Thursday 29 October 2015

Has W H Smith missed a trick?

Yesterday my husband went into our local W H Smith in Multi-cultural Ealing in search of Diwali cards and having not found any he asked the shop assistant where he could find one in the store. The shop assistant's response was that they don't stock Diwali cards and when he asked why, her response was “We don't even keep cards for St Georges day”. Clearly, there is some confusion in the shop assistant's mind as to what Diwali is and to align to St George's day beggar's belief! What is clear though is that whoever is responsible for customer services training and product lines within W H Smith have failed to communicate the importance of the Hindu festival, Diwali and furthermore at least at a minimum level W H Smith have also failed to make their customer support people sensitive in responding to what is being asked of them from a customer. One can only assume that W H Smith has not heard of or chooses not to operate on the principle of the 'Platinum rule' in customer services!

Thursday 6 August 2015

Can Inclusion thrive in a toxic environment?

Often, at the end of running an unconscious bias workshop I share with the participants this quote from Maya Angelou “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. For me this captures of essence of what inclusion is all about. I believe it is about how we show up in our behaviour towards others, how we relate to them and accept them irrespective of any differences there might be. 
Yet I wonder how conscious people are about their everyday workplace behaviours that might lead to an unintended impact of someone feeling excluded or where someone feels discounted or disrespected. For me, inclusion work is about creating organisations which enable individuals to feel engaged, respected and connected through the richness of ideas, backgrounds and perspectives. This sounds simple and easy to say yet the reality in organisations is often very different. What makes creating inclusion so hard to achieve?  There are many reasons, for example it could be due to the unintended impact of bias or ‘insider-outsider’ dynamics, where those with power who are usually the insiders, have little understanding and awareness of what needs to be addressed in order to create inclusion. In a recent experience with a client organisation it became obvious that senior leaders were not respecting of others and that this fostered a toxic climate of mistrust, which was then hindering the inclusion work. What is clear is that if individuals in organisations are serious about embedding inclusion, then practicing inclusion and moving beyond a simple intellectual understanding, over time the benefits of inclusion can begin to show up. Willingness to self-examine, self-audit and be intentional in exploring inclusion from the levels of individual day to day behaviours can help to bring about a change and make the organisation move towards being more inclusive. When inclusion becomes part of a systemic change that values differences, harnesses mutual respect and is a place where everyone has the opportunity to develop and be recognised for their personal skills and talents, then inclusion can move from being a mere aspiration to a reality over time. 
Find out in the next article how I am helping organisations to do this or call me if you want to discuss this subject further.

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Is there unconscious bias operating at the British Film Institute (BFI)?

Despite the critical and commercial success of “Dear White people” both in the U.S and at the Sundance Festival, a film by a first time director Justine Simien, one would imagine that distributors would be knocking on the director’s door to get it out to the public. However in the UK, the film will not be shown in cinemas but will instead be going straight to DVD and Netflix. The reason being that the film failed to get the support from the BFI to get it distributed, not to the Multiplex cinemas but to the independent cinemas. Ben Robertson, a spokesperson for the BFI gave some rational reasons as to why it would not support it including such factors as; audience development in the UK, core audience being black and not getting the bookings from the Multiplex cinemas etc. None of these rational reasons when challenged hold up. What really appears to be the case is that, currently the BFI has very little experience of dealing with black distributors so perhaps they don’t know what they don’t know. Secondly, in all probability, it is likely that the processes and criteria’s BFI use to make their decisions has unintended systemic bias, the impact of which leads to exclusion of films which otherwise would be worthy of their support. Perhaps the decision makers at the BFI need to think about how they are applying the funding which they receive from the lottery money and become aware of where there might be unconscious bias despite their best intentions.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Is it Chelsea Bias Show?

On Saturday afternoon, listening to Radio 4 PM programme, my attention was caught on the reporting about the Chelsea Flower Show, where this year out of its 15 top spots for the gardens designs displays only 2 are represented by women. According to some this is a recurring pattern that takes place every year at the Chelsea Flower Show. In response to this criticism the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) put out a statement saying that their judging process is non-sexist and that women have won ‘Gold’ medals. Surely such a criticism cannot be a new revelation to the RHS.  I guess I would question how does the RHS know that its selection process is non-sexist?  The RHS is indeed a prestigious institution. However, despite this, it may be failing to address aspects of unintended bias taking place in their decision making process. It is not a coincidence that the majority of the judging panel for the top 15 spots are men and it may be possible that affinity bias is occurring? After all like attracts like and we are more comfortable with those around us who share our experiences. Whilst the judging panel may think that they are operating a non-sexist process how do they know that their decision making processes are not leading to unintended bias in regards to gender?

It could also be argued that at the Chelsea Flower Show there is possibly confirmation bias through prejudice taking place where men are perceived to have a higher potential to get ‘gold’ than women. This practice may not be overt but subtle and rational.  What does the evidence support?

Then there is systemic bias where different standards are applied when comparing men and women. The RHS could take a leaf out of the exercise in the 1970s and 1980’s where virtually all musicians in major symphony orchestras were male until blind auditions were implemented which led to increasing the number of talented female musicians being hired. The RHS could well do with looking at the processes of how they select, make decisions and even the role sponsors play in maintaining a gender bias at the Chelsea Flower Show.

In 2015 many corporation in the UK are changing their practices of how they recruit talented women as board members, in senior roles and create inclusive environments that are diverse. Perhaps the Chelsea Flower Show could take some different actions if it wants to show up differently in years to come and be more aligned to the modern world.  I personally would very much look forward to this.

Thursday 16 April 2015

Is it all about cricket? - The Landscape of Diversity

A survey carried out by England and Wales Cricket Board has highlighted that in its first-team county cricket in 2014, only 6.2% is represented by people from a South Asian background, whilst over 30% of that group took part in cricket at the grass root levels. Furthermore, of the 18 first-class counties, five did not have any players from Asian backgrounds in their team this summer.

Whilst it maybe that some cultural issues could be at play such as “many parents within that culture believe that business, finance or medicine are the types of career they prefer their children to pursue,” I would seriously contest that this, or any other cultural reasons are enough of a reason to cause the 6.2% difference. After all if they were to look outside the cricket arena, similar and parallel patterns would also emerge in other environments such as banking, insurance, large retail and so on. 

What is more important is how will the England and Wales Cricket Board and the ECB address this shortcoming? Central to its strategy, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the clubs need to look at what are some of the unconscious biases, individually and organisationally present. We all know that we prefer someone from a similar background to ourselves and unwittingly favours certain types of people based on upbringing, experience and values. What are some of the unconscious bias involved in the way people make decisions as to who is talented, who should have access and who can represent their club. The cricket board and ECB can draw from and learn lessons from the corporate environment which for many years has tried to tackle similar issues. A key factor to the cricket board success lies, not only taking strategic actions but also supporting these actions through behavioural awareness of the unintended impact of unconscious biases and findings ways to minimise and reduce them - thus leading to different outcomes.

Friday 27 March 2015

Hilary Clinton - The Power of Women

I accidentally came across this documentary and within second I was hooked watching women from different parts of the worlds using their power, vision and passion to make a difference to the lives of women - small and large. A few days on I still feel  so inspired and connected with what these women have achieved and continue to achieve which is to give women a voice, to empower them and create options. Even in places like United Nation where women are still grossly under represented these women still continue the challenge for women to have a voice on what most affects and impacts on them.  What I really like about these women is that they seem so humble, uncompromising and despite the cost to themselves continue to pursue and make better the lives of women in the world. I can truly say that for the first time in my life I have found role models who are inspirational, authentic. generous  and most of all ground breaking in what they are doing even though progress has been slow.  The questions that comes to my mind is that why can't men in position of power see the plight of women in certain parts of the world and why can't they stand up and say "this is not good enough" Or is it simply that they do not see/notice things because of  their unconscious bias.

I am left with a question which is will take another 20 years to see significant changes? I hope not!

Saturday 7 February 2015

The landscape of Diversity and Inclusion - Unconscious Bias and Role of Leaders


Unconscious bias can be subtle and sometimes even hard to spot unless leaders question and explore their own decision-making processes. For example when a leader picks a team member to work on a prestigious assignment with a client, their default place may be to select someone who is familiar to them, have rapport with and are unquestioning of why they feel ‘comfortable’ with a particular person. Leaders may not be aware that their decision is based on their ‘affinity bias’ (hiring and promoting in our own image) where like attracts like. This can be seen throughout the whole employee cycle and often goes undetected where leaders make decisions based on their unconscious preferences. A study carried out by business psychologists Pearn Kandola*, looking at the associations between senior and junior positions, and men and women: found a bias towards associating men with senior jobs and women with junior ones. This bias was as true of the women in the sample as of the men*.

Leaders can often make decisions based on beliefs both positive and negative that they already hold albeit unconsciously. Imagine if a leader held a view that women are nurturers. How would they manage a strong woman who reported to them? Will she be perceived as aggressive and asked to tone down her ambitions? Would her eventual frustration in her role reinforce the leaders’ stereotype of her that she is after all ‘aggressive’? Unless leaders become aware of their own confirmation bias and begin to recognise how unconscious bias is running the show.

The impact of this is that leaders may not be using all the talent that is available in their teams in the most optimum ways, which can lead to people being disengaged with what they are doing, lacking in motivation, which in turn affects business productivity.

Unconscious bias is not just about the individual leaders in the organisation. Unconscious organisational patterns, or “norms” of behaviours, exert an enormous influence over organizational decisions, choices, and behaviours. At the organizational level unconscious bias tends to perpetuate the status quo and old patterns and values, and which can justify why things are the way they are. For example talent management systems may not appear to be overtly discriminatory, however research shows that they are vulnerable to interpretation and advantage a narrow view of talent. Some talent frameworks, particularly in leadership, commonly include masculine stereotypes when characterising senior leaders, meaning that masculine norms are embedded in the system. So, whatever bias exists at the top of an organisation is institutionalized by talent management systems and cascaded down to lower levels. This means that even when minority groups comply with explicit and implicit career development pathways, they are likely to experience disparate outcomes. Research shows that while women and individuals from different cultures do ‘all the right things’ to get promoted, including gaining experience, being networked and blurring work/life boundaries, they are still likely to advance to a lower level than their white male counterparts and have slower pay growth.


To begin to embed diversity and create inclusivity, leaders need to begin to understand their unconscious biases, both within the context of personal and organisational perspective and how this impacts in the way they engage, manage and interactions with others. Along with this, leaders need to articulate to others on how D&I in central to their businesses, an important part of managing and growing talent - a benefit for everyone irrespective of where they are in the organisation. This requires leaders to act, champion authentically diversity issues and to challenge cultural ‘norm’ of this is how we do things around here thus creating different realities in multinational organizations. For multinational organisations to make continuous progress and embed diversity and inclusion - raising awareness of unconscious bias and its impact on behaviour and decisions is a key step. However, awareness in itself is inadequate unless it is supported and backed up by intentional plans that are practical and self-sustaining and are underpinned by high quality policies and practices.

  • Do a diagnostic to get a snapshot of where the organisation is in relation to D&I, its readiness and climate for embracing an intervention of this type.
  • Create a short and long term vision of where the organisation wants to be and how it will measure its success.
  • Decide on the appropriate level of intervention – what is the right solution mix of policies, procedures, workshops, coaching etc.
  • Train and support work on raising awareness on unconscious bias with practical solutions that can be integrated back into the workplace.
  • Offer coaching to leaders as a part of their development in unconscious bias.
  • Create different communication channels that expose hidden bias, with shared stories and a platform for discussing unconscious bias in informal settings.
  • Establish D&I champions to act as role models for sustainability of the interventions.
  • Examine the leadership framework to ensure D&I is an integral part of leadership development.
  • Examine policies, practices and processes that can lead to organisational unconscious bias.
  • Set up milestones to analyse the D&I interventions and the impact this has had on the organisation.
The above steps are the beginning of a longer journey towards both making the workplace fairer and inclusive whilst at the same time, making better business.
·       Kandola, Binna. The value of Differences: Eliminating Bias in Organisations