I'm a director in the People and Culture team and I've been with the firm for 12 years.
I grew up in a working class mining community near Pontefract in West Yorkshire. I left home when I was 18 to go to university, the first in my family to do so and then moved to London when I was 21.
One moment when I felt excluded was when I first moved to London and started my first graduate job. One of my colleagues organised a wine and cheese evening after work. We were all asked to bring our favourite wine and our favourite cheese. Growing up, we didn't have fancy wines or fancy cheeses at home and I was completely panicked about what to bring. I even considered making an excuse and not going.
I was worried at the time about being exposed and maybe feeling like I didn't fit in. I was also worried that my new colleagues might make assumptions about my background, or how good I would be at my new job because of how well I did or didn't fit in with them all.
At the time, I dealt with this situation by faking it. I called my friend who I knew would have a good wine and a good cheese recommendation and went and bought what they suggested. That came with a whole different set of anxieties, though, around being caught out as a fake or trying to be something that I wasn't.
Navigating the world
It is a little bit like navigating the world as a gay man. Sometimes it's easier to come out before other people out you. I arrived at the party with a decent wine and a decent cheese but quickly admitted the fact that I got lots of help with it, made a joke of it and hoped that it would be fine.
I think there might be similar things that would happen today. Lots of these things are set up with really positive intentions, but are sometimes not thought through from an inclusion perspective. I think now that I'm a little bit older, I'd be a bit more confident. I'd love to just rock up with Dairylea and cheap rosé, and own who I am!
"I'd love to just rock up with Dairylea and cheap rosé, and own who I am!"
What I’ve taken away from this experience is, if you're organising a team social, think as inclusively as possible. But also, if you're attending something, be confident to be who you are and own the difference that you have.
And it is important to remember that we all have unconscious biases. I realised that one unconscious bias that I had was actually geared towards or against people who looked a lot like me in certain ways. Growing up, at secondary school I often got bullied, and some of that was homophobic. To cope, I often said to myself: “why do you care what these people think? They're ignorant you're not. You're going to do something with your life, and they're not.”
While that was great as a coping mechanism as a teenager, it led to some unhealthy ways of thinking as an adult. By realising and unpicking that, I could tap into what my own unconscious biases are, and realise something I had not previously known. Overcoming such feelings is 95% about understanding and recognising those that you have them.
When I’m in situations now where those teenage survival instincts kick back in, I notice it quickly. I understand why I'm feeling a certain way and move myself quickly around it, really appreciating that generalisations about a big group of people based on their social background, their gender, or their ethnicity, isn't helpful or fair to those individuals.
I think we should always try and be much more open about discussing difference. Some of the best conversations that I have with friends or colleagues are about our backgrounds, what makes us unique and our different perspectives on the world. At work, if we are faced with a situation or a challenge, by knowing each other better, we can understand why we're all reacting in different ways or trying to solve the challenge differently.
Spotting unconscious ways of thinking is really powerful because it means we can do something about it. We can unpick it and we can be much more inclusive in how we approach the world and other people.