Team Member Perspectives: Unconscious Bias
Cultivating a workplace environment where team members of all backgrounds feel empowered and valued is a multifaceted challenge to solve. One of the strategies we pursue is to provide Unconscious Bias and various diversity-focused training to our team members. Unconscious, or implicit, bias is the name for the stereotypes everyone has about people of another race, gender, sexual orientation, etc., shaped by that person's experiences and learned associations of social categories. When we understand the harmful stereotypes we all harbor about people who are different than us, we move one step closer to realizing our goal of an inclusive workplace and society.
As a part of our commitment to inclusion and diversity, we host ongoing Unconscious Bias training sessions. Read about the life experience of a few of our team members who attended the training and how acknowledging and confronting implicit bias has affected them.
Ernie Kelly / Learning Business Partner / Columbus, GA
I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a white part of Orlando, FL. I was a public-school kid and got involved with the band in junior high because my three best friends were in it. That was the most integrated class I had, and it helped me start seeing people for who they are, not what they looked like or where they lived.
Before attending the Unconscious Bias training, I’d never formally experienced any inclusion and diversity programming. But as someone who loves to learn new things, I was excited to attend. The most powerful moment during the training was when they played a video in which people were randomly separated into groups based on a colored disk they pick up at the door. It created instant in-groups and out-groups, based on nothing more than the disk color of each group.
“After the training, I feel better prepared to listen first, love everyone, and weigh my words through the lens of how the other person will hear them.”
It was such a great analogy for what we do every day, and it taught me that everyone has an unconscious bias. You can’t help it. But everyone can control it by taking just a second to recognize you’re not thinking but reacting, and then to choose the right thing to say or do from there.
After the training, I feel better prepared to listen first, love everyone, and weigh my words through the lens of how the other person will hear them. It also got me imagining what the workplace would be like if none of our team members felt like they were members of an out-group. If all of us could be our best selves every day and everyone else accepted them as they are, the innovation and potential would be limitless.
Mary J. Brown / Operations Manager / Atlanta, GA
I'm a native Atlantan. I grew up in the historic Old Fourth Ward community. My parents both graduated high school and were blue-collar workers. I'm the second youngest of six and the first one to obtain a secondary education. Looking back on it, I had a wonderful upbringing, childhood, and adolescence.
My parents didn't have a lot of money, but we never knew it because we never went without. I come from a loving Christian home where we were introduced to God very early in our childhood, and that background has had a powerful impact on how I see individuals.
Before the Unconscious Bias training, I've engaged in many other inclusion and diversity efforts. I was the Education and Training chairperson on the Diversity Council at my previous employer, and we got positive feedback from across the platform about the increase in team members' engagement.
“I was moved by the vulnerable discussions from the group, the stories shared, and the brutal honesty in the truths I heard. When I left the training, I felt even more empowered to speak up, speak out, and educate others.”
I went into the Unconscious Bias training with an open mind and to gain more knowledge on a topic I care about. I was moved by the vulnerable discussions from the group, the stories shared, and the brutal honesty in the truths I heard. When I left the training, I felt even more empowered to speak up, speak out, and educate others.
Now, my perception of unconscious bias has heightened in the sense that I'm brave enough to advocate and promote awareness, be vocal in a positive manner, and have regular discussions in a group setting. I think these diversity efforts show team members that Synovus values everyone and that drives motivation, success, and growth. There's so much value in having a diverse workplace, and I'm excited to see the kind of open culture we can continue to create.
Martyn Palumbo / Retail Sales Performance Partner / Fort Myers, FL
I grew up in London. My father was an Italian immigrant who'd left school at 13 and was from a poor background. He joined the RAF and was a bomber pilot in the Second World War. After the war, my father became a successful businessperson and made sure my sister and I received a good education.
He taught my sister and me never to feel better than anyone else and help people any way you can. My father was and is my hero, so my whole life I've tried to give back to the community and have raised my children with those same values.
“I was a little concerned because my experience at most companies has been that employers do this kind of training just to check a box. Like it’s an obligation. However, that was not my experience this time.”
Throughout my career, I've participated in inclusion and diversity efforts. So, going into the Unconscious Bias training, I was a little concerned because my experience at most companies has been that employers do this kind of training just to check a box. Like it’s an obligation. However, that was not my experience this time.
I walked away with actionable tactics I can use in my day-to-day life to address my implicit biases. From watching different news outlets, listening to opposing points of view, being a mentor and open to discussing subjects that can be awkward, there were many good insights shared.
The whole thing made me proud to work at Synovus. As we continue to strive towards our diversity goals, I know we'll be one of the top-performing institutions in our industry.
Kevin Gillen / Market Executive / Sarasota, FL
I grew up in a modest home and neighborhood, mostly blue-collar and white. I'm the oldest of four kids, and from elementary all through college, my school experience was homogeneously white.
I remember I was ten years old when Dr. King was killed. We were in my parents’ station wagon, and I recall my dad pulling off the road as they listened to the radio. They were in shock and wept. Frankly, at ten years old and living in the kind of neighborhood that we did, it was hard to understand what was going on.
My first experience working in and experiencing a diverse community was in my late 20s after college. My manager asked me to consider moving to manage a bank branch from Commercial Credit to get leadership experience. I, of course, said yes.
The day I received my assignment, I was shocked to hear I was being sent to Orange, NJ, on the border of Newark. Other than one other employee, all the other employees were Black. In fact, most of the market was Black.
“We spend so much time drawing conclusions about others based on preconceived notions. This training does a great job of showing you how not to assume.”
I was assigned to this branch for three years, and it was by far my greatest learning curve in all aspects of professional and personal development. It's where I began to understand the differences, challenges, struggles, history, goals, and aspirations of people I'd had very little exposure to up to that point.
I've participated in Unconscious Bias training before, so going into it, my perception of the program was already outstanding. It provides people with the ability to enhance their sense of understanding, teaches the importance of patience, and most importantly, the power of listening. We spend so much time drawing conclusions about others based on preconceived notions. This training does a great job of showing you how not to assume.
As we continue to push our team members to participate in initiatives like Unconscious Bias training, I'm excited to see the stronger teams that will emerge at Synovus. Teams that understand one another and the needs of the communities we serve. This past year, the pandemic and social unrest have shown the significant challenges we face and the kind of leadership we need to tackle them. To that end, I look forward to seeing how Synovus will continue to champion change and progress.