October 11, 2016

Diversity – young people should never settle for the status quo

Diversity – young people should never settle for the status quo

Grace Megroz, June 2015

The topic for the first unpresentation held by the Perth Global Shapers Hub was ‘diversity and managing public perception’. We were fortunate to have Yassmin Abdel-Magied plant the seed for our conversation by speaking on the topics of unconscious bias, and the challenges of being a leader from a ‘diverse’ background who will often have to mange their public perception so as to appeal and ‘speak to’ ddifferent groups in order to maximise the change that they can effect.

It’s worth noting that the unpresentation format doesn’t seek to answer all of the questions it throws up with definite answers (interrogation of ideas began at the outset, with recognition of the unsatisfactory nature of the term ‘diverse’, but a pragmatic resolve to use it as the least unsatisfactory term we could think of!). The unpresentation allowed everyone to contribute with their own knowledge and experience in an extremely interactive way,

The breadth of ideas explored aside, I took away three main points from the discussion on unconscious bias. First we all need to call out unconscious bias when we see it. Secondly, we need to be open and kind in the way we bring unconscious bias to people’s attention (after all, we all have them!), and thirdly we need to be aware of and guard against our own unconscious biases – this last point seems key to understanding that the level of influence and pernicious effect of unconscious bias on diversity very much stems from its unconscious nature.

Another key insight came from Yassmin speaking on a personal level, about how had she had not been genuinely backed by people who were very different to her, she would not be in the position she is today. Yassmin championed the idea that one of the best ways to combat a lack of diversity in all walks of life, particularly leadership, is for individuals to mentor people who are different from themselves. Throughout this discussion, I reflected on my work with Ignite Mentoring, an organisation that provides support to students from underprivileged backgrounds by offering uni students as mentors to high school students. Listening to Yassmin cemented the importance of, and my commitment to, a proposed expansion of Ignite Mentoring’s reach, which would provide the opportunity of having past uni mentors (now in the work force) and past high school mentees continue to stay connected.

This Shapers unpresentation made me realise that diversity starts with all of us. We need to acknowledge unconscious bias, and through awareness change behaviours. Young people need to support under represented groups in our community to empower them with the confidence and skills to succeed. And as we go through life, we should strive to mentor people who are different from ourselves.