Ep. 11: Tuning in to Microaggressions


8 min read

Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse work place.


Toby Mildon: Hello and welcome to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I'm joined by a fantastic guest today, her name is Rosie Turner and she is the co-founder and co-chief executive of InChorus. Rosie, welcome to the show.


Rosie Turner: Hello, hi, thank you for having me, it's great to be here.


Toby Mildon: You're welcome, it's great to have you on the show again. So Rosie, can you just give us a bit more about... Of an introduction about yourself? 


Rosie Turner: Sure, so I started off working, actually, in corporate innovation, so particularly helping typically larger companies source and onboard new technologies or innovations. And during that time, I developed a real interest in particularly technology that could probably improve workplace cultures. So very much looking around that employee engagement, tech stack essentially. But during that time I actually spent quite a lot of, I guess my own energy... It always starts as a side hustle, doesn't it? Exploring particularly some of those problems in the workplace and how people were struggling to raise them, essentially. So this was a little bit before MeToo but I just became very interested in the fact that there were definitely problems that we were all hearing around coffee machines and we were all talking about, but that weren't necessarily being surfaced in an effective way.


Toby Mildon: Yeah.


Rosie Turner: So that started off as a very early idea for InChorus and at that time, I was lucky enough to meet my now co-founder, working in a tech for good innovation consultancy, which was called Friendly Fires, and during that time, we spent a lot of time building out a diversity and inclusion vertical within that consultancy and there we were looking again, applying that kind of similar corporate innovation tool kit, but looking at technologies and innovations that were potentially addressing any parts of that diversity and inclusion agenda. So everything from mentoring through to... I'm trying to think of another key area for us, flexible working. But what we found at that time was that there was a huge focus on tools that were supporting with diversity, but very little that was actually helping companies develop more inclusive cultures, so we were actually able to develop and test InChorus with the market during that time, and eventually, that led us to spinning it out and going full time on it.


Toby Mildon: That's really cool. That's such a great business story, how you both founded the start-up. So your app or your software allows businesses to work with microaggressions. So what exactly are microaggressions? 


Rosie Turner: Yeah, it's a great question. It's a term that I think really splits the crowd as to whether people are very familiar with it or not, but really, when we're talking about microaggressions or micro-instabilities is another term that is sometimes used, we're looking at those every day kind of comments or actions that consciously or not are revealing a prejudice towards often a marginalized group. So often there's a kind of protected characteristic involved there. And so, these are really those kind of subtler snubs or slights that often people just are making people feel uncomfortable. So, again, people might have heard the term everyday sexism or everyday racism to describe some of these issues that we're talking about.


Toby Mildon: Have you got any examples of microaggressions that we often see in the workplace? 


Rosie Turner: Totally. So again, if you think about it a little bit as a spectrum where at one end you might have those kind of higher severity incidents, which might be something that we characterize as like sexual assault, but when it comes to microaggressions, it might be more the fact that you're always asking the only woman in the room to go and make the coffee, or sexist banter, or slightly racist jokes that actually to some people are just actually not at all funny. Or even very intrusive questions into someone's sexuality. All of these are little examples of the kind behaviors and actions that there often isn't necessarily that intention to hurt behind it. I mean, there can be, but there often isn't, but they're really... These are the little things that are making a big difference kind of impacting an individual, but also, ultimately creating a culture within a company and they can really go a long way to making an individual feel either included or valued when the company can identify them and cut them out or really kind of unappreciated or excluded when these kinds of microaggressions are happening frequently.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, as a wheelchair user myself, I've worked in offices where people have made comments about how fast my wheelchair goes.


Rosie Turner: Yeah.


Toby Mildon: Or that I shouldn't run over their feet.


Rosie Turner: Yeah, gotcha.


Toby Mildon: I even had one person pat me on the head.


Rosie Turner: Oh no! 


Toby Mildon: So yeah, so I just barked at him. [chuckle]


Rosie Turner: Totally, and even actually like another example that people don't often think about is how an environment can in itself almost convey some of these microaggressions. So if there isn't easy access and actually you have to go all the way around the back of the building, like that in itself is conveying a message that somebody hasn't really thought about this.


Toby Mildon: Exactly.


Rosie Turner: Yeah, so a really great example.


Toby Mildon: How do these microaggressions or instabilities impact the workplace or individuals in the workplace? 


Rosie Turner: Yeah, a really important question, because I think that's it. There's often the assumption that a microaggression is not really a big deal, so to kind of really drill into the impact and see that there's a body of research around that is quite important. So there's a brilliant book called Microaggression In Everyday Life actually by Derald Wing Sue and he kind of really looks at the impact on the individual and is able to pull out kind of almost like three stages. But initially, when these things happen, there's very much often like a physical and emotional response. You might feel angry, or sad, or your heart rate goes, or you feel flush and then you're often faced with that decision of do you challenge something and potentially have to face some confrontation there or do you accept it and potentially there's some kind of guilt or complicity that gets involved in that scenario. And ultimately, what he kind of picks out is all of that combining into is a real exhaustion and a huge toll on the individual when these things are happening frequently because there's kind of this layer of physical, emotional and cognitive kind of effort that goes into dealing with these incidents.


Toby Mildon: Yeah.


Rosie Turner: That for that individual can really, over time, lead to kind of anxiety, depression, burnout which for that workplace has huge implications. And actually what's really interesting is he particularly points that, in some cases, these microaggressions, the impact can almost be greater than in a case of, for example, overt racism, or you know, an overt incident. Because what you have here is this kind of attributional ambiguity of, "Well, was that me, was that you, why do I feel this way, should I feel this way?" And kind of the processing of all of that makes it much harder to deal with, potentially, for an individual, as opposed to an incident where you can just say, "Well, that was racist, that was bad, you shouldn't have done that."


Toby Mildon: Yeah, and I read an article once that suggests that microaggressions often happen over time, so you get this compounding effect.


Rosie Turner: Totally.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, and then the people on the receiving end of the microaggressions then start to question themselves about whether it's them, actually them that's the problem...


Rosie Turner: Completely.


Toby Mildon: Or whether it's other people in the organization.


Rosie Turner: Yeah, no, that's really, really true. That kind of cumulative effect of just wearing... I mean, I once heard it described as death by a 1000 paper cuts, and I think that's a really great image to kind of... Or a mosquito bite, one in itself isn't a big problem, but when you get 100, you're just a kind of itchy mess.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, so when you and Raj both founded InChorus, what was some of your original thinking as to why you wanted to create this startup? 


Rosie Turner: Yeah, I think personally it's always felt very important to me that an individual can come forward and share if they've experienced some form of bias or harassment. So I think that was a very kind of a real personal motivation. I've seen the kind of the pain and the hurt amongst my network of when people feel that silence is the option here. And so that kind of need to give people a voice across the whole spectrum of extreme harassment, down to these kind of microaggression type incidents, has felt very, very important for me and for us. And I think what we found there was that whilst companies often have a mechanism in place, potentially a whistle blowing tool or a grievance procedure to deal with the more extreme incidents. This kind of raft of microaggressions or everyday behaviours is often falling through the cracks and that that is a really frustrating and painful process potentially for the individuals that it's affecting, that just then have nowhere to kind of deal with this constructively.


Toby Mildon: Yeah.


Rosie Turner: So that kind of... It's a very personal pain point, I guess, for the individual. But we very quickly... And Raj was hugely instrumental in us working together to see that actually that was a huge business pain point and a business opportunity there as well.


Toby Mildon: Yeah.


Rosie Turner: [09:36] ____ the impact on the individual really does scale into an impact for the business because there are problems there around then productivity, how do you keep diversity, which in turn scale up to issues around retention, and how innovative can you be, and how resilient is your organization? And yes, so there was a real business case for helping companies address these behaviours that are potentially hurting their employees, quite regularly, and to develop cultures that kind of steer away from these incidents.


Toby Mildon: That's really cool. So what does InChorus actually do? So, if I log on to the app myself, what will I see and how do I use it? 


Rosie Turner: Yeah, great question. So, InChorus is essentially... We're a web app, where an employee can anonymously log everyday instances of bias or microaggressions. And it's a very simple process, so we deliberately designed it to be very quick. It's almost a button pressing process to kind of really remove some of the barriers for the individual wanting to flag a behaviour. And it's anonymous on both sides of the table, because what we're ultimately doing is building up a picture around the trends or patterns of behaviours in a workplace. So for the company, we're aggregating that data to reveal kind of insights around where there are potentially problems emerging. So for example, you might see that women aged 26 to 35 in your [11:10] ____ sales team are reporting much higher incidents of sexist banter that they're finding really un-funny. And that actually then is quite a rich chain of data and information for you to actually say, "Okay, well, this is clearly having a negative impact. Let's explore that a bit further." And the idea is very much around how can we get some of that data of problems at an earlier point so that a company can take a bit more proactive action rather than being reactive to potentially something more serious happening at a later stage.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, it's really quite... A large part of the work that I do with my clients is bringing in technology for diversity and inclusion solutions, because before I got into D&I, I had a background in technology.


Rosie Turner: Yeah.


Toby Mildon: So I was an IT consultant and then I was a technical project manager at the BBC, so I've got a geeky side to me. And so when I talk to many of my clients about different apps and software that's out there to help them scale up what they're doing around D&I, I talk to them about InChorus and InChorus is one that they get quite excited about.


Rosie Turner: Definitely.


Toby Mildon: Because you provide the data to identify where targeted action needs to happen, which in the long run is gonna save them a lot of time and money.


Rosie Turner: Totally. It was one of the questions that when we were working at Friendly Fires, the consultancy, that came up a lot, was companies have a sense of what diversity data they're capturing, and what that looks like, and what targets are potentially are there. But then there was this real kind of void when it came to inclusion, and how can we understand that potentially through data, and how can we measure it? And so, that's really at the core for us, as InChorus, is thinking about culture and inclusion, and some of these quite nebulous or they can very quickly become quite nebulous topics, by looking, going back to data and saying, "Okay, this is the problem that your organization seems to be experiencing. How can we trial a targeted intervention and then measure and track to see whether that improves anything, and go around that loop again." Which is I think something that... It's the way that business functions work and so by enabling them to think about inclusional culture in this way, it's also very exciting for them, 'cause they can suddenly see how actually, particularly from a D&I perspective, that becomes a very interesting conversation with senior leadership because you can suddenly present the data and very much have the conversation in those terms.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, definitely. And somebody using or a business using your app, they can also customize it, can't they? So that they can sign post employees to additional resources within the business. So it might be that they've got an employee assistance program or a whistle-blowing hot line or something like that? 


Rosie Turner: Yeah, correct. So we really wanted to try and add in some resources and add value to the employee using the tool as well. So obviously there's the value to the company of understanding these issues, but we really did think about that process for the individual as well, and how can we make that potentially, whatever it is, two-minute interaction valuable. And so, yeah, correct, adding both a kind of mix of professional and company resources that an individual can access without having to go and have a conversation or seek anyone else out, yeah, it is in there and included and correct, like sign posting to other services like EAPs or HR.


Toby Mildon: That's really cool. So the clients that have started using your software, what kind of results are they seeing and how are you helping them? 


Rosie Turner: Yeah, really interesting. So without talking in kind of too much specifics, [chuckle] we often see... A lot of the clients that we've worked with, have been at a really exciting point, so they've often been quite fast growth and quite progressive. So for them, it's not necessarily been about fixing a problem that they feel they have. It's more been, "We know we're at this exciting point where we're growing very quickly and we think actually we have a great culture, but we're aware that it's about to grow exponentially. How can we put tools and mechanisms in place that enable us to manage that growth, I guess in an inclusive way?" [chuckle]


Toby Mildon: Yeah.


Rosie Turner: And InChorus, I think there has been a really useful tool in letting people do that, because it's very simple and could really grow with you, but just offers that comfort and reassurance around actually, we know that as we're growing very rapidly, we can have a finger on a pulse of any issues that might be emerging. So that's a particularly interesting, I think, use case that we've seen.


Toby Mildon: Yeah.


Rosie Turner: And then kinda more recently, actually we've done work with the FinTech industry as a whole, so partnering with Innovate Finance and Revolut and Level39 to open up a version of the app to any employee working across FinTech and there the idea has been to get that data at industry level and then really begin to look at how we can help the sector at large too, rather than at just an individual company to see where we can kind of effect change and get collaboration behind that.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, that's brilliant, that's brilliant. It's really, really exciting and...


Rosie Turner: Thank you.


Toby Mildon: This is of course the Inclusive Growth Show.


Rosie Turner: Yeah.


Toby Mildon: So I'm interested in understanding what inclusive growth means for you and your clients and in particular, how you think technology in general, can help accelerate that inclusive growth.


Rosie Turner: Ooh, great. I think, for me, it's so much about embedding diversity and inclusion at the earliest possible stage. So often we have conversations with companies where they... There's this kind of, "Well, once we get to this point, then we'll start to do this. Oh, we'll think about that in two years time or after the next 50 people." And actually, for me, I don't think that's the way to do it. I think we really need to start and look for kind of proportionate interventions and ways of thinking about things at the earliest possible stage. So I guess in that respect, it's really looking at from the smaller start-ups, what can you be doing at seven people, at 10 people to think about inclusive hiring practices or who's involve. Do you have mechanisms in place even if you're 20-30 people, where someone can flag a problem? And just getting that kind of best practice in early, I think is so important, and I guess that is very much the case with the work we're doing in the FinTech sector at the moment.


Rosie Turner: So again, with this FinTech For All campaign where we're looking at how can we help the whole sector think about those challenges today, no matter what size they are and really be embedding kind of tools and processes and policies that enable them to become very inclusive environments. Because, I guess, ultimately, the importance there for me is linking to sustainable growth and the resilience of organizations who are able to kind of essentially look after their employees and keep them, and certainly today, in COVID-19 times, I think that's never been more important. So I think as companies go through this next difficult step of how actually do we get back on track as an economy and start to scale and grow and move forwards, I think, embedding that inclusion and thinking about inclusive growth is absolutely key.


Toby Mildon: That's really cool. And working with the FinTech industry is amazing. It's such an interesting and exciting industry to work with and there are so many cool innovations coming out.


Rosie Turner: Totally.


Toby Mildon: So again...


Rosie Turner: We'll have our, the data, the initial research coming out from the FinTech industry kind of later this month. So, stay tuned to hear more about that.


Toby Mildon: And where can we get access to that, those data and insights? 


Rosie Turner: So the website fintech.inchorus.org will be where the... Kind of all the updates are going to. So...


Toby Mildon: Brilliant.


Rosie Turner: Head to there and there will be a sign up.


Toby Mildon: Okay, that's really great. And when it comes to learning more about micro-aggressions and incivilities in the workplace, what is your favorite resource so far? It could be a book, it could be a podcast, or it could be a video or anything like that, but if somebody wants to learn more about microaggressions, what would you recommend they read, watch or listen to? 


Rosie Turner: I would definitely recommend the book Microaggressions In Every Day Life. It's quite a thick read, but it's kind of really, quite an academic approach to it, but just a fantastic underpinning, looking at the impacts, all the research behind it and also the themes that occur repeatedly within microaggressions. Yeah, so I think that's a fantastic kind of foundational read. On top of that, [20:06] ____ actually have some fantastic resources. So online on their website, so that would be another place I would head to.


Toby Mildon: Excellent, and the final question is, if the person listening to this episode wants to learn more about what InChorus does and how it can help their organization, where can they learn more? 


Rosie Turner: The best place would be our website, which is inchorus.org or you can find us on Twitter at @InChorusGroup and we're quite active there sharing lots of information around this topic.


Toby Mildon: Well, thank you ever so much Rosie for joining me on this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show and thank you for listening to this episode and I really hope to see you on the next episode that's coming out shortly.


Rosie Turner: Thank you very much Toby.


Toby Mildon: Cheers.


Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.