DIFF podcast: People do not realise how many successful mortgage brokers there are
Speaking on the Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF) podcast, Brad Fordham, head of mortgages at Santander UK, said people did not consider mortgage broking as a career path because of this.
Fordham said: “I’m not sure people realise how many mortgage brokers there are in the UK, and the majority of them are very successful and doing a great job for customers.
“We know 80 per cent of the market is via intermediaries, but I’m not sure people out there really know it. So in a wider sense, there won’t be many people who come out of school, have done A levels, consider what they’ll do next and think ‘you know what, mortgage broking or financial services is that for me’.”
He added: “We could do a better job at selling that and trying to attract talent in.”
Path of progress
Speaking of his daughter Jemima, who he encouraged to get into the profession after she was unsure of what to do, Fordham said the sector did well at allowing such talent to progress from entry-level admin or paraplanner roles.
He also said this provided an opportunity for women and younger people to join the sector.
Dina Bhudia, CEO of P2M Asset Management, felt being a mother and not having a degree held her back when she first entered the mortgage sector.
She originally worked at Santander as a financial adviser when it was still branded as Abbey National, before leaving to become self-employed.
Bhudia said she moved as she felt there was no opportunity to progress within the branch.
Bradham, who was her regional manager at the time, admitted head office teams were typically made up of graduates and they did not necessarily look to retail branches for recruitment as staff did not always have the academic qualifications.
Bradham did not go to university either and said before he was given the opportunity to become a regional manager, he also got the impression that this limited him. He assumed his north London accent pigeonholed him and made people think he was not “bright enough” for senior roles.
Coming from an Indian background, Bhudia said it was not just the professional environment but also stigmas within her community that stifled her development.
When trying to network and build a client base, she said people from the same ethnic background often said they expected her to take on more traditional roles.
“One of the common things from the older ladies and even the businessmen were ‘shouldn’t you be at home with the children and making chapatis?’,” she added.
She eventually grew her business by getting to know people through community work, but found the insular nature limited further expansion.
Bhudia said: “The language barrier was an issue initially because a lot of my clients’ first language was not English. Me speaking Gujrati means you organically end up recruiting from your own community.
“As I’ve changed the culture within the office – we must speak English at all times because everyone on the other end generally can speak English – I’ve found that we’ve opened up to the wider society, which has helped me grow my business.”
DIFF: Remove salary secrecy and break furlough-redundancy link for gender equality at work
The first discussion on 17 June was hosted by Felicia Willow (pictured), interim chief executive at gender equality charity Fawcett Society. She covered Covid-19 and the ‘She-cession’, looking at how the pandemic had disproportionately impacted women at work.
Willow said unequal pay and women taking on part-time employment so they could look after children were two of the things which caused a gender imbalance at work.
“There are a lot of things going on and understanding what those things are is a really essential thing for employers to do,” she added.
Willow also laid out some tips on how employers could make sure they were not contributing to inequality between those of a minority gender or ethnicity.
She suggested reviewing the people on furlough with gender in mind to understand the impact. She also advised making sure there was no connection between those being made redundant and those who had been furloughed.
Willow said: “If you’ve had more women on furlough because they’ve had to look after the children, and then they’re therefore the ones who are made redundant, we’re going to see a huge number of women being made redundant really unfairly.
“Making sure people who have been furloughed aren’t prioritised to be made redundant is essential.”
Willow also said it could help to check the redundancies being made, separate them by demographics and make the outcome public.
“Make sure you’re thinking about how that falls across gender and ethnicity. If there is a gender imbalance, then stop, take stock and go back,” she added.
Salaries and promotion
With hybrid working becoming more favoured, Willow encouraged businesses to ensure people who worked from home, particularly to spend more time with family, were not overlooked for promotion.
Willow said: “We know from experience that part-time women are often paid less per hour than those who are doing the same job on a full-time basis, and we also know that they’re more likely to be passed over for promotion.
“Is the same thing going to happen if someone’s not working in an office with other people?”
Making salaries explicit when recruiting can also reduce gender pay gaps, Willow said.
“Salary secrecy is one of the major things that contributes to unequal pay. Women are still paid less for the same job in a lot of cases, four in 10 aren’t even aware that they have the right to equal pay for equal value; 60 per cent don’t know what male comparators are getting paid or believe they are earning less,” she added.
Not asking about previous incomes can help to avoid pay gaps across both gender and race as it prevents the practice of paying someone what they are used to accepting, rather than what the role is worth.
She also suggested introducing pay bands and comparing the tasks of those in different roles, to ensure there was not a discrepancy between female-dominated and male-dominated departments.
Pay gap reporting
Participating in gender and racial pay gap reporting can help companies address inequalities, Willow said.
“Your gender pay gap is a snapshot. It just tells you that something is going on,” she added.
She also said adopting family friendly policies for both men and women as well as recognising the value of all jobs could change attitudes towards the work women do both at home and within their profession.
She also suggested action to address differences could temporarily increase pay gaps but insisted certain practices could be beneficial in the long run, such as employing junior female staff and training them up to senior roles.
Personal life challenges
The second day of the DIFF sessions took place on 21 June.
It covered the impact the pandemic has on women in their personal lives, with heightened domestic and economic abuse, which has placed increased importance on housing.
Denise Fowler, chief executive of Women’s Pioneer Housing, said having good quality housing for women was vital in combating gender inequality as it acted as a “springboard” for the rest of their lives.
She said: “If you have good quality, safe, affordable housing in a good location, then you can access work you can access study, you can access a social life, you can live a good life basically.”
Fowler added that the pandemic had potentially changed people’s priorities around housing and said this was particularly pertinent to women.
She said: “For a lot of women, I think it has highlighted specifically the need for space, partly for home working but partly also to have a bit of refuge or respite from children, the need for gardens, the need to be near those that were supporting you. The difficulties of travel during Covid have also placed increased the importance of amenities close by.”
Fowler said the pandemic had caused a spike in domestic and economic abuse, highlighting the “extent to which it is an issue in our society”.
She also called on the financial services industry to challenge sexist assumptions around issues like maternity leave, economic and domestic abuse.
Fowler said: “Businesses have really got to build up trust, so women have to go in thinking ‘I can talk about these things, and I can talk about what I am planning to do when I return from maternity leave’ and know that there won’t be an assumption that she says these things but she’s not going to do that.”
“I would be really interested in seeing what mortgage lenders are out there trying to avoid those kinds of assumptions in the way they offer and price their mortgages.”
Julie Budge, chief executive officer for My Sisters’ House Women’s Centre, said from an employer’s perspective it was important to have a member of the organisation who knows how to react to domestic abuse disclosures.
Budge said: “In the organisation, there should be an ambassador or whatever you want to call them… so that you can ring them up and then they can go ‘right this is the number you need’. This is what you need to tell her, because at that point she’s disclosed it is one of the most dangerous periods for her.
She explained: “Generally… the abuser they’re controlling, and once they feel like they’re losing control that makes them the most dangerous, so it’s about doing that in a safe way.”
DIFF Podcast: Financial services missing out on ‘huge talent pool’
Richard Rowntree, managing director of mortgages at Paragon Bank, is part of a City of London government-backed taskforce, which aims to boost productivity by focusing on performance of employees rather than their background.
Research carried out by the initiative found 88 per cent of senior roles in the financial services were held by people of higher socioeconomic backgrounds, despite those coming from similar backgrounds only making up a third of the entire UK population.
Speaking on the podcast, Rowntree said: “There’s a big talent pool we’re missing out on. There’s a huge opportunity to really tap into that and give people a chance to establish themselves and show what they can do.”
He said it was also important to nurture this talent after giving people their first opportunity, as a quarter of people coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds progressed slower than their peers.
It was suggested this could be down to the differences in upbringing, which could be a hindrance to those who do not fit in.
Rowntree said the sector needed to break the habit of “employees becoming exhausted by efforts to conform to dominant cultures they’re going into in financial services.”
Often, the sector looks for employees with a certain level of practice in the industry but Rowntree said a rethinking of the recruitment process needed to be had.
“Typically, what you’re looking for when recruiting is experience and qualifications. I think there’s an opportunity to bring people in earlier, maybe in more junior roles,” he added.
He also said sponsorship, apprenticeships and schemes could be useful in finding those with softer, relevant skills which are often overlooked.
Huy Le, mortgage manager at Dynamo Mortgages said as someone from an East Asian background who was raised in Tottenham, went to a comprehensive school and did not have a degree before entering the industry, it was down to him to show others the progress that could be made.
He eventually earned his degree while working at Halifax through a sponsorship.
As those from a similar heritage are not always encouraged to go into financial services, Le said: “People like me, we have an opportunity to show what can be achieved.
“Seeing people that have come through this with a lived experience that look and think like me, obviously is a big motivator to get people interested in the first place.”
Click on the podcast below:
DIFF podcast: Imposter syndrome makes me worry I’ve been hired ‘to tick a box’
Chloe Hylton, regional manager and surveyor at Legal and General Surveying Services, said although being of mixed heritage had not been a hurdle in her career, her insecurities made her wonder if she had been given a job to fill a quota.
Hylton also questioned if her “more palatable” appearance made her an easy diversity hire.
She said: “I have what a lot of people call ‘light skin privilege’. Most people, when they look at me, they don’t actually think that I am mixed heritage.
“I have quite pale skin and if I straighten my hair, I do think most people think I might have had a bit of lip filler and a bit of fake tan. So, I don’t actually look very ethnically diverse.”
Hylton added: “Whilst I haven’t had any hurdles against me for my ethnicity, there’s always been something in the back of my mind that because I tick a diversity box and a lot of companies do try to up their numbers. . . the way that I look, people’s perception of me might be that I’m more palatable for an ethnic minority. Because I don’t look the way that a lot of other people do, it’s fine and it’s an easier win.”
“Maybe that speaks a bit more to my imposter syndrome that I worry that because I’m a woman and because I do tick some boxes, I’m more of a preferred option because it reflects well on a company,” she said.
Open up the talent pool
When asked how to overcome the feeling that someone had been given a job or promotion because they came from an underrepresented group, Ben Thompson, deputy chief executive of Mortgage Advice Bureau (MAB) said the sector had a responsibility to widen its net when looking for recruits to improve its overall diversity.
He said: “I don’t think as a sector generally we’re trying hard enough to do that at the moment. I think if we look at traditional recruitment agencies and recruitment policies, they archetypally made up of the typical footprint of ethnicity and gender.
“Where we can try a bit harder is to proactively go after real talent that belongs to different categories.”
While he did not agree with the practice of filling quotas to manage statistics, Thompson said widening the scope and looking for people in different areas would open up the talent pool before eventually narrowing to give the role to the most suitable candidate.
He also acknowledged that the mortgage industry had made progress with gender diversity but was still behind on ethnicity.
Signs of imposter syndrome
Thompson said he had not seen evidence of imposter syndrome among his workforce and praised the industry for normalising diversity and giving his colleagues the confidence to feel secure in their roles.
However, Hylton pointed out that the sense of not belonging could present itself in numerous ways that might not be noticeable to others.
She said: “Trying to overachieve, working extra for longer and also if anything does go wrong, how that’s handled internally. The devastation, the worry, the concern that ‘you’re wrong, you’re not good enough,’ and then the spiral out of that.
“It tends to be those kinds of things that you wouldn’t necessarily identify as imposter syndrome but will kind of be evident in some of their actions.”
Hylton said it could also be a sign if someone was unwilling to accept praise for doing a good job.
“When something is either going really well and they won’t want to take the compliment. Or tell you that it was everybody else’s input not theirs.
“Or when something doesn’t go quite that well and it’s the sheer angst, ‘oh my goodness, I’m going to be found out, I shouldn’t be here, I’m not good enough,’ and how that comes out in a workplace,” she added.
Safety concerns as a woman
Although Hylton said her ethnicity had not held her back, she said being a woman meant certain health and safety worries were at the forefront of her mind.
“That centres around lone working. As a woman going into empty properties, dealing with the general public, working at height, there are safety implications with that,” she said.
Hylton said she had got into the habit of asking companies about what safety measures they had in place whenever she was interviewed for a position, which was something her male counterparts might not consider.
She said the surveying industry was already doing well to protect its employees with panic alarms and automated calls to emergency services the onus was on the sector to make these protections clearer so the role of a surveyor would be more appealing to women generally.
Hylton added: “That’s why I ask it in my interviews. Because I’m female and I think it’s important to me. But if a male colleague was interviewing a woman, they might not think to actually push that and make it really clear about the lengths that we as a company go to, to ensure her safety as much as we can.”
DIFF podcast: Journey to diversity and inclusion is a relay not a sprint
Michele Golunska, chief executive of Sesame Bankhall Group, said: “If this was a race, it’s not a 200m sprint where you say ‘okay that’s what we’re going to do, I’ll do this and hit the targets’. It’s a relay. Everyone in your business will hand the baton through.
“If this starts from the top down or bottom up or through the organisation, this has to be something that’s understood. You have to constantly keep going at this,” she added.
Golunska said she had seen a focus on gender and sexual diversity both at her current role and while she was at Aviva but noticed there was not sufficient data on the representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) employees.
The network had since begun a survey to address this, but Golunska said she suspected that as a business it was not alone in having a lack of data.
Pete Gwilliam, owner of mortgage industry recruitment agency Virtus Search agreed and said the Women in Finance Charter had helped to change the culture towards female employees in the sector.
However, to address racial inclusion he said the industry needed to push into a “much deeper cultural change to get BAME representation at the levels that national demographics suggest we should be aspiring to”.
Golunksa added: “As a sector and an employer and commercially we need to reflect the society we serve and understand their wants and needs.
“And that includes the wants and needs of people who work for us and giving them the opportunity to develop and progress and I’m passionate about levelling that playing field.”
Modernise recruitment techniques
Gwilliam said the industry needed to update and challenge the ways it usually looked for new recruits.
He said the industry should “broaden, widen, deepen how we source and actually concentrate on skills and lived experiences, rather than necessary aspects to people’s backgrounds that we just feel comfortable with because we’ve seen that before”.
Golunska said setting targets for increasing the numbers of diverse staff could be helpful.
“In the normal course of running a business, you would have targets and that gives you an ability for you and your team to focus on the important things,” she added.
However, she said businesses needed to use their own performance to address shortcomings and investigate why employees might leave the business to see if there was a incompatibility with the company culture.
When asked if fears over using the wrong terms prevented discussions around diversity altogether, Gwilliam said people should be more vulnerable in accepting that mistakes will be made.
He said: “Asking yourself the question ‘am I inclusive?’ most people by default think that they are. We don’t really ever examine it objectively and I think it’s really important that we’re all able to be open enough, vulnerable enough, prepared enough to ask ourselves, ‘really? Is that inclusive enough?’
“Only by accepting that you’ll trip over slightly the wrong use of language and make the odd confused acronym – those things are going to happen but we shouldn’t lose sight of if the intention is good.”
Golunska added: “We need to be forgiving where people are desperately trying to understand and educate themselves.”
DIFF: Mortgage industry must be ‘broader and bolder’ in hiring practices
Pete Gwilliam, owner of mortgage sector headhunter Virtus Search, said because people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds were already underrepresented in the finance sector, he was more likely to come across potential hires from these groups with less industry experience than those from other demographics.
Because of this, he said it could help to assess these candidates differently and not focus so heavily on traditional work histories.
Gwilliam said: “You have to be broader, you have to be bolder, you have to disrupt processes that may have long since produced as being perceived as hired on merit.
“Don’t ask someone what they’ve done, ask them what they would do. How would you work with this? What values would you bring to this role? How would that make a difference?”
He also said he was in favour of setting quotas and targets as it forced employers to look outside of their usual networks.
Michele Golunska, chief executive of Sesame Bankhall Group, agreed saying: “Don’t be frightened to reach out to people from different communities that are the ones you’re trying to target.”
She said the Sesame Bankhall Group made use of Daisy Chain Recruitment, Black Young Professionals network, Black Door and Hustle Crew when recruiting.
Golunksa also agreed that setting quotas helped firms to drive change.
However, she said it was not about tokenism or disadvantaging one group of people for another. She suggested it was about levelling the playing field in the sector.
She also said when hiring people from diverse backgrounds, it was important to look at their potential and what they could bring to the role.
“There are roles you need absolute specialism in, but in the broader sense, when we come into the industry and we’re trained up. We must recruit on potential and behaviours, that’s a really important thing,” she added.
A welcoming culture
Both Golunksa and Williams said it was not enough to seek employees from diverse backgrounds, but it was also necessary for firms to acknowledge whether they were truly inclusive in their company culture.
Golunksa said: “As an employer, you need to look at yourself and what bias there may be. What you might have and what you’re projecting in the culture that you’re effectively role modelling.
“You need to look at your business and understand where you have gaps.”
Golunksa said the look of the company website, where jobs were advertised and certain words in job descriptions gave an impression of the culture of the company.
She also said an incompatible company culture was one of the main reasons people left jobs and suggested investigating why people resigned in an attempt to improve.
Golunksa added: “If you want to know if you’re getting it right you need to analyse why people don’t stay. If you can understand where if you’re trying to focus your target on a certain group or a broad set of representation of people, look at those who leave you and why.
“Then think about how you can stop that and tackle that within the business.”
Golunksa said because the mortgage industry affected millions of people through its services and products, those who worked in it also needed to represent the demographics they served.
She said: “One thing we do know about the adviser community is there are lots of people who are maybe at the later stage of their employment and will be looking to retire so we need to bring through young blood.
“We need to bring through representation that is reflective of the consumers that they’re going to be serving.”
Gwilliam added that by 2026, 75 per cent of the global workforce was expected to be made up of millennials who were more likely to champion diversity and inclusion and this needed to be considered when hiring.
He said: “They see the world through a lens where diversity is an absolute positive and not a threat as some might perceive it to be.
“We all have got to wake up to the fact that wave of quiet disruption is coming.”
DIFF: We must process Britain’s darker history to become a forward-thinking nation – Olusoga
During Mortgage Solutions’ Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF) leadership masterclass, Olusoga said Black and colonial history was interwoven into many of the events that shaped Britain today.
He said this explained why conversations about modern racism following the Black Lives Matter protests in last year centred around historical people and events.
Olusoga said: “Histories – many of them connected to those stories of slavery, empire and race that have been papered over, unprocessed for centuries – are now coming to the surface.”
He said this was partly down to the British education system, which tended to leave out the part Britain played in slavery and how that contributed to current successes and wealth.
For Olusoga, it was only when he went to university that he learned the cotton which helped to bring about the 18th century Industrial Revolution in the north of England was picked by enslaved people in the Americas.
“That story is intimately interconnected with the story of American slavery. And American slavery in a large part is funded and fuelled by Britain’s economic and banking wealth.
“The mortgages that were used to buy the land and the enslaved people in the deep south came predominantly, overwhelmingly, from British banks. The British were invested in every stage,” Olusoga said.
Olusoga also made reference to traditions typically associated with Britain such as drinking tea.
He said the tea originated from China and was grown in India for the British market. The sugar cane harvested to sweeten tea came from Asia but was grown in the Caribbean by African slaves and drank in crockery commonly dubbed ‘China’.
He said Britain’s customs were “global by its absolute nature” but said people tended to “disguise the global, colonial aspects of our history and our culture”.
Processing realities of the past
History has been used by some as a source of recreation and comfort, making it difficult for people to reckon with the harder parts of Britain’s past, Olusoga suggested.
However, he said history was meant to be challenging and the focus should be on what actually happened rather than what people wanted it to be.
He said: “Some nations are able to confront the darker chapters of their history and to process them and take them on board. That is the nation Britain needs to become.
“It is history and relevant to all of us. Without it we start telling falsehoods, like an industrial revolution that doesn’t mention slavery,” he added.
As well as looking at the legacy of Britain, Olusoga said it was also necessary to look at the nation’s trajectory and acknowledge how things had progressed over time.
He said: “One of two things can be possible; either we are the luckiest people in the world to have ever lived because we are the only nation in history that’s only done good. Always been on the right side of history.
“Or Britain is like every other country that’s ever existed. It’s done some good stuff and it’s done some bad stuff.”
Acknowledging our shared histories
When asked why politicians did not use recent events to review Britain’s history, Olusoga said it was not being addressed because it created an opportunity to use division for electoral gain.
Alternatively, companies have been taking it upon themselves to address Britain’s past independently of state action.
Olusoga said multiple organisations were looking into their financial DNA, how it connected to the legacy of slavery and imperialism to issue reports and recommendations for restorative justice.
He said reparations could become an option for organisations to come to terms with their past, make amends and address current inequalities in society.
On an interpersonal level, Olusoga said people had the responsibility to listen to those who are part of Britain’s multicultural society, as it was worse to deny their histories now the truths had been unveiled.
Olusoga said: “What you’re asking in modern Britain, is for people for whom this history can never be anything other than horrific, people who are descendants of enslaved people – you’re asking them to pretend this wasn’t the case.
“You’re saying: ‘We know that this means something different to you, we know that your ancestors were victims of this, but we’ve decided our desire to live in a fantasy world is more important than confronting the pain your ancestors went through’.”
He added: “We can’t let our history and men who have been in their graves for two centuries stand in the way of us becoming the diverse, multi-cultural and forward-thinking country that anyone who has a belief in Britain could see we could become.”
DIFF podcast: ‘Silence is a form of complicity’ – the benefits of raising difficult conversations
It also heard about the steps two major financial organisations are taking to engage with people from diverse and underrepresented groups within their workforces.
Real examples were relayed of how diverse backgrounds can bring benefits in the mortgage industry.
Speaking on the podcast, Ali Crossley, managing director of partnerships at Legal & General Insurance, explained how important it was to be driving change within workplaces to make them more diverse and inclusive.
“It’s about how everyone can be themselves in the workplace no matter what they look like, where they come from, what they sound like or anything else,” she said.
“And any benchmarks or focus, on insuring that is absolutely the case, and making organisations really think about it, and no longer being silent on these matters, is important.
“Silence is a form of complicity, frankly. We’ve avoided these difficult conversations for too many decades and it feels now is a time for us to act.
“It’s fantastic that we’re having this conversation and that we see many organisations rallying around and really focusing in this space.
“I really hope this is the decade we see a seismic shift in these areas that need to have been sorted out years ago,” she added.
Helped brokers and underwriters to understand
Crossley was speaking to AE3Media ambassador at large Bharat Sagar, and they were joined by Saj Latif, national account manager at Lloyds Banking Group.
Latif discussed his experiences growing up and being the only Muslim child in a Roman Catholic school before then entering the world of finance.
He explained how his background had helped to support customers who may otherwise have lost out and gave a powerful example:
“Being able to understand how the Asian community works has definitely helped,” Latif said.
“Not many people understand some customs in Asian community, especially when it comes to financing and getting onto the housing ladder. They will build a deposit through effectively a social savings scheme called a Kamaytti.
“Say you have ten people saving £100 a month, and in ten months’ time will earn £1,000. This Kamaytti lets you pull out that £1,000 early, but you have to keep paying in for the full ten months.
“What I’ve previously done when I’ve talked to brokers about this, I’ve helped our underwriters to understand the concept, and this has definitely helped brokers and in turn customers to secure finance.
“Without that knowledge, the customers would not have had the finance to buy the house, certainly not at that time through us,” he added.
Role models and recruitment
Latif also noted that it “absolutely helps” to have role models from similar diverse backgrounds in senior positions.
“It does give me a sense of belonging and confidence that progression is there if you’ve got the ability and that’s probably not the same for some of my colleagues in other places,” he said.
He is currently involved in several initiatives within Lloyds Banking Group, including being part of a working party.
He is helping colleagues to understand the impact of racism and unconscious biases in a safe workplace space.
“I’m also going to be having conversations about recruitment policy and process and ultimately make it a whole lot easier for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people applying for roles,” he added.
Reverse mentoring culture shift
Crossley then explained the reverse mentoring venture which L&G is introducing, where eight executives are mentored by a member of one of the diversity groups that have been identified.
“I’m really excited about this,” she said.
“The whole idea is to make sure that the people at the top of the insurance business can walk in the shoes to understand what it feels like, what the issues might be, to be in one of these groups.
“That’s the idea, to basically open the mind and open the eyes and to listen and to learn and its something you can only go on your own experience.”
The intention is then to roll it out across the organisation to other parts of L&G and also throughout the insurance business, not just senior level.
“We’re starting there because this is going to have to be a top-down cultural shift, and signal that this is the right thing to do, so people can be their full selves when they come to work,” she added.
DIFF podcast: ‘No, but where are you really from?’ – the rise of micro-aggressions
These small verbal or physical actions may appear innocuous to the person delivering them but can be underpinned by a variety of stereotypes, misunderstandings or even deliberate discrimination.
Speaking on the DIFF podcast, Variety Pack CEO and founder Frank Starling explained micro-aggressions often impact people who are underrepresented in the workplace but anyone can express a micro-aggression.
“Micro-aggressions are typical common daily verbal behaviours or environmental actions or slights, which are usually derogatory, which are often automatic and unintentional and often delivered by well-intentioned individuals who are completely unaware they are committing a micro-aggression,” he said.
“In short it’s unintentional discrimination and that is something we need to understand far better.
“What do micro-aggressions mean in the day-to-day and how can we be more cognisant of the language and the general communication we exhibit not just in the workplace but society as a whole?”
Speaking to AE3Media ambassador at large Bharat Sagar, Starling noted there were three types of micro-aggressions:
- Micro-insults – These are often unconscious, behavioural or verbal remarks or comments that infer some sort of rudeness or insensitivity and typically demean a person’s heritage or identity.
- Micro assaults – This happens less often in the workplace and involves explicit characterisations which are either verbally violent or non-verbally violent and meant to intend harm on an individual.
- Micro-invalidations – These are often unconscious and are verbal comments or behaviours that exclude. They nullify the psychological traits or feelings or reality of an individual’s experiences.
Micro-aggressions in the workplace
The pair highlighted several powerful examples of their own experiences or suffered by those close to them in wider society and also raised two particularly relevant to the workplace.
Starling highlighted the assumption of intellectual inferiority that black people and people of colour are thought to be less intelligent.
He noted many organisations claim to have created work environments where it is a meritocracy and where the best people are hired based on their skills. But this can be problematic.
“If our environment is homogenous and we only hired white people that infers the best people must not be those who identify as black and people of colour,”.
“Whereas in reality we know the barriers exist with people of racial groups or those who speak different languages to enter the workplace and flourish in senior leadership.”
And micro-aggressions are not limited to race or ethnicity.
Starling continued: “An example of a gender-based micro-aggression is sexual objectification and that is something which is exceptionally common, especially in industries such as property and finance, when the woman is treated essentially as a sexual object.
“This isn’t just troublesome it’s demeaning, it shouldn’t happen, it’s something that is clearly unacceptable.”
Find allies and challenge ourselves
They key thing was to then identify how to avoid making assumptions based on what is seen or on harmful stereotypes – to focus on the words used and the actions demonstrated.
To successfully do so in workplaces needs a strong culture of allies.
“We’re not trying to shame and demonise people for what is often an unconscious remark or action.
What we’re trying to do is become more enlightened,” Starling said.
“Positively challenging ourselves in that way, explaining that the words or actions used could be considered a micro-aggression and that’s why we’ve got to create a work culture that is full of allies.
“Allies are individuals who recognise their unearned privilege and are more aware of when these things happen around them.”
Starling emphasised that it was important to slow one’s thinking down to consider what stereotypes are held about people and not to be afraid of realising someone may have been making misjudgements.
“Things we’ve just decided are the truth but aren’t rooted in the truth, we’ve got to challenge ourselves because these stereotypes are incredibly harmful,” he said.
“For example, when black women are considered to be angry that impacts not just their career prospects their place in society, it erodes the feeling of belonging.
“And when you expand that, there are many different examples of stereotypes that we hold which we are afraid to challenge ourselves on because we don’t want to be considered bad people.”
Frank Starling is founder and CEO of diversity, equity & inclusion consultants Variety Pack and can be contacted on: email@example.com
DIFF: ‘We cannot ignore history’ when tackling workplace inequality
Sable Lomax, director of programmes and communications at Fearless Futures, told the latest executive meeting that plenty could be done to help improve representation and equality in the workplace and society, but it depended on systemic restructuring, not just pushing individuals into the spotlight.
She emphasised biases could not be undone without acknowledging the in-built privileges some people had been given, accepting what minority groups had been through in the past and the resulting long-lasting impacts.
Lomax (pictured) began the session asking a series of simple yet eye-opening questions related to undertaking typical daily life activities to help the audience understand what some people take for granted but can leave others in fear.
“How does it affect you if you always live in fear?” she asked, before highlighting that these situations had been woven into society for generations and by design.
“There are a few different ways with which you can address these long-term societal issues – be it sexism, racism, disablism, islamophobia, colonisalism, anti-semitism and so on,” Lomax said.
“There are lots of things we can do but we cannot ignore the history that explains how we got to a place where today we are not all starting at the same line.
“Imagine how it might feel – the diminishment of someone’s lived experience – if you walked up to them and just said, ‘ok we’re just going to level the playing field’. The ability to say that in and of itself is a privilege.”
‘It’s by design’
Being able to identify and understand that someone was in a position of privilege is the first step in addressing that situation.
“First you have to figure out what you don’t know,” Lomax said.
“Privileges are often invisible to those who have them. They are not only unearned advantages, but it’s by design – designed by laws, policies, practices, society and also within our workplace.
“How do we end up with institutions across society where senior leadership is not only male, but CIS white male, heterosexual, non-Jewish, non-Muslim, non-disabled white male?
“That’s not just happen chance, it’s by design.”
Within workplaces, it is important to identify who is given legitimacy, who belongs there and who is questioned.
“Thinking about colleagues and co-workers, who has the freedom to just breathe and be at any given moment?” Lomax added.
‘What am I missing?’
Workplace leaders should begin by asking themselves “What am I missing here?”, removing the lens of their identity and understanding how they can educate themselves better.
“So much of this is on learning,” Lomax continued. “Education is not the end all be all, if the education we are receiving is historically inaccurate or missing lots of things and the experiences of millions of people.”
“When we don’t understand a new concept or new thing, we’ll go to google and figure it out. But when it comes to all things inclusion all of a sudden the smartest of adults ask ‘What do I do?’”
Questions such as what are the ways sexism shows in the workplace? Or what are the ways black people are dehumanised in the workplace? can be the start of the learning process.
The manifestation of the criminalisation of black people can continue in the workplace without police involvement.
Examples such as increased security checks or by considering someone as aggressive when saying the same thing while someone else is considered passionate can all illustrate the in-built biases.
Lomax asked attendees to consider how they can educate themselves to ensure they are not perpetuating these systems in inter-personal behaviours and unlearn what they have been taught.
“You don’t just wake up one day and discover your privileges, this is a lifelong process,” she said.
“What you’ll begin to notice is many of these experiences are not homogenous at all.”
Addressing the question of ‘What about me?’ responses, Lomax said: “When privilege is invisible to those that have it, I expect the ‘What about me?’ argument, because you don’t realise the world has been designed for you.
‘It’s not about individuals, it’s the system’
Lomax concluded with the issue of relying on more people of minority groups getting into positions of power but not improving situations for others.
She noted that while visibility of under-represented groups could help, isolated representation alone would not solve the issue.
“Representation in roles of power is an important piece of addressing the issue, however you can absolutely have someone from these communities be in positions of power who perpetuates the status quo,” she said.
“If you’re in proximity to power, you don’t want to lose that power so you maintain the status quo, you protect that status quo, which is the issue with representations being the be all and end all to fix these things.”
Instead, the solutions came from re-writing the systems and structures within society.
“To get to a space where it’s not the end of the world where the one woman who makes it can ruin it for all women underneath her, is the idea that we have to redesign our policies, our practices, our laws, because that’s where these systems are perpetuated,” Lomax continued
“To make a place more equitable and inclusive, it’s not about the individual, it is about the system.
“If it was about the individual, when all the individuals passed away that created the system it would go away, but it’s so embedded and baked into the space, where one woman doesn’t have that big an impact, we have to look at why is only one woman there in the first place?
“That requires structural redesign, which is not easy.”