Unit 2: The importance of a safe organisational culture


2.2 How do leaders promote a positive organisational culture?

People sat around a meeting table. On the table are laptop computers and notepads and pens.

A positive organisational culture establishes behaviours that support safeguarding.

It would be challenging for organisations who have not reflected internally on their own behaviour to then inform partners and others how to behave when delivering programmes or other forms of organisational activities. To be effective and successful, an organisational culture needs to embed and practise its values and behaviours. They should be articulated at every level of an organisation, particularly by the leadership team.

Leaders need to lead by example and should allow themselves to be held to account. Bond (n.d.), a network of international development organisations in the UK, identified the following practical ways that leaders can have an impact on organisational culture:

  • The extent to which their words match their deeds and how this is handled when they don’t.
  • The way in which they are seen to handle failure.
  • The way in which their values are seen to be lived and acted out.
  • The way in which their interactions and relationships with other senior managers are experienced by the wider organisation.
  • The decisions they make about who is hired and who is fired, and why.
  • The decisions they make about who is valued and rewarded, who isn’t, and why.
  • The systems and processes that they champion and prioritise.

However, recent failures in safeguarding in the international aid sector have shown that leaders and organisational cultures are not delivering good safeguarding practice and that people do not feel safe and empowered to report concerns when they arise (Bond, 2021). Reports of feeling unsafe are particularly common among people of colour who work for our organisations, including those in the countries we serve.

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter campaign, following the murder of George Floyd by US police in 2020, has shone a spotlight on racism in mainly Western-based organisations and the international aid sector has not escaped public and donor scrutiny.

It has given rise to questions around why it is that people of colour find it difficult to get jobs in the international aid sector, to advance in their roles in aid organisations, and to reach management positions or at least roles with decision-making powers?

Activity 2.1 Experiences of racism

Read the executive summary of the Bond report Racism, power and truth: Experiences of people of colour in development.

Then answer the following questions, noting your ideas in your learning journal: Identify some examples of racist practices and attitudes that you have observed or experienced in your working life.

  • Why is a ’white gaze’ (or other forms of prejudice) a safeguarding concern?

Please note that the report, particularly the personal testimonies of discrimination, may be very challenging to read. Think about what sources of support you have within or outside your own organisation.

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