How Toxic Organisational Culture Buries our Diamonds… and One Mindset Change to Unearth Them


Mary was a smart young lawyer. In her first job she learnt the tricks of workplace survival. Keep your head down. Speak up and face a barrage of insults. Certainly don’t show off. Jealousy triggers the bullies.

I changed her name, but this story is a common one. Mary could be Peter.

There are workplaces which hire bright young people and then steadily tear them down. Colleagues, even a year or two senior, determined to teach them “this is how things work around here,” make sure they know their place.

The bullies can be higher up. They often are. After all it’s the senior bullies that enable junior bullying. Recently I heard an audio of a boss screaming at her staff, calling them stupid, over and over. That’s abuse.

Then there are the daily micro aggressions.

Is this all you could come up with?

Oh you’re early today! Said cynically.

Let me see what mistake you made today.

On their own, these sentences seem harmless, and hardly anything one could go to HR over. But when negative statements are made constantly, they wear a person down, chipping at their self esteem. Imagine this for months, even years.

Mary joined a new firm, one that was welcoming. But by this time, her survival instinct was deep. She’d stay quiet in meetings and just do as instructed. Because she seemed disinterested, her bosses wouldn’t give her the career stretching assignments. Juniors more vocal than her got promoted. This reinforced her belief as told to her at her first job: she was stupid and not worthy enough for higher positions.

Mary graduated law school as a diamond. A toxic work culture buried her.

How many Marys or Peters, have our workplaces destroyed?

Yesterday, inspired by a zoom cafe session, when sufi poetry came up (yes, in a Speak Up Academy discussion!), I dug up my favourite Hafiz poems.

“I wish I could show you

when you are lonely or in darkness, 

the astonishing light

of your own being”


Imagine a world where people at work unearth the hidden brilliance in each and every person.

Earlier this week, we asked participants in a discussion on healthy and toxic organisational culture, what can we do individually, within our own spaces to transform toxic culture to a healthy one?

So I ask you.

What if you acknowledged the brilliance in your colleagues?

What if you acknowledged the brilliance in yourself?

What would change? 


In the month of August, at Speak Up Academy, our theme is Healthy and Toxic Organisations. We explore toxic leadership, toxic follower-ship, workplace gaslighting, how to survive in a toxic culture and how to change it.

On August 24th, our Speak Up Academy panel discusses how organisational culture shapes healthy and unhealthy workplaces, indicators of a toxic culture and strategic interventions. Register here (it’s free) or contact us if you’re interested in a similar session for your organisation.

On August 10th, we held an online session on Toxic & Healthy Workplace Cultures which was described by attendees as cathartic and validating.

 Contact us if you want to learn more or would like us to conduct talks for your organisation.

In September we will cover safeguarding and upstanding in building psychological safety for organisations. Sign up to our mailing list to stay informed of future events.