The future of corporate culture

24.10.2019 | Text Sophia Steube | Photo Cherrypicker, Nailya Bikmurzina
Catherine Gaudry stands sideways looking at the viewer.
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Catherine Gaudry focuses on diversity, New Work and mindfulness to help transform the business world.

Catherine Gaudry first joined Scholz & Friends as an International Business Director, working to extend the international reach of the agency and to develop areas such as innovation and digitalisation. On her own initiative, however, the Canadian-born businesswoman gradually expanded her area of responsibility. She used her position to support various issues close to her heart, taking on the newly created role of the Group Head of Talent & Transformation in 2018 and assuming responsibility for diversity, gender equality, and team and leadership development. Since then, she and her team have developed various new projects, such as an internal training programme dealing with the topic of unconscious bias. She supports external LGBT+ leadership trainings for employees and has also launched a reverse mentoring programme in which senior managers learn from their junior colleagues.

Being awarded a Women in Leadership grant for her work on diversity and the promotion of women allowed Catherine Gaudry to complete an Executive MBA in international business at ESCP Europe while working. She now teaches a course in personal and career development at the same business school. In addition to her job and her teaching role, she also works as a trainer, adviser and speaker. She speaks about feminism, leadership and New Work at conferences and events.

In this interview, Catherine Gaudry discusses the future of corporate culture: What changes are taking place within the world of work? How do we want to and how should we be able to practise our professions in the future?

Catherine Gaudry stands facing the viewer and has her hands in her jacket pockets.

The term “New Work” was coined and defined by the philosopher Frithjof Bergmann back in the 1980s. How is it that this concept, though modified somewhat, is still finding resonance today?

The market and the jobs themselves have changed significantly over the last few decades. To a large extent, this is a result of digitalisation. Those embarking on careers now have grown up in a very different world from previous generations. As a result, they also work differently. This is partly because a number of new tools are available to them. In fact, it’s a cycle: people get access to new tools, leading to changes in working practices and in the market. Needs drive the economy, and technological changes influence how people do their jobs.

So you don’t believe that the concept of New Work can be traced back to people’s need for more freedom or flexibility?

Yes and no. People crave flexibility because the opportunity for more flexibility exists, and because jobs have changed. In many occupations, it no longer matters whether tasks are completed in an office or in a café. I believe that when an employer makes room for this kind of flexibility, it can positively impact employee motivation. And in five years, there will be new jobs with new possibilities that we can’t even imagine yet. Change is the only constant.

Does this also apply to personal values? These days, it seems to be much more important to employees that companies uphold certain ecological or societal values.

Yes, our values have changed. But it wouldn’t be fair to say that no one used to care at all about their employer’s values. However, the lines separating our work and private personalities have started to blur. Many more people used to live by the motto “Work is work, home is home”. It’s clear that this no longer applies. We are not machines and it’s important to create transparency to ensure an authentic, human existence. This also includes being able to speak frankly as an employee when things are not going so well, and perhaps being given a break from producing the same high standard day after day. People want to be able to be who they are, no matter where they are.

Catherine Gaudry stands in front of a screen displaying the words “We believe in friendship.” and gives a presentation.

Are topics such as mindfulness, body awareness and self-care also becoming more important on a professional level?

Some companies are creating new positions, such as Chief Mindfulness Officer. This example shows quite clearly that we can no longer ignore mindfulness in the workplace. We know about the connections between body and mind. However, we need it to become even more accepted: our society and many companies still place a much higher value on work than they do on self-care and mindfulness. This has to change. After all, a well-balanced, happy employee performs much better than someone who is working themselves into the ground.

What about the so-called “failure culture”? Are we also more open now to people making mistakes at work?

The culture of failure exists primarily in start-ups but is slowly finding its way to bigger companies. Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to make mistakes – it’s even necessary. If I never have the opportunity to make a mistake, I won’t learn; instead, I’ll always be afraid and will be less innovative. Just having the chance to try out new things is enough to spark creativity. But it’s equally important for us to learn resilience: What do I do when I have a problem? How can I look at things from another perspective? It’s not just about being allowed to make mistakes – it’s also about learning how to get back up again after a fall, how to accept situations, to reflect on them and find the best way to carry on.

Most of your work relates to the promotion of women and diversity. How does a company benefit from these factors?

Studies show that companies with more female managers are more profitable. Diversity creates friction, which is important for driving development and fighting prejudice. Such prejudices often prevent people from thinking in new directions. I think that any company that doesn’t embody and encourage diversity will have much less chance of achieving long-term, sustainable success on the global market. And diversity doesn’t just mean gender diversity, but diversity of all kinds across the company.

How can employees actively initiate and drive forward ideas like diversity and New Work? Where do you start trying to change and shape your corporate culture?

Firstly, concentrate on low-hanging fruits. These are things that can be implemented quickly and easily. What issues are other people already tackling? Where have foundations already been laid that can be built upon? The key is to set small, achievable goals and tackle them step by step, even if it is sometimes tedious. These small, feasible projects can be completed successfully in stages. Secondly, find allies who support your work. Ideally you will get a manager on board to give you some momentum from above. You can also start a pilot project and observe its progress, then adjust based on what works – or doesn’t.

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