The role of Culture in organisations to perpetuate discriminatory practices

Watching the news in the UK, it seems as though many organisations, particularly in the public and third sector are riddled with racism, sexism, homophobia and examples of bullying and harassment to such a degree that its embedded in the culture of these organisations.  It does make me wonder just how widespread institutional discrimination might be in all organisations across our society.

Twenty years on from Stephen Lawrence’s murder and the subsequent enquiry finding that the Metropolitan Police (the Met) were institutionally racist we have a new report following the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer finding that the Met is still institutionally racist, but is now also misogynistic and homophobic.

How cultures develop

The most basic definition of culture is to say “its how we do things here”.  How people behave and what they say.  Even within the WP community a culture has developed.  When you think of the community, how would you describe it?  Friendly, welcoming, supportive?  Rude, hostile, full of hate?  Do other bloggers share and support each other or are they guarded and secretive? Cultures are created by people, by how they interact with and treat each other.

When part of an organisation – whether that’s as a WP blogger or an employee, we want to fit in, so we look at how others act and behave and copy them.  If the culture is good, where people feel welcomed, where it is supportive and everyone shares, you learn to trust and over time, you copy the behaviours.

However, the same is also true for negative cultures – we witness bloggers only focused on themselves, “If I had to learn myself … then they can do the same”.  Each new wave of bloggers becomes more selfish and over time it could become hostile, driving out bloggers.

How cultures create Institutional Discrimination

Organisational cultures take time to develop and even where companies are deliberately working on changing their culture it can take 3-5 years. (Pannuzzo, 2019).  

If we consider people within organisations as role models for others, then we can see how culture develops in the form of conscious and unconscious behaviours being copied. Let’s imagine we have a senior manager with a traditional management style; believing he has the authority and power because of his role.  He is used to making decisions without talking to others and shouting to get things done. His subordinates think this is how to manage and they start shouting at their direct reports too.  Soon this shouting (bullying) becomes the norm within this organisation especially as everyone accepts this is how things are done. The bullying is condoned rather than being challenged.

The same is true of any inappropriate behaviours that become the norms within an organisational culture. Left unchecked, this becomes the normal way of behaving within an organisation. Referring to The Met, serving officers either thought they’d get away with their behaviour even though they were breaking the law, or they felt that this is how we do things here, and copying their bosses.

Impact of the wrong culture

Organisations with a positive culture will perform better as they’ll have a motivated and engaged workforce willing to go that extra mile.  Consequently,  having a toxic culture will have a negative impact on the organisation, not just for its employees and future employees, but also its customers.  The Met and other police forces tarnished with cases of harassment and discrimination have seen their trust eroded – a woman being approached by a police officer should feel safe not fearful for her safety.

Any organisation with poor culture risks losing customers to the competition and experience problems attracting staff because of their reputation.  I’m frequently asked why I make a 4 hour round commute when I could work locally, but the college I’d most likely choose had a reputation for bullying – knowing that, why would I want to work there?

In addition to the reputational damage, if employees working in a negative, hostile culture are likely to be less productive and unhappy.  There is likely to be higher absence, increased instances of stress and mental health issues and a risk of litigation because employers have a duty of care to provide a safe and healthy working environment for employees.

They are likely to experience a talent drain as staff leave, but because of their reputation they will find it difficult to fill vacancies and the staff they attract are likely to be of a lower calibre.  Therefore, it is in the employer’s interest to introduce a more positive organisational culture.

Changing the culture

Its important that organisations have policies and procedures in place setting standards of appropriate behaviours. Clear adherence to and enforcement of these rules is required and the penalties for breaching them needs to be a deterrent. To change culture everyone needs to be trained, but what happens after the training is also important. Systems need to be put in place so any slips in behaviour can be quickly identified and challenged. Employees need to feel comfortable challenging others and they need to trust that allegations will be taken seriously and acted upon.

For such changes to be made, and to stick, its important that senior managers are modelling the desired behaviours, they need to encourage all staff to challenge unacceptable behaviours. It won’t work if staff are afraid to speak out. Each person within the organisation needs to be held accountable for their actions if culture change, moving away from institutional discrimination, is to be successful in the long term.


European Institute for Gender Equality; 2023; Sexism at Work: How can we stop it?; EIGE,, accessed 30th April, 2023

Pannuzzo, Anna; 2019; It can take 3-5 years to create a positive change to workplace culture but only a couple of days to ruin it; LinkedIn, 18 Mar, 2019,, accessed 30th April, 2023

Prasad, Pallavi; 2019; The Difference between sexism and misogyny, and why it matters; The Swaddle, Oct 1, 2019,, accessed 30th April, 2023

Sir William MacPherson of Cluny, 1999, The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, UK Government,, last accessed 15th April, 2023

Walden, Celia, 2021; There’s a difference between a sexist and a misogynist, The Telegraph, 15th March, 2021,, accessed 30thApril, 2023

You can read more from me on my blog, Curiosities, Castles and Coffee Shops

10 thoughts on “The role of Culture in organisations to perpetuate discriminatory practices

  1. What an interesting look at how cultures are created. Your examples in the workplace make sense. I wonder how that differs a more organic environment like WP since there isn’t “someone at the top” who exemplifies a particular culture. I’ve found the WP community to be warm and welcoming but are there different microcultures based on topic? Such an interesting investigation into what kind of community we want to create! Thanks, Brenda!

    1. Culture doesn’t always get made at the top. The board/Senior managers may have an idea of the culture they want but the reality can be very different depending on the attitudes etc at different levels, departments and sites etc. WP will have a formal culture set by their logo, reputation, how they want to be perceived by us, their clients etc. But as bloggers, when we engage with each other and deciding what behaviours we will accept/reject, we can and do create sub-cultures.

      At college there are likely to be different cultures too at different levels … the corporate culture which embodies the values of the organisation. But there can also be nuanced differences between campuses because of size. Our HQ is bigger, more busy. Whereas another is small, it feels more close knit. Then, thirdly I think teaching different subjects, the personalities of the lecturer and the students in the class also make a unique dynamic that can createsub/microcuktures that vary from class to class or lecturer to lecturer.

      I think I remember you, in a blog, talking about different managers. Think about how different it felt working with the different leaders/managers. How the team behaved and engaged as a result of the manager, that too is culture

  2. Thank you for sharing this. Problems and disrespect for all Life must be brought to light for healing and positive change. We have advanced as a species in such things as sciences and technologies but clearly need to evolve spiritually (with or without religion). A global Culture of Civility will hopefully emerge in future Civilizations. 🤗💕✨

    1. Thank you Flowerpoet. I agree, there is no reason to treat people with such disrespect. It harms people and societies.

  3. These are issues that many companies, organizations, learning institutions, and non-profits are grappling with: how to change old embedded cultures. The first thing is to teach about it, to become aware. Then each person has to answer to themselves if they are comfortable with the status quo even if it hurts others, or if they aren’t comfortable with it and want to change. The push-back we see happening from the far-right is they’re feeling pressured to change, and they really don’t want to; they prefer the status quo and don’t want to change.

    1. Very true Tamara, sometimes people just don’t like change, but that’s not a reason to maintain the status quo. When the culture is as toxic as we’re seeing, it has to change and people need to accept that such behaviour is not tolerated

      1. The pandemic really pushed that to happen at a much faster pace. Each generation would give pushback when they were entering the workforce, but faced with the monolithic culture of no change is allowed, they were broken and learned to comply because they depended on their paycheck to survive. They then became part of the problem, and really didn’t effect change from within.

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