Welcome to the third post in our blog series, Reframing Structure. In these four articles, we make structures visible so we can see their oppressive and nurturing components, explore how we try to use structures to eliminate discomfort, and describe ways we’re trying to lean into structures that build relationships.
Structures are human. While it may sound counterintuitive, we are the ones who create a structure, even those that seemingly run without us and those that we come to rely on. In our last post, we explored some of the ways structures can trap us into a limited view of our own value. But structures can be supportive. And they can be nurturing. As long as we don’t defer to them entirely.
Consider a compensation structure. It could be set with immutable salaries, which lock people in at their education level, years of experience, or rank. It could offer one set of benefits to everyone, regardless of different needs and circumstances.
Such rigidity may seem “equal” but it’s not truly built for our humanity, for the many kinds of experience we bring and the many ways we gain knowledge. If we set up a structure to make decisions for us, we might save time and avoid difficult conversations. But then we’re stuck within its limits, unable to consider larger contexts, exceptions, and actual equity.
Here’s how a structure can be built with and for our humanity.
Let’s think about a salary scale that’s guided by an organization’s values and designed to encourage conversations. Yes, salaries can be designed to give people and the organization what they need. There can be room to talk about how we define “merit” in a given year, and how it might change as the company grows and an employee develops. We can examine our compensation philosophy, and how and whether it serves us over time. We can create and evolve an evaluation structure that doesn’t force everyone to perform the same way, and that doesn’t serve as a justification for exclusion. Structure can be balanced with people’s values-based decision-making.
And we need to hold these conversations often because any structure we create will be subject to our biases. Our structures need to change with us, not hold us back.