Sasha Scott runs The Inclusive Group, which over the last 15 years has educated and facilitated over 50,000 professionals, from lawyers to members of the armed forces, on the need for authenticity and acceptance in the workplace. Sasha recently provided training to Debevoise’s London office on unconscious bias.
Sasha, who identifies as LGBT, is considered an international thought-leader on diversity, bias, inclusivity and managing psychological health. Sasha worked in banking and finance in London for over 13 years and was employed as a derivatives trader on the trading floor of Credit Lyonnaise and as a Director within Fixed Income at UBS. Sasha has a degree in Psychology, is a qualified behavioral coach (as recognized by the Institute of Leadership and Management) and has studied counseling at the London School of Economics. Sasha has appeared on the BBC, and has been published in The Times, The Guardian, City AM, The Lawyer, Law Gazette, Accountancy Age, Complient, Personnel Today, and Recruiter magazine.
I recently had a discussion with Sasha on unconscious bias and mindfulness, and their relevance to working in London. This interview has been condensed from its original form.
ON GENDER IN THE WORKPLACE
Q. Do you think there is still an "old boys network" in London?
Yes, absolutely. There are multiple manifestations of it, but it is more subtle and nuanced than it was ten years ago. For example, marketing and business entertainment are still often focused on sport. There is also the issue of dynamics within a team, especially in corporate environments; even without explicit comments, there can be subtle behaviors and attitudes indicative of an “old boys network.” One interesting aspect of this is the impact that this can have on more junior members of such a team; for example, junior staff may “mirror behaviors” – replicate and emulate the behavior of the senior team members in order to fit in and win work.
Q. What advice would you give a law firm looking to increase the number of women in its partner ranks?
This is a very big question – and there can never be a single answer to it. It requires a joined-up, concerted effort. I am a fan of targets – I think it is important to have positive aspirations – but not a fan of quotas – women do not want to be promoted because of their sex, but because they are the smartest person for the job. You have to couple that with a very strong inclusivity strategy, which means not isolating men either. You can compare this to the use of straight allies to promote LGBT team members. Research shows that you need to move toward at least a 30% or 40% gender balance in order for a women to be heard – there is a tipping point, so there is a need to aim for that at least. You also need high profile role models, who women aspire to be. And then there is the issue of women who are senior helping other women progress, and not pulling the ladder up behind them – this is known as the “glass stiletto” paradigm.
Unconscious bias training is another important aspect. We all have unconscious biases, and we are much less rational than we like to think we are. This needs to be incorporated into internal processes – from how staff is recruited, to how team members are staffed on projects, to what kind of corporate entertainment is provided. There is also the interesting idea of “behavioral nudges,” – getting people to do something without restraining freedom of choice and without financial incentives, but by changing the choice architecture. For example, instead of fining people for littering, it can be more effective to, for example, place green footprints on the ground, pointing the way to the nearest rubbish bin. This could be applicable to reducing gender discrimination, for example by using phrases like “working fathers” (to counterbalance “working mothers”), and making flex/part time options in job descriptions opt-out instead of opt-in.
Q. What advice would you give to an aspiring female lawyer?
Women do sometimes need to work on self-esteem and confidence in the workplace, to make sure they lean in and don’t undersell themselves. It is also important to get good role models and get a mentor, who need not be from the same sector. I also encourage aspiring lawyers to flag the business case for greater gender diversity and encourage their employers to embrace it.
ON UNCONSCIOUS BIAS
Q. You provide training on unconscious bias. Do women in professional organizations tend to have similar unconscious bias traits?
Yes, to some extent. Women may well kick back against old-school, male, white individuals whom they may perceive to be misogynistic - this in itself can be a generational bias. The main unconscious bias that lawyers tend to have in law firms though is on the basis of status and function, because law firms can be very hierarchical environments. So, for example, biases may exist toward secretaries and cleaners. It is also very possible to be biased against your own type. One estimate suggests we each have 150 individual biases at any one time!
Q. Do you think unconscious bias impacts women’s chances of promotion and success?
Absolutely, yes – no question about it. If you are working with someone who does not connect with you, you are less likely to get along as well with them as other people might, and other people who have affinity with the decision makers will get promoted over you.
Q. Do you have any particular role models or people you think are inspiring?
One example is Inga Beale, the first female chief executive of Lloyd’s of London and the first woman and bisexual person to head the annual power list of the top 100 LGBT executives. She is a very interesting person and she has stated that she has had to be careful not to just surround herself with people similar to her.
Q. How can we avoid blaming others for their unconscious bias – especially when it involves delicate issues such as race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and disability?
One thing to remember is that we all have our own unconscious bias; everyone does. It may well be a difficult conversation to bring it up, but it is definitely worth raising it if it is a problem. It is best to raise it informally if you can. By doing nothing, you condone the behavior. It is a good idea to make your point as objectively as possible. Also, be careful about what language you use. “Bias” itself is now getting a very negative label, much like “diversity.” Try to get your message across in a neutral way. One interesting aspect about bias is to realize that it can be regionally specific – for example, the unconscious bias that an English colleague may have against another English colleague’s accent, may well be completely lost on a U.S. colleague. You might also see bias between different nationalities in the same organization, based on the stereotypes they give one another. If you can make someone aware of unconscious bias generally, it can have a positive impact on them from a career perspective and a personal development perspective.
Q. You also provide training on mindfulness. How can mindfulness help women in their careers?
Mindfulness can help anyone be more resilient and has proven benefits for mental health. The National Health Service (UK) (“NHS”) now endorses it as a remedy for stress, depression and anxiety, and it is increasingly being introduced into schools in the United Kingdom. Goldie Hawn is also spearheading the campaign to get mindfulness into more U.S. schools. For me, it is a no-brainer.
Q. If you had to choose between training people on mindfulness or unconscious bias – which would you choose?
I think mindfulness is actually more important, as it is more inextricably linked with general mental health and mental awareness and can be a very useful tool. It is essentially free and can be incredibly beneficial, especially if you can get into the habit of practicing mindfulness regularly.