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

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

A recent article written by Mckinsey on their latest research on 'Why Diversity Matters' points out that more committment to diverse leadership certainly leads to attraction of  top talent,improvement customer orientation, greater employee satisfaction and decision making.This all impacts on the bottom line! This short article makes compelling reading and despite the progress made in diversity and inclusion many organisations still have a long way to go to completely embedding it in their organisations. If you want read more about this, follow the link :

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Landscape of Diversity and Inclusion - Unconscious Bias In The Workplace

The demographic changes taking place globally will require leaders to be more open-minded and flexible in order to attract the next generation of prospective employees from a wider pool and from diverse backgrounds. Furthermore, leaders may need to recognise that whilst the environment works for them, others may not share their reality or experience and thereby not be engaged with what they are doing. This matters as disengagement impacts on productivity in the workplace. Business leaders, because of their unconscious bias, may not be able to see the connection between their behaviours and their decision making. For example, who gets to be employed in their teams or who is given mentoring or is assigned prestigious projects. What’s more, these same leaders may not hold a vision on how diversity and inclusion would add to their sustainability in the future. However, the reality is that leaders working in multinational organisations need to be equipped to meet the different challenges in their environments, whether it is domestic or cross-border working.  
A recent example at Google showed unconscious bias in their mobile video uploads. The team that built the iOS YouTube App didn't consider left-handed users when it added in mobile uploads, causing videos recorded in a left-handed person's view of landscape to appear upside-down. Such an action is most certainly unintended and unconscious by those developers who put the IOP YouTube App together. Another example of the impact of unconscious bias on people’s decision making in business was cited in a study of 1,250 employers* Dummy résumés with typically "white" names received 50% more interview call backs than those with typically "black" names. What has become obvious is that the unconscious perceptions of leaders can have a profound impact in the decisions they make on the lives of others?
In a multinational environment, if you want to succeed, meet the bottom line and be innovative, leaders will need to begin to look at their unconscious bias, human interactions, the ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ dynamics, * and how these create an inclusive environment as an integral part of the way a leader manages those they work with. Google have been open in recognising that they are not where they want to be on diversity and inclusion and since 2013 have embarked on seminars called ‘The science of Inclusion’ for all their employees. This programme focusses on how unconscious bias occurs, and how eliminating unconscious bias can foster an inclusive workplace environment.
So, through training and development interventions, leaders can begin to challenge these “limiting beliefs” enabling them to make new choices about how they run their businesses and manage their people.
In my next post I will explore in more depth how unconscious bias holds leaders back and what to do about it.

·       Banaji, Mahzarin &Greenwald, Anthony G. (2013) Blind spot: Hidden Bias of Good people. Delacorte Press
·       Wood, M, Hales, J, Purdon, S, Sejersen, T & Hayllar,  (2009) and A test for racial discrimination in recruitment practices in British cities: research report no 607. Department for Work and Pensions, London
·       Dr Gordan Evian Brain Revolution train your Brain to freedom
·       Rock David Your Brain at work (2009)
·       Kahneman, Daniel – Thinking fast and slow (2011)
·       Kandola, Binna. The value of Differences: Eliminating Bias in Organisations

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Life is all about how we see things!

Here is a photo that says alot. It's shows the amazing power of illusions and where we focus are attention on. If we can't see something doesn't mean its not there. This reminds me of couple of quotes that I came across years ago."Just because we walk the same corridors that doesn't mean we share the same reality" Micro behaviours which can lead to unconscious bias happen all the time in organisations, the questions is how often do we reflect on our behaviours and perspectives!

What do you see when you look at this photo? Which part of the photo do your eyes fall easily on? How easily and comfortably can you move between both perspectives?

*This picture came from a link sent by David Mcintosh

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Landscape of Diversity and Inclusion


In the twenty-five years that I have been working in the field of diversity and inclusion, my observations are that many changes have taken place in the way diversity is positioned, talked about and championed within multinational organisations.

Three changes stand out most;

1.    The language of diversity (how it is discussed and labelled);

2.    The business case imperative and rational for diversity and inclusion;

3.    The concept of unconscious bias.

In the case of the last two, many business leaders in multinationals often speak on why diversity and inclusion is imperative to business success and how uncovering unconscious bias allows for different perspectives. These days we rarely find senior leaders openly hostile to diversity, at least publicly, so why is it that in many multinationals there is the absence of both diversity and inclusion, particularly at the top? Despite the investment of resources, the truth is that multinationals either ‘struggle’ or are ‘stuck’ in creating inclusive cultures and diversity in their general workforces.  This is particularly noticeable in the upper echelons of senior leadership, where many of the positions and roles are still largely occupied by white, middle aged men. Even young companies like Google struggle to address diversity and inclusion. According to its own figures 70% of Google employees are men - 61% of whom are white. In addition, women only occupy 21% of leadership roles. The gap in the technical and nontechnical between male and female representation is even wider.


Do business leaders really see the relevance of diversity or are they just saying what people expect them to say on the topic but then carrying on as before?

As such then, it may not be correct to blame business leaders for being hypocrites or cynics. According to social scientific research* from the likes of Banaji, Mahzarin & Greenwald, Anthony G. and Malcolm Gladwell* it is well known that we prefer to associate and work with people who are from a similar background to ourselves. This preference is based on our upbringing and experience and expresses a real human need that in past times would have helped us to survive. So in today’s environment, does having bias make us bad people? In fact, having bias is normal, human and natural. The reality is that all of us are biased and the key to beginning to understand this is through recognising our biases and what we want to do about it. As human beings we take in about 11 million bits of information however our brain can only functionally deal with about 40! We therefore take in information; categorize it, creating stereotypes, expectation and assumptions most often based on our learned perceptions and preferences. This is the ‘natural’ bias that we as a default but if it is left unchecked it can have an adverse impact on employee cycle, promotions, evaluations and dismissals.


Substantial research and the evidence drawn from neuroscience* supports the view that reducing unconscious bias can make multinationals more effective in growing their talent in the long term and can help to have positive impact on the bottom line. The minimising of unconscious bias, whether at the entry level or at senior management level, can lead to the attraction of a wider pool of employees. It can also help retain top talent, support the increase of market share, boost profitability and support brand innovation in multinational organisations.