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Breaking down unconscious bias and raising awareness for D&I: Siobhan Sweeney

Siobhan joined AIB in 2006 and has held a number of roles throughout the organisation including Contact Centre Manager, Strategy and Communications Lead and numerous complex transformational roles within the group.

Siobhan moved to her current role as Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) Lead in January 2019, developing AIB's Diversity & Inclusion strategy to further evolve mindsets into breaking down unconscious biases, raising awareness and delivering support initiatives across AIB.

Siobhan gives us an account of her background, her professional values and how an organisation can promote an inclusive culture.

Tell us a bit about your current role/professional background

I have worked in AIB for 13 years, holding various roles across the organisation. My journey started as a team lead in the phone and internet banking contact centre where I worked for 9 years, before transitioning to lead the design and development of engagement and communication strategies for various transformation programmes.

I then geared my career in a different path as I moved roles towards governance and assurance working as a special case manager in the tracker mortgage review team and a group internal auditor.

In January of this year, I was asked to join the Diversity and Inclusion team, leading out on the advancement of AIB’s strategy both internally and externally. I am extremely passionate about driving AIB's Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, and recognise that it is not something that can be transformed overnight. It consists of building awareness, focus and organic growth. As an organisation, we are striving to attract and retain high performing talent, reflect our employee base to the customers we serve on a daily basis and build our reputation in the Irish marketplace.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever received?

The best piece of advice that I have received was to understand my personal purpose. Previously, I had never given any thought to discovering what it was, I knew my strengths and motivators but I had never connected it together in terms of purpose.

13 years into my career and a mother to three wonderful children, the dial has shifted. I understand now, more than ever before, my purpose is to make a difference in both my personal and professional life. For me, it goes hand in hand.

Can you recommend any habits that have helped your professional life?

Blue sky time springs to mind straight away. I wish I could say that this is a habit but it’s an area I am constantly focused and aware of.

We can all get so caught up with the day to day busy schedule, with some days spent in back-to-back meetings with no breathing space in. It’s important that we block time in our diaries to reflect.

How would you define your professional values?

Professional values for me include

Honesty and integrity: It’s a fundamental, a necessity required to change the culture of an organisation. How else can trust be instilled?

Self-motivated and adaptable: I love new challenges... It gets me out of bed in the morning. The ability to transform business areas, deliver above and beyond on targets, and own the accountabilities I have been assigned.

Growth Mindset: Learning new skills, capabilities and methods through professional development helps keep me at my best.

Why is diversity and inclusion important within an organisation?

Diversity and Inclusion is important for so many reasons, not only within organisations but within society. We live in a truly diverse world, doesn’t that mean it’s essential organisations represent that with their workforce?

An organisation that promotes and embeds Diversity and Inclusion will:

  • Aid in attracting and retaining high performing talent

  • Build and instill trust

  • Enable differing customer views to be considered

  • Mitigate against group-think, and

  • Promote robust challenge in decision making

By 2025, millennials will make up 75% of the global workforce. Diversity and Inclusion is a necessity!

How can an organisation promote an inclusive culture?

An inclusive culture can be promoted and embedded in an organisation quite easily, it requires a simple yet effective strategy!

The strategy needs to be led with the tone from the top communication and role modeling. Once backed by an organisations leadership team, the values, attitudes, and behaviours begin to resonate with employees throughout an organisation.

Psychological safety in a work environment allows employees to show one’s self without fear of negative consequences.

Engagement with senior leaders on their career and experiences is vital to enable a connection with staff and assists trust-building and transparency.

What makes people happy in their workplace? The same things that make people happy in their lives, a sense of belonging, social connections and a purpose or meaning. The need for each of us, and particularly our people leaders, to be inclusive is of critical importance if we are to build and sustain an inclusive organisational culture.

How can a leadership team ensure a commitment to diversifying its workforce?

A number of things can be done by a leadership team in order to diversify the workforce which include:

  • Evaluating the current culture- do you really understand how diverse your current workforce is?

  • Commit to transformation- be verbal and transparent on why and how you will diversify the workforce.

  • Listen to staff- Listen to the voices within the company. It is vital that everyone is on the journey.

  • Join the conversation- The conversation doesn’t stop after the strategy is communicated. It needs to be an agenda item for all meetings.

What do you think are the biggest obstacles that an organisation may face when implementing a D&I strategy? Do you have any examples?

One of the biggest obstacles that organisations may face when implementing a strategy is the lack of ownership from senior leaders, which is a fundamental building block to drive and deliver against a D&I strategy. Senior leaders need to lead tone from the top communications and role modelling to enable staff to connect with, and understand, that D&I is a priority for the organisation, not just a “tick the box” initiative.

What effects can no D&I strategy have on office culture? Do you have any examples?

An office with no D&I strategy promoted and embedded in its practices can lead to a homogeneous workforce, leading to group think and lack of robust challenge in decision making which ultimately results in less innovation and little to no business growth.

How does a lack of a D&I strategy effect employees individually? Do you have any examples?

Being part of a minority or marginalized group in a non-diverse workplace can be isolating and could lead to employees feeling they cannot challenge the norm. I have had experiences of being the only woman or only person with a different ethnicity in a meeting, which causes me to feel slightly uncomfortable in speaking up or providing commentary of a different view.

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