Top 5 Ted Talks About Diversity in The Workplace

I first heard of TED in 2008, when someone sent me Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing talk about what she learned from the experience of having a stroke.

TED Talks are awesome. They are intellectually stimulating and wildly entertaining. They’re a stage where academics, scientists, boffins and philosophers shine a light on any “ideas worth spreading” and give them to the world… for free.

Here are five TED Talks that are both enjoyable to watch and useful in helping you get a better understanding of diversity in the workplace. Whether it’s to better understand your own unconscious biases or learning practical tips on how to overcome them these talks are a must watch for anyone interested in diversity.

1. The Surprising Solution to Workplace Diversity- Arwa Mahdawi

Arwa Mahdawi opens her talk by trying not to brag, but doing so anyway:

“I’m a three-fer, I’m brown, I’m gay, and I’m a woman. When companies hire me, they get to tick three diversity boxes!”

As everyone knows, tackling diversity in the workplace is really hard and takes a lot of time and effort. Her tongue-in-cheek solution: Rent-A-Minority.

“It’s like an uber for diversity”

On the site, you can pick from any of the family favourites, such as: “Cheerful Woman of Color”; “Smiling Muslim Woman”, “Intellectual Black Guy”, and everyone’s favourite: “Ethnically Ambiguous”.

The problem underpinning her joke is fairly straightforward: people’s approach to diversity is too superficial, and it’s causing problems.

By focusing on demographically “obvious” signs of diversity, it is undermining the achievements that minorities achieve: “If you are someone like me, every time you do have a success, people are very quick to attribute it to tokenism or a diversity scheme”.

2. Implicit Bias — how it affects us and how we push through | Melanie Funchess

This TED talk focuses on three main stories of everyday biases, all associated around Melanie’s life.

The first of which involves her husband, who, when he was taken ill, was repeatedly tested for HIV despite none of the usual symptoms and multiple negative tests. It was only when Melanie asked the doctors to “test him for what white people get” was he finally diagnosed.

The next was set in a classroom, where a schoolgirl (her), got the answer to a problem on a blackboard right, before anyone else in the class. After telling her she was wrong, the schoolgirl checked again. And again. Finally, she used a calculator to ensure that she had got the answer right, to the thousandth digit. Her teacher’s’ response? “Can’t you get anything right” followed by a racial slur.

Melanie happily admits that this was in the past. Surely these type of things don’t happen anymore?

Fast forward 40 years to when her daughter was in 9th grade (with enough credits to be in 10th grade). Her daughter had dreams of going to Cornell and being a neuroscientist. Dreams which she shared with her guidance counsellor. To which he responded: “ That’s a big dream, but let’s look at something more… realistic”

“The words have changed, but the bias remains the same”

3. It’s About Time We Challenge Our Unconscious Biases | Juliette Powell

In a TED talk that was largely re-written on the day due to a discussion with a taxi man on the way to the airport, Juliette Powell, a former Miss Canada, discusses how little relevance this should have while studying mechanical engineering.

Juliette discusses the inherent and unconscious biases that we pick up as we go through life, and how damaging they are for our lives.

“Is that really what I think or am I just toting the social line, because it’s just easier and faster? That’s what inherent biases are”

4. Are you biased? I am | Kristen Pressner

Kristen Pressner is a global HR leader and advocate of women in leadership. This makes her opening quote, “I have a bias against women leaders”, all the more surprising.

Pressner discovered this almost entirely by accident when two people in the same week asked for their compensation to be reviewed. The first was accepted without any hesitation, and the second was challenged. Guess which one was a woman?

It was only a few days later that she stopped to think about the fact that these incidents could be related. Surely she couldn’t be biased, she has hired and promoted lots of women into leadership positions, and yet she was acting against her own beliefs.

It was only chance that she managed to catch herself doing this, and if she hadn’t have done so, she may never have known that she treated a man in woman in a nearly identical situation differently. This begs her to ask the question “how many times have I not caught myself? How many times have you not caught yourself?”

This is where she comes up with the idea: “Flip it to test it”. If you think something you are saying or doing may be subject to your unconscious bias rather than your conscious values, flip it and see if you feel the same way. The example she uses refers to a twitter account (Man who has it all) that takes phrases in the media and gender flips them for comedic effect:

“We already have one male on our board so no, we won’t be recruiting any more. The pendulum has swung too far the other way.” Claire CEO

5. Practical diversity: taking inclusion from theory to practice | Dr Dawn Bennett-Alexander

Dr Bennett-Alexander starts off with an anecdote about her daughter: When the family moved from Washington DC to Jacksonville, the first thing they did was to find a doctor. The doctor came into the waiting room and saw a patient. “Mommy, who was that?”, asked the four-year-old daughter. When informed that he was the doctor, her daughter said: “He can’t be the doctor, he is white.”

Her life experiences so far had led her to believe that only black people could be doctors because that is all she had seen. While you may be more nuanced than a toddler, this just shows how early on our prejudices can sink in.

“I realised that it was entirely possible to have an idea of who you are and what you are about, and do something totally at odds to it.”

The talk then goes on to talk about how the concept of practical diversity developed from Dr Bennett Alexander’s legal background, rather than “ ideas of people sitting around singing kumbaya”. The idea is that by using employment law, companies can avoid discriminatory acts, and avoid lawsuits, like the trucking company that was sued for $15million in 2015.

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