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How an Unconscious Bias Training Inspired a Marketer at Envoy to Drive Meaningful Change in the Workplace

Susannah Magers
Insights
This is a guest post from Susannah Magers, Content Marketing Manager at Envoy. Envoy is a Paradigm client.

Having a community at work is vital, affecting our productivity, morale, and sense of belonging — all core factors that inform our experience of a workplace as employees. When we think about company culture, cultivating this sense of community is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, but this is often how organizations approach building out a workplace experience strategy. 

Because we are all different — part of what I like to call an identity matrix, comprised of the intersections of a combination of conditions, background, opportunities, and variables we are exposed to and shaped by throughout our lives — how a person experiences their workplace is highly relative. It’s also contingent on how comfortable they feel to do their best work, and to their opportunities to contribute and advance. 

With this in mind, what can companies do to facilitate workplace experiences that support the nuances of all of the different kinds of people in their workforce? 

In my second week on the job, Envoy held a mandatory, company-wide unconscious bias training, facilitated by Pin-ya Tseng from Paradigm. While many of the conversations about social conditioning and stereotypes affecting outcomes around gender, background, and race in the workplace were familiar to me, having this kind of conversation in a tech workplace was not. For a new employee, this was especially encouraging. Like the presence of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs [more on that soon]), investment in a training like unconscious bias signaled that my company intentionally engages in activities that surface and explore important topics. It also showed that they wanted to establish a better understanding of how vastly disparate the workplace experience can be for people from different backgrounds.

Fast-forward almost a year later: now, I lead an ERG at Envoy (for the LGBTQAI+ community and allies), started a podcast focused on creating great workplace experiences for people of all backgrounds, and have instituted a more inclusive, creative content process. Here’s how I built the lessons and takeaways from the unconscious bias workshop into those endeavors and into my role as a content marketer.

From training participant to ERG leader 

When it comes to trainings like the unconscious bias workshop, there are those who question their efficacy — and they are right to do so. While I take the position that trainings are part of a comprehensive strategic plan to address systemic organizational issues regarding employee experience, ultimately, a single training is never a full-stop solution to solve any issue. Training needs to go beyond virtue signaling — it’s the follow through and the application of these ideas towards a consistent practice that truly counts and contributes to lasting, effective change of workplace dynamics and improved diversity and inclusion outcomes. 

ERGs, for example, can be a significant contributor to cultivating a sense of community and belonging within a workplace, especially for people from underrepresented groups. When I joined Envoy, I was thrilled to see that ERGs were a strong part of the company culture. The presence of these groups, and hearing that the company was supporting their growth and initiatives, was a key factor in my decision to join the company. It meant that there were people who shared my values around belonging, inclusion, and making sure our workplace was one where everyone could bring their full selves to work and thrive.

Inspired by the training and my company’s commitment to fostering a work environment that actively encouraged these kinds of conversations and inclusion, I set out to explore the formation of an ERG dedicated to the LGBTQAI+ community and allies. This led to the creation of Queer@Envoy. It was and remains important to me to be an active participant in intentional efforts to create, celebrate, and hold intentional safe spaces for queer-identified folks and allies within the workplace and our larger Bay Area community. This is year-round work, of course — not just during Pride month. 

A workplace experience podcast is born

Despite my self-identification as a life-long learner, I realized I was suffering slightly from imposter syndrome. When it came to thinking outside of the box in my approach to content creation, I needed to push past the anxiety (hey, I had already gotten up in front of the entire company in my third week on the job and essentially come out by announcing the formation of Queer@Envoy) and take another risk: I was going to stop thinking and talking about starting a podcast and actually start one.

As an avid podcast listener, I’d often entertained starting one myself (as painful as hearing your own voice can be). The unconscious bias training made me feel confident that I could pitch an experimental content idea that championed diverse voices and perspectives. 

That idea was Empowered: Envisioning Workplaces That Work, a podcast which centers on the stories and voices of thought leaders that radically transform and challenge the status quo of the workplace experience. I imagined the conversations I would like to have, make space for, or listen to, and did my best to bring them to life — or at least, into the podcast libraries of people who wanted to hear this kind of dialogue or learn more about transforming workplaces. Representation matters — I thought about my fellow co-workers, the company’s customers, and future colleagues who would hear these episodes and feel a sense of recognition. 

The podcast is just one effort to translate the concepts from the unconscious bias training into meaningful action in the workplace: from recruitment and hiring to the experiences employees have once they join a company. Fittingly, the impact of the unconscious bias training came full circle when Pin-ya, who led the unconscious bias training I attended at work months ago, was featured in episode 2 of the podcast. Our conversation focuses on her own journey to becoming a training facilitator, how unconscious bias shows up in and impacts the workplace experience, and what we can do to counteract it in our workplaces and working lives.  

Bringing intentional diversity to the content creation process 

One of the most important questions in content marketing is “Who is the audience?” We’re all working within the context of our own lived experiences, so unconscious bias can creep into how we consider and respond to this question. As marketers, we need to not only market to diverse audiences, we also need to check our assumptions on who those audiences are and how they’ll respond to what we create. I’ve learned that HOW you create is just as important as WHAT you create. In my work now, the opportunity to work cross-functionally is one I care deeply about. I know I don’t have all the answers and that while I can research and use data to inform what content is produced, including different people in that process is paramount. 

This isn’t just my personal opinion. Researchers have found that when at least one member of a team has traits in common with the end user, the entire team better understands that user. A team with a member who shares an end user’s ethnicity is also 152% more likely than another team to understand that user.

The ideal approach, then, is to envision content creation as an intentional, holistic, and inclusive process. Build marketing teams that reflect diverse perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds. Doing this increases the chance that your internal team has commonalities with your audience. Collaborate cross-functionally and ask for feedback from stakeholders to better identify and best speak to your audience (what I call, “we all don’t know what we don’t know.”).  

The lessons of the unconscious bias workshop are ones I carry with me today. In everything I do, especially at work, I try and hold myself accountable to being aware, speaking up, or stepping back to make space for others who voices are historically underrepresented and silenced. The future is intersectional, and I remain committed to fostering a sense of belonging for the folks in my workplace that need it the most — in my work, local community, society, and beyond. 

Born and (mostly) raised in the Bay Area, Susannah Magers (she/her) revels in storytelling in all forms. As a Content Marketing Manager at Envoy, she brings a creative background in public arts program management, visitor engagement, and exhibition curation, as well as a passion for sharing diverse voices and perspectives. She researches and writes data-driven blogs and ebooks about where workplace experience, technology, and people intersect, through the lens of the all-important human elements. 

In addition to leading the Queer@Envoy ERG, Susannah created and hosts Envoy’s podcast, Empowered: Envisioning Workplaces That Work. The podcast considers what it takes to radically transform our workplaces and explores what thriving, diverse, and innovative workplaces look and feel like. She lives in the East Bay with her wife and dog.

November 26, 2019

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