Why Braving Your Biases Will Improve Your Business

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At MEC – as with many creative businesses – our culture is of the utmost importance. As a result, about three years ago, we launched our Thrive manifesto, with the motto ‘Don’t just live, thrive’.

To truly thrive, you need to have a voice that is listened to, within an environment where everyone feels they can speak up and contribute –where we acknowledge people are individual, unique and with different needs, whilst being truly inclusive and embracing everybody’s contribution.

There’s a lot of conversation around diversity right now, and of course, diversity is really important. But we wanted to look through the lens of inclusivity to embrace diversity rather than through more traditional approaches.

Of course we recognise that we can improve in areas of gender – particularly around areas of senior leadership – as well as in terms of ethnicity, disability, and some of those more physical elements of diversity that people tend to focus on.

But we’re really interested in the softer elements too. Things like people’s styles of working – introverts versus extroverts, say. As an industry, and as a company, we’re highly dominated by extroverts, but we have a lot of introverts within our culture. I think particularly as our industry evolves, and in terms of how digital, data and programmatic is progressing, and with the more technical and functional specialist areas of our businesses are evolving at pace, we’re bringing in very different types of people who like to work in different ways.

So how do we ensure all of those people feel that they can contribute, share their perspectives and that they’re listened to?  Even down to meeting structures, to make sure that the quiet person in the room is not someone who’s ignored?

That’s why we came up with Brave Your Bias – where we ask people to take The Harvard Implicit Association Test to uncover inherent personal biases and understand how to how they affect our decision making and interactions with people.

As the name suggests, unconscious bias is something that we are vastly unaware of. Bias isn’t something that can be trained our or eradicated, it is instinctive and triggered by the brain making fast judgments of people and situations. The biggest influencers are our upbringings and surroundings, and how we have been encouraged to process personal experiences, so we need to raise awareness and ask people to be personally accountable.

We also wanted to take a good hard look at who MEC is right now – so we came up with the ‘face of MEC’, where we take photos of all our employees and merge them into one face. We 100% intend this to be a globally driven cultural transformation for the whole of MEC, but we’re using our offices at Sea Containers House here in London to kickstart it.

We figured the face would be young, white and with more masculine features and that’s pretty much the face that we have.

We wanted to have a data point to show people – to say, we know we need to think about diversity more and this is evidence that says within this office, the face of MEC is male, young and white – and we need to change that.

We took both these elements to Ad Week Europe, where we created the Face of Advertising. Delegates were encouraged to have their photo taken and then we used a bespoke facial merging tool to create a real-time data visualisation of what most people working in the industry today look like. We asked attendees to take the Harvard test and pledge to brave their bias, with diversity coach Sasha Scott on hand to help people with their biases and share helpful top tips around unconscious bias and the results of their Harvard Test so they can continue the conversation – and hopefully take the idea back to their businesses.

We wanted to create a conversation and get the message across to people that bias is inherent in all of us. It doesn’t make us bad – it actually makes us normal. We’re not judging any individual for having biases, no matter what they are, we just want to raise awareness with people so they can start thinking more about how their biases influence their decision making.

We already asked everyone in our London office to take at least one of the Harvard tests. We selected six – gender science, gender career, age, disability, skin tone and weight. We have a fantastic huge wall in MEC now covered in the names of people who have taken the test and have pledged to Brave Their Bias.

For example, you can be a successful female leader, yet have an unconscious bias towards women as caregivers and men as career professionals.

We’ve brought in a diversity coach to help people with their biases, both on an individual and a group level in order to combat both issues of diversity and unconscious bias head on.

We’re helping people explore their own biases or any they feel might exist at MEC so we can all work together to create this inclusive work force.

We really hope other agencies – and other businesses outside of our industry – will be brave enough to do this themselves. There’s a lot of talk about diversity at the moment after all – we just hope more companies will do more than just talk about it and put their money where their mouth is. After all, it makes good business sense at the end of the day – diversity and inclusivity improves the bottom line after all.

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