Farhan Muhammad, Financial Services Audit Manager, shares his experience of unconscious bias and explains the steps Grant Thornton is taking to combat it in the workplace.

I'm of Pakistani descent, born and brought up outside the UK. I came to the UK a few years ago, initially joining another audit firm before arriving at Grant Thornton in 2022.

Each of us is unique. I know I am too. We all have difference, and mine is my skin colour and my background.

Sometimes, difference can make you feel excluded. In certain situations like team lunches and social events, I can feel disconnected from the group. Like I just don’t fit in. This struck me most when I first came to the UK. One of the things I noticed was that a lot of people limited their social interactions to people of the same skin colour – in other words, ‘people like them’. As this became more obvious to me, it’s made me gradually become more introverted in those sorts of scenarios.

Unconscious behaviour

I know most of the time it’s not intentional exclusion. It’s unconscious behaviour and it’s very natural.

Unconscious bias refers to implicit biases or prejudices that people hold at an unconscious level, which can impact their perceptions and interactions with others based on factors such as race, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status. 

We’re living in a diverse society and if I find myself in a minority group – sometimes a minority of one – I know I need to either make the extra effort to fit in, or stand on the sidelines, observe the discussion, and wait for someone to talk to me.

Employers like Grant Thornton have developed inclusion awareness training, and this helps ensure that the exclusion I sometimes experience outside of work, doesn’t manifest itself in work. At work we interact more naturally, as a team of individuals each bringing something unique to our work, and this makes me more comfortable.

We should always respect and appreciate the differences between us, as this is human nature. We need to continue to educate ourselves to learn about difference, and one of the most obvious ways of breaking down these perceived barriers between us is to ask open questions.

Taking the example of that social event, if someone had simply taken the time to ask me some questions about myself, I might have told them that I love playing and watching cricket. I also like reading books, learning new things, and I’m a great cook! I love running; I used to be the fastest runner at school in Pakistan, and I’m trying to maintain a healthy habit of running a couple of miles every other day. Suddenly, instead of highlighting our differences, we would start to build a bond around the things we’ve got in common.

"There’s a huge focus on building an inclusive environment at Grant Thornton"

I know our leadership team at Grant Thornton sees this as a core value. There’s a huge focus on building an inclusive environment here, and it’s a culture I want to be part of. In the past, I’ve seen examples of organisations that treat diversity as a tick-box exercise. As a result, the inclusivity aspect doesn’t follow, and people quickly become disengaged.

It’s quite natural that when confronted by something or someone different from you, your perceptions get challenged. Everyone has biases, including me, and we need to elevate this understanding so that we’re each aware of them, and able to mitigate them through our actions.

It's only through talking about our differences, that we can create an inclusive environment to grow.

For more information on what we're doing to ensure everyone at Grant Thornton feels included and valued, visit our inclusion and diversity hub

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