Inclusion & diversity

Unconscious bias: Jacob's story

By:
Jacob Robertson
As a young black man, I have faced challenges particularly when trying to navigate the corporate field. The feeling of exclusion, unfortunately, is one that I am quite familiar with.

 Jacob is actually my middle name, but after months of applying to jobs using my real name, Anu, and getting rejection after rejection I realised I needed to change my name to be more Eurocentric. After I changed my name on applications to Jacob, immediately I received more positive responses to applications and was invited to interviews.

I’ve been at Grant Thornton for almost two years now and, while my team and the wider firm are supportive and accepting, I know not every professional environment is as accepting. I know colleagues within the firm who have joined, and then asked to be called by their real name and everyone has accepted this, which is reassuring to hear.

"The addition of name pronunciation in email footers helps"

Things like the addition of name pronunciation in email footers helps with this. But for me, right now it feels easier to keep using Jacob as my professional name.

I really would like to give kudos to my team here. We’re a small but diverse team and I feel really included and valued. It’s a real melting pot of different cultures. Having been through the process of feeling like I can’t be myself fully, after joining the team, little by little, I realised that it’s OK to be me and show who I really am. And while many know that Jacob is my professional name, they respect my decision to continue using that name and I appreciate that.

Do I feel like in the future I may be comfortable enough to use my real name? I’d like to think so, as it can lead to some mental and psychological setbacks. It can make you feel downtrodden having to separate yourself into ‘work’ you and the authentic you. I would like to hope that there is a future in this society where individuals don’t feel the need to mask themselves.

But, I don’t come from a place of idealism; I come from a place of realism and from what I can see within wider society I, personally, don’t see that being the case for the foreseeable future.

Embracing difference

You can’t hide from difference, and our differences ultimately are reflective of the wider corporate workplace as a whole. We live in a diverse and multi-cultural society and it’s very important to me that we embrace those differences instead of shying away from them. At Grant Thornton, we’re very good at celebrating different cultures and showcasing people across the firm, allowing people to be themselves.

It’s through our differences that we can move together, and push together forcefully, in the sense that having a difference of opinion or a different perspective, it really opens you up to the reality of certain things. That's something that we shouldn't shy away from.

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