Spotlight: RedLaw interviews…Sasha Scott, international thought-leader on diversity, bias & inclusivity

By RedLaw | 19 Jul, 2017

This month we had the pleasure of meeting with Sasha Scott of Inclusive Group and had a fascinating discussion around inclusivity, bias and diversity within the legal sector. Read here about the challenges faced by firms within this arena, how we can all work to reduce bias, how to improve our personal well-being and much more.

 

Sasha, your experience spans over 17 years and you are now considered an international thought-leader on diversity, bias, inclusivity and managing psychological health. How did you become involved in such an interesting subject?

I consider myself enormously privileged as I love what I do – “it’s not work if you love it” rings so true. I have not always been involved in D & I – far from it as I spent 13 years working in finance within investment banking as a trader and broker. This was post-university where I read Psychology.
Banking was exciting and terrifying in equal measures as the trading floor is an excellent portrayal of the most basic of human emotions – fear and greed. I loved the thrill and adrenaline of markets responding to world events but I lived in fear of my total lack of numeracy and being outed as appalling at maths! At the end of the day like most of us I had classic ‘imposter’ syndrome and after many years left to follow my passion – people and human behaviours. This is how I came about running Inclusive Group.

 

You have worked with US and international law firms, household names and global institutions on inclusion and diversity. In your extensive experience, what are the three main issues/biases which all organisations encounter and what challenges do these bring with them?

That’s an excellent question and given we all have at least 150 biases it’s not easy to drill down to three. But looking at what really drives behaviour within the workplace the key bias/preference is the ‘affinity’ bias – this is so strong in all of us and manifested in us preferring to spend time with ‘people like us’ i.e. people with whom we can connect to and who share our outlook, values and beliefs. This means in organisations that our affinities can and do influence who we HIRE, who we PROMOTE and who we INCLUDE within our in groups. So if a manager feels more comfortable with people like them – this is potentially universe and exclusive. Unless they are aware of this bias and they actively test its best for the organisation.

There is another powerful bias called the ‘expediency’ bias – i.e. we make decisions about people and tasks based upon time poor criteria – so the ‘safe pair of hands’ to do a task is usually preferable to a manager than more time consuming decisions to invest time in someone else – someone who might not ‘fit’ and develop that person for the task. This is where diversity efforts fall down as it results in talent being under utilised and wasted.

Lastly there is a ‘confirmation’ bias that impacts organisations and can be a disrupter to a talent program. It is when we make our mind up about someone or something without objective evidence. For example if we are prone to worry we may feel that at the first sign of a cold that we have actually developed something more serious – we will seek ‘confirmation’ by Googling our symptoms and within hours have confirmed we are seriously ill – that it’s not a cold but a lung disease!

In the same way when we have people management responsibility our confirmation bias often pre determines who is going to do well and who is not. If we have an employee who we have been told (lack of first hand evidence) is not very competent then it’s all too easy to look for examples of where that employee is weak. It’s only when we stand back and objectify our assessments can we see where the biases skew the reality.

 

What is unconscious/implicit bias? What ways can an individual look to reduce this to help create more positive interactions with colleagues on a daily basis in the working environment.

A bias is a tendency to believe that some people, ideas, etc., are better than others that usually results in treating some people unfairly. However what is so important is to accept that anyone who has a brain is biased and that biases are not all bad. The issue is we relate bias to prejudice and unfairness and so we really struggle to accept we are biased. It’s so easy to spot bias in other people-have think now about the biases you see in your colleagues, friends even family. It’s much harder to identify personal biases.

In order to accept our biases I think that through awareness and UB training we can help people by detailing the neuroscience behind why all brains operate with bias and indeed where your personal preferences come from originally.

How we can reduce the biases that we have is entirely feasible. What is so exciting about developments in neurology is that we now know that we can change the way we think. That we are not hard wired but far more psychologically flexible and thus we can challenge our innate biases and re wire through practice, mindfulness, counter stereotype images and spending time with people that are different to us.

 

Historically, the legal sector has a reputation for being far from inclusive or representative of gender, ethnicity etc and, to touch on one point, there are very few females in senior roles. What can law firms do to work towards overcoming these challenges and to improve the recruitment and retention of key talent?

The issues are complex and multi-faceted. The lack of diversity at a senior level is attributable to culture, ingrained mind-sets, process and practice and often female self-esteem plays a part in gender inequality. This fixing of this this isn’t easy – hence we are still seeing poor numbers of female seniority within the legal and professional service sector. And even a back lash against a female Dr Who! But with unconscious bias programs now much more widespread, and significant work on shifting workplace culture coupled with altering policies around agile working, we will get there. I have seen so many shifts in workplace culture reflecting societal attitudes – the LGBT community have made enormous progress and so change is entirely possible. It will take the efforts of us all to move the dial – hence the importance of the ally community.

 

What have been the most successful initiatives The Inclusive Group have implemented within businesses which have had a truly profound impact on diversity, equality and/or inclusion.

We have worked with over 80k professionals in multiple professions – the success is in mind set shifts and ‘ah –ha’ moments. When you witness this in leadership cohorts & you know this will drip down and through organisational culture. When you’re most reactive, negative executive becomes a champion then this is success.

Much of the work we do has been a series of interventions over five plus years – that way we see progress in metrics. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. we have partnered with law firms, financial services and media companies to increase all aspects of diversity, to increase inclusiveness and reduce bias and ultimately the goal for 2017 is to work on ‘belonging’ – this is different to inclusion and is the critical next step for engagement.

Originally, inclusion just meant we wanted to be sure everyone in the workplace was treated equally—which was a great start. But research shows that to really feel included, a person needs to agree that their unique value is appreciated and that they belong in the group.
According to a recent Deloittes report 2016 – “people feel included when they have perceptions of fairness and respect, and as well as value and belonging. This is a second level of inclusion and it’s about having a voice and feeling connected.”

According to Pat Wadors, senior vice president of global talent at LinkedIn; “our brains are hardwired to motivate us toward connection and belonging—it’s how we survive and thrive…and findings show that belonging and attachment to a group of coworkers is a better motivator for some employees than money.”

 

Personal mindfulness and wellbeing are becoming increasingly popular topic areas. What tips could you pass on for individuals to introduce into their daily routines to help with mindfulness, alleviate anxiety and stress.

“I think therefore I am”
Descartes

This sums it up for me – mental wellbeing is critical to everything we do and working in law or any other stressful profession means we are subject to stressors on an hourly basis. The world has become much faster and we are more time poor than ever before, so having the tools to slow down and take some time out to have space in this frantic world helps. This is where mindfulness plays an important part in the work we do with individuals. The benefits are significant – lower anxiety, depression, increased clarity, innovation and calm. Mindfulness does not cost anything to do and given we all have smart phones it’s great to know that the digital heroin that is the phone can now be an enabler for mental health.

To help work mindfulness into your everyday life, the Headspace app created by Andy Puddicombe, is a great way to ease into a more mindful way of living.

Tips
• practice gratitude via a diary – find 3 reasons to be grateful and note them – thus building on the positive
• download a meditation app and try to practice for ten minutes a day – we use Headspace
• Take regular exercise and combine that with mindfulness – often being in the ‘flow’ is a great way to reduce stress
• Focus on your nutrition and hydration – it’s worth noting we are far more biased when anxious, when low on blood sugar and when dehydrated

For further information on unconscious bias, psychological health and inclusion:
sasha@inclusievgroup.co.uk
www.inclusivegroup.co.uk
Twitter@inclusivegroup
07584 650 233