Mandatory (White) Fun
I’m employed at a consulting organization. The founders are three middle-aged white men who come from family money. Employees are nearly entirely women, many of color, single and in their late 20s-early 30s. There are a handful of other employees, people of color, in their late 30s-early 40s with young kids.
Everyone’s salaries and bonuses are transparent. Performance reviews are done with care. The founders provide benefits linked to their values. But there is one major aggression — the founders LOVE white people activities like skiing, sailing, etc., and team building is centered around such activities. Lots of people don’t want to do them. It is seemingly impossible to move into middle management if one does not engage in these team building days.
What would be a good way to change this aspect of the culture?
I cannot stand mandatory fun — any sort of activity or potluck or other gathering with co-workers that demands your presence either implicitly or explicitly. The expectation that you should work a rigorous schedule and also spend your free time with your colleagues instead of your friends and family is exhausting and ridiculous.
That your founders, who seem like decent guys, don’t understand that not everyone enjoys their very expensive, very white pastimes is willful. They choose not to understand why their employees may not know how or want to alpine ski or sail free solo or whatever because they can cosset themselves in that way.
I don’t know if you can change the culture at your organization — the founders are who they are. But you can be honest about the bias inherent in pairing team building and professional advancement with exclusionary activities that employees may not be familiar with or interested in for any number of reasons including race, class, gender and ability. Even if someone has already raised this, do so again, and suggest more inclusive team building activities. You might also mention how women, for example, struggled to advance in certain industries because of all the business meetings and networking that took place on golf courses and in strip clubs and bars after work when they were taking care of their families. (This is, in fact, still a problem in certain sectors.)
Your founders see themselves as good guys but there is room for improvement. If they are as aligned with their values as you suggest, hold them to that by demanding this very reasonable accommodation.