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Last week was National Inclusion Week and UNVAELD had the pleasure of attending the “Leading the Conversations on Creating Inclusive and Equitable Workplaces” at NatWest.

NatWest hosted an enlightening event that highlighted the crucial need for commitment at all levels of an organisation to the pursuit of diversity and inclusion The event emphasised the importance of aligning DE&I strategy with individual behaviour and performance evaluations. More importantly, it challenged the audience to confront the concept of unconscious bias and replace it with a more accurate term—affinity bias.

We had an expert panel that included Yemi Jackson, Founder of Engage Transform, Dinah Williams, Founder of Avenir Network and Cuneyt Belber, Global HR Business Partner at Vodafone. UNVAELD will be collaborating with both Dinah and Cuneyt shortly to bring you some expert insights in the DE&I space. Watch this space!

 

Breaking the Silence: Interrupting Bias

One of the most impactful takeaways from the event was the call to action for everyone to actively interrupt bias whenever they encounter it. The message was clear: do not wait for a specific time and space to address bias; it should be a continuous effort. By actively challenging bias, we can create an environment where those who consciously discriminate or undermine others, especially minorities, are made aware that such behaviour will not be tolerated.

Staying silent in the face of bias is a form of complicity. Therefore, the event challenged each individual to reflect on their own actions and asked a powerful question: the next time you witness a woman or a person of colour’s idea being brushed aside in a meeting, will you interrupt and acknowledge them? This simple act can be a catalyst for transformative change within organisations.

 

Affinity Bias: The Real Culprit

The event pushed for a shift in our understanding of bias. One of our favourite takeaways was put forward by Yemi who says, instead of labelling bias as “unconscious bias,” we should recognise it as “affinity bias.” Affinity bias is the natural inclination to favour individuals who share similar interests, backgrounds and experiences with us. It’s a psychological mechanism that leads us to feel more comfortable around people who resemble us and conversely, reject those who appear different.

One common consequence of affinity bias in the workplace is the tendency to hire and promote individuals who fit the existing company culture. This often leads to a lack of diversity and missed opportunities to harness the unique perspectives and talents of those from diverse backgrounds.

NatWest’s Inclusion event encouraged organisations to reevaluate their approach to recruitment. Instead of seeking a “culture fit,” they should aim to find “culture-adds.” Something we speak a lot about on this platform. This means looking for individuals who can bring fresh perspectives and diverse experiences to the team, enriching the organisation’s culture rather than conforming to it.

 

Accountability and Conscious Choices

One of the event’s central messages was that using the term “unconscious bias” can inadvertently remove accountability from individuals. After all, how can one be held responsible for actions they are not conscious of? The reality, however, is that many of the choices we make on a daily basis are ones we are fully aware of.

It’s crucial to acknowledge and take responsibility for these choices. By doing so, we can actively work towards countering our affinity bias and making more inclusive decisions. Recognising that bias exists within all of us and that it requires conscious effort to overcome is the first step towards building truly diverse and inclusive teams.

 

Conclusion

In the pursuit of a more inclusive future, it is crucial that organisations prioritise diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels. This involves rethinking recruitment practices, actively interrupting bias and taking ownership of our conscious choices. By embracing affinity bias and working together, we can create a workplace where everyone feels valued, heard and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives.

NatWest’s Inclusion event served as a powerful catalyst for this necessary change, and its impact will continue to resonate in the journey towards a more inclusive world.

 

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We do not provide professional help to individuals in urgent crisis. If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call 999 immediately. For support with suicidal thoughts, consider contacting the Samaritans UK, a trusted organisation specialising in confidential assistance during emotional distress. Your safety is paramount and there are professionals available to provide the urgent help required in such critical situations.