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  • Angela Malik

How do you shift unconscious biases in the workplace?

Updated: Oct 8, 2019

National Inclusion Week, which ran from 23 to 29 September, was one of many national events to take place last month. It was a good opportunity to stand back and assess how far we have – or haven’t – come regarding the diversity and inclusion (D&I) conversation in our industry. 


D&I has become an increasingly important part of corporate strategy. An evolved set of values leads to better-performing people, resulting in better-performing companies and higher share prices – “profit with purpose” as Black Rock chief executive Larry Fink describes it. He says it’s crucial businesses make a “positive contribution to society” – and he plans to hold them to account.


Accountability is taking front seat in our sector too. In early September, I led a business panel of senior sustainability executives from Greggs, Sodexo and Tesco, hosted by impact investor Hermes Investment Management, to take part in Plating Up Progress, a two-part collaborative project from the Food Foundation and the Food Climate Research Network. The aim was to scope a set of metrics that could help businesses and their investors assess food companies’ progress in transitioning to sustainable and healthy food. Disclosure is no longer enough and organisations must create measures of their success and societal impact. It’s what we are going to be measured against by the next generation.


After much activism such as #metoo, great strides have been taken to bring gender to the forefront of organisational consciousness and we have become comfortable with gender equality as a key metric of corporate diversity. Since changes to the Equality Act came into force in April 2017, companies with more than 250 employees have been legally required to report annual gender pay gap figures and the Hampton-Alexander Review has committed, through its annual disclosure report, to achieving the 33% target for women on boards and in leadership teams of FTSE 350 companies by 2020.


A glimpse through the 2018 Hampton report reveals the travel and leisure sector still lags woefully behind. We do have some worthy mentions, however, with Whitbread ranked tenth and Intercontinental Hotels Group 24th. Racial diversity, however, is even further behind and sits in a similar spot to where LGBT was 20 years ago, with no-one knowing how or where to start the conversation. 


As Women in Hospitality, Travel and Leisure 2020 (WiH2020) advisory board member on race and ethnicity, I was invited to present a session on “being BAME in hospitality, travel and leisure” to an audience of C-suite and HR leaders.


The aim of the session was to share experience of being a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) person working in our industry, sharing the challenges experienced every day and discussing why it’s important to shift unconscious biases. We are still at the beginning of building truly racially inclusive organisations and my top three “must dos” are:


Understand the definition of BAME – appreciate intersectionality: Break down BAME into which minorities it covers. Ensure understanding of the racial backgrounds and differences in religion, ethnicity etc.


Radical recruitment: Have clear targets for the percentage of BAME candidates, for example 10% of a shortlist. Expand into a broader search pool and partner with networks and firms who can help.


Relationships and role models: Raise the profile of key BAME professionals in your organisation. Encourage role models to tell their stories through different mediums such as videos, lunch and learns, and podcasts. Consider reverse mentoring, BAME on BAME mentoring, and BAME on non-BAME mentoring across the organisation.


First published in Propel Friday Opinion.