at Cindi@CindiBright.com.
I also host weekly conversations on my radio show, Heartbeat Radio, where I talk about the heart condition in this country and we get at corporate issues. In fact, we just launched an employer series here in January. So I'm glad that you're listening to these things that I'm putting out there because it is my intention to help you change this trajectory. Thank you for taking the time to read this today.
Cindi Bright is a Seattle based speaker and consultant on topics of race, diversity, and social justice. She hosts HeartBeat radio a weekly program discussing the issues impacting brown and black people.She spent over 30 years in corporate America as a human resources leader/executive. She is known for her candor, honesty, and humor. Her work is aimed at personal and business transformation.