Episode 7 of the BeNext Radio Show carries on the themes of our earlier episode on diversity, inclusion and overcoming unconscious bias. Featuring a panel discussion between four of the BeNext Lighthouse Speakers, the episode touches on topics such as psychological safety, compassion, empathy and the importance of coaching, mentoring and representation when it comes to building a more inclusive and diverse organisation.
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This panel discussion was part of the LIVE Masterclass Session for the BeNext ‘D&I: Overcoming: Unconscious Bias’ program, which will be returning in August. Many of the topics discussed in this episode will also be explored in our upcoming July program, ‘Gender Balance: Promoting Women,’ which you can find out more about here.
We started by asking the panel speakers about their own experiences with driving these important transformations, not only in the organisation but in their own lives too. Dr. Ritu Anand, Chief Leadership & Diversity Officer at Tata Consultancy Services, shares how growing up in a more “homogenous society” can lead to unconscious bias, but that by moving to a more diverse environment these biases will struggle to persist. “Somebody knocks on your head, you’re smart enough to catch those few [biases] and when you’re in a position where you can’t afford to have biases, reality strikes,” Dr Anand says.
Maria Teixidor, CEO of VUCA Solutions, an organisation that helps advise cultural organisations and technological start-ups on conflicts, describes the experience of the “awakening” most leaders experience in becoming aware of how they have been living in privilege or as a victim of discrimination. “This awakening, for me, was maternity,” Teixidor shares, “When you see as a woman your path in life will be different from others [...] The main point is becoming conscious of the fact that the differences that you’re living with - that put you in a special place within the context of society - are happening all around to different people in different realities.”
What are some areas of action the speakers have taken or are taking in their own careers?
Duncan Hewett, senior vice president and general manager for VMware's business in Asia Pacific & Japan says: “innovation comes from the spark around the way people interact. If you don’t have that environment that’s supportive, you don’t get that challenging or open way of people speaking up.” However, Hewett is optimistic that in today’s environment, leaders have the ability to create more inclusive team meetings at their fingertips, enabled by technology. “In the chat, I can go and reach out to someone and pull them into the conversation,” Hewett says. “You actually have the ability now to be deliberately inclusive of the introverts, of the technical people who are usually quiet, and not just let the squeaky wheels dominate the meeting. You can shut them down. You can even mute them if you want to!”
For Maria Teixidor, it was her experience as a board member for FC Barcelona in taking the women’s team professional that taught so much about how to persuade those who are resistant to change to be more inclusive and see things from diverse perspectives. To convince certain members of the organisation of the merit of this professionalisation, Teixidor organised an event to promote the idea of targeting women in the sport. “I decided to call this the opposite of a phrase that is often said to women playing football ‘this is not football, and it’s not feminine,” titling the event “It Is Football, and It is Feminine,” Teixidor shares. By preempting these prejudices and finding common ground between supporters and skeptics, Teixidor and the team ran an incredibly successful event that sold out within 24 hours that “opened fresh air” into an industry that historically has been reluctant to address such issues. Following the event’s success, Teixidor adds, “the people who didn’t want to be there were the first ones to say, ‘I’m proud of what we did.’”
Dr Anand stresses the importance not only of mentorship and coaching, but of creating a psychologically safe environment. According to a recent Gartner survey, over a third (34%) of global workers experienced a decline in their psychological safety during COVID-19. A similar survey by Workhuman reveals only 26% of workers felt psychologically safe at work during the pandemic, with women and people of colour far more likely to say their psychological safety had declined during this time. “We’ve done a lot,” Dr Anand says. “But we’re not there yet.”
Finally, Dr Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D., President of Cross-Cultural Communications and author of four books, including 'Three Keys to Defeating Unconscious Bias: Watch, Think, Act,’ raises the excellent point that many leaders will grapple with as they try to create a more inclusive culture: how can we understand and recognise the pain of others? “One thing I’m struggling with is: how do we honour and respect an individual’s personal pain that comes from historically being marginalised, with others around that person who have not had that experience?” What can be done to internalise that person’s pain and understand why people act and react in particular ways?
Download the episode to hear the approaches, actions, starts and stops that will hopefully lead us to answers for these difficult questions and more.