Words by Asha Pitt
Following a car crash, a child is rushed into a hospital requiring urgent brain surgery and an organ transplant. The child’s father, the respected chief surgeon at this hospital, was also involved in the accident and is in a critical condition. Due to the nature of the child’s injuries, an eminent, globally-respected neurosurgeon from a neighbouring hospital is sent for. On arrival and sight of the child, the surgeon immediately advises that they cannot operate because they’re related to the child.
For a bonus point, can you guess which relation..? (Read on for the answer).
I’ve spent the last 18 months working with a variety of companies and organisations, outside of the jewellery industry, looking at how they approach diversity and inclusion in terms of personal and company branding.
As a diversity and inclusion champion, coupled with my lived experience and professional expertise within marketing communication and media relations, I have facilitated discussions with clients on challenging, topical issues such as unconscious bias and stereotypes, with specific reference to their own branding and how they might be perceived by diverse candidates, clients and suppliers. And it’s been a fascinating journey; for my clients and for me too.
ARE YOU CONSCIOUS TO UNCONSCIOUS BIAS?
Everyone has biases. Let’s just get that straight. And everyone notices difference. So, I always cringe when people, with good intentions I am sure, state that they don’t see colour or gender; because I do. And I want you to see mine too! What I also want is that you take me as an individual, that you appreciate my difference and that you understand that my uniqueness could be a useful contribution to your organisation.
Biases and stereotypes are highly refined tools that our brains have developed over millennia to help us make better decisions and reach quicker conclusions; in some cases, to help keep us, and those that we hold dear, safe. Cognitive neuroscientists estimate that as much as 95% of brain activity is beyond our conscious awareness. Just let that sink in… to the 5% you’re aware of.
So, it’s no accident that some stereotypes are based on widely accepted truths. However, many are based on widely held prejudices, that are remnants of less enlightened eras, designed to subjugate and demoralise entire swathes of society.
So, rather than pretending not to see our differences, I work with organisations who seek to celebrate them. Because understanding that nuance is the key to truly embracing diversity, and making that change is proven to generate as much as 33% more profitability for organisations willing to take this seriously and effect real change.
One of my favourite analogies is, ‘If you keep using the same ingredients, don’t be surprised that you keep baking the same cake’. Obviously, any analogy that involves cake has to be a good one, but it’s a really useful reminder that in order to have true diversity (and better tasting cakes), you need to be prepared to embrace, not ignore, difference.
HOW CAN WE BE BETTER?
Real change will require a concerted push by us all, individually and collectively to effect tangible impacts, using innovative and tried and tested approaches such as…
Create an online youth advisory board of your own, either using millennials and Gen Zs in your business or perhaps reach out to your customer base for volunteers. Get them excited to be part of your brand story, encourage them to tell you what they want to see in terms of branding and how they want to buy your product.
If you’re a male leader asked to sit on a panel or a committee or as a non-exec on a board, ask if it’s gender-balanced. So, if there are six seats at the table and only one is filled with someone who identifies as female, push back and think: should you really be taking that seat? It’s not as if there isn’t a pool of talented women in the jewellery trade. Be an ally to the whole gender. From a personal and organisational branding view, this is a powerful stance to make.
If you’re CEO of a large company in the trade and all of your BAME employees are in low-paid, low-prospect roles, it’s time to talk to your HR team. What’s happening in your recruitment process that means that BAME applicants are not making it through to more senior interviews? Do you have a blind recruitment process? Do you stipulate to external recruiters that you want a diverse pool of talent to choose from? Are your team always advertising in the same places for senior appointments? Is the copy in your recruitment advertising gender-biased? And what do your recruitment and promotional adverts look like? Finally, ask yourself, would you want to work for you if you were a BAME applicant?
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Workplace banter matters and it can be an integral part of your personal brand at work. And yes, your team is watching you for signals and cues. Monitor your own language and check yourself. Understand that you’re probably not the best judge as to whether a joke is offensive unless you share the lived experience of the butt of said joke. Culture trickles down from an organisation’s leadership, so lead by (good) example.
IT’S OKAY TO BE WRONG
If you’re operating from the mainstream (e.g. as a white male), then you’re also operating from a place of privilege. That doesn’t mean that your life has always been easy or that you’ve never had to work hard for everything that you’ve achieved. Privilege means that if you were a different gender or colour or religion, then, your struggles would have been that much harder. Think of privilege as a sliding scale. So, if you’re reading this article, then it’s likely that regardless of gender or colour, that you have a level of privilege too.
If you’re embarking on this journey, be prepared to do so with an open mind and be prepared to be wrong – and admit it – from time to time. It’s absolutely fine. If you’ve lived a life in the ‘mainstream’, you won’t always understand the experiences of those who have not, or the many intersecting challenges that they face. The key is to be prepared to listen and learn; it’s also critically important not to discount someone else’s lived experience and feelings, simply because it does not match up with the world that you see and experience through your very specific optics.
Remember that we are all on this journey together, that we all have biases and that we all attribute stereotypes to others. Constantly.
It’s the awareness that we do so and the aspiration to do better that is the key. That’s the message I deliver after I give the answer to the brainteaser I posed at the top of this article, when I work with groups; because invariably, no matter the gender, race, age diversity of the team I am working with, 95% of respondents comes back with…
The surgeon is the child’s brother
The surgeon is the child’s uncle
The surgeon is the child’s grandfather
And to a woman (or man), they all look deflated (and more than a little annoyed at themselves) when I reveal that the answer is in fact: ‘The surgeon is the child’s mother’.
BIO: Asha Pitt provides consultancy on this challenging subject to a number of blue-chip and public sector organisations. She was also acknowledged by PricewaterhouseCoopers as one of 50 Inspirational Individuals as part of their #Stonewall50 celebrations this year.