A challenge that all companies face is how to join together individuals, who have so many differences, to have cohesive relationships and produce profitable work. While the diverse backgrounds and job statuses that employees have do not supersede what they share in common, these issues significantly impact how workers gain access to information, interpret that information, and use it in collaboration with others to solve everyday problems. Companies with an egalitarian style do not take a hierarchical approach to structure or interactions. They empower employees as equals, each bringing a unique critical and creative thinking skillset while being culturally and socially aware.
Culture consists of beliefs, customs, laws, and other forms of knowledge and expression. It is one of many differences that an employee brings to his profession. Culture can influence language, values, interactional behaviors and expectations. Because many workplaces try to level the playing field, they focus on viewing staff universally. As a result, an employee can sometimes feel invisible because his heritage or language is not being emphasized in everyday processes. An egalitarian company affirms a staff member’s culture without making generalizations or stereotypes. A good first step is instituting an annual forum in which employees can share about their respective cultures and discuss how their backgrounds influence company culture.
Gender has more to it than just biology; it has to do with social identities and relationships. Gender is an important workplace topic because it is linked to expressions of power -- the ability to influence coworkers or affect their outcomes. A company with an egalitarian style acknowledges the complexity of gender. At the same time, gender does not drive staff interactions; job functions are respected. An egalitarian company avoids gender stereotypes such as "women should provide administrative support" or "men should lead meetings." Diverse communication styles among genders are also respected through maintaining eye contact, avoiding language that mandates, and respecting personal space.
Egalitarian companies do not just respect cultural and social differences; they view all employees as capable decision-makers. Such businesses emphasize individual excellence over corporate structure. Policies and practices reveal opportunities for employees to take initiative, engage in open-ended projects, and report to less formal structures. An example of an egalitarian workplace is W.L. Gore, which appears regularly on Fortune's "Best Companies to Work For" list. Founded more than 50 years ago, with locations worldwide and annual revenue of $1.84 billion, W.L. Gore offers workers a high degree of autonomy. For example, an employee may serve as team leader on certain projects, and then follow colleagues on others. His contribution determines his pay, which is agreed upon by a committee. In an egalitarian style company of any size, even in small businesses, staff members are personally empowered to maintain high expectations and performance.
In a company that is egalitarian, a shared approach to tackling challenges is important. An employee should not experience work as a top-down, bureaucratic process. He should be viewed as a valuable resource. This is not a matter of adjusting delegation to include a system for employee feedback. A company must be willing to fundamentally reconsider power relations in its management. An example is a technology firm that reorganizes into collaborative workgroups, teaming vice presidents, senior analysts, program developers, administrative assistants, and other managers and support staff. Each month they meet to share how organization-wide problems identified in the company’s annual strategic planning process have impacted their individual work. Then, together, they brainstorm solutions. In this type of workplace, knowledge is constructed and affirmed in an equitable way.