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Naomi Sesay: Creating an inclusive and diverse workplace

Naomi Sesay: Creating an inclusive and diverse workplace

For a history graduate I’m always looking forward – tomorrow never dies right?

Naomi Sesay's had quite the career to-date.

From one of the first Producers of Channel 4’s ‘Big Brother’,  Naomi went onto work for MTV News as a Producer/Director and Presenter at the height of MTV Europe’s popularity. Her experience within two of the most iconic brands (especially for those growing up in the noughties) led to her next stint as a successful property investor, mentor and trainer within the wealth creation arena.

Now back in TV at Channel 4 as the on-screen diversity exec, Naomi's often found speaking at industry and corporate events across Europe. We caught up with Naomi after her recent travels...

Your career journey to date has been quite varied. What points led you to your current role?

Well, to be honest, I never aspired to be a Diversity exec, not even in my wildest dreams – probably because that role never existed 25 years ago! But in saying that, my drive and purpose in life has always been to upgrade our way of thinking and move towards personal evolvement.  That drive compelled me to become a TV presenter and public speaker, financially free through property investments, a life coach and mentor for C suite personnel and young people. It even put me in front of world presidents, quantum scientists and prison inmates.

So, the points that led me to my current role, were not so much the wonderful positions or the jobs I held throughout my career, but the diverse insights and learnings from the different situations that I found myself in at different stages of my career. These learnings and insights ultimately changed my whole outlook on life, influenced the way I brought up my amazing kids and I guess, were perfect for the job I am in now.

You talk about creating the business case for an inclusive and diverse workplace - how does that work in practice?

Everything we do in the workplace drives the bottom line: profit and growth. But here’s the thing, the products and services produced are used and consumed by a myriad of diverse customers and clients. If an organisation only employs one type of personnel and by this, I mean one type of race, ethnicity, ability, orientation, gender, thought or experience, you restrict the organisations greatest assets; creativity and market insight.

Costly mistakes will be made as ill-informed guesswork will be employed. In a world of fierce competition, these mistakes could adversely affect one’s market share, profit, growth and reputation. Inclusion and diversity is not an option, it’s a must! Ignore it at your peril… 

Why is unconscious bias, psychology and the workplace are entwinned?

Between the ages of 0-7 children unconsciously absorb billions and billions of bits of information from our parents, family members, teachers, peer groups, religious and cultural leaders. Most of that information becomes the bed rock of our unconscious persuasions and behaviours. From seven onwards, we start developing self-agency and we start questioning our world and the order in which it is presented to us. By the time we get to the workplace, we are pretty confident about our thought processes until we butt up against something that triggers or challenges our beliefs.

Without thinking it is our nature to jump to a default position. A position we learnt from a young age. A memory, a word, a feeling… these behaviours may not be you anymore, but they are still imbedded in your subconscious.  You may not even be aware that you acted in such a way. As it’s not possible to leave our subconscious minds at home, we bring all of our selves to the workplace; subconscious warts and all.

We find that in the workplace, we censor, delete and curtail our behaviours in fear of offending, outraging or ultimately losing our jobs and livelihoods. This creates an inauthentic workplace and psychologically conflicted individuals. We must all recognise that the workplace reflects the society we live in, to make it healthy, we need to take a good look at ourselves, recognise our biases and challenge them head on.    

If we look at broadcast media in more detail, what steps does the industry need to take to deliver an authentic on-screen portrayal of the society they represent?

The first thing that needs to happen is recognition. Not recognition that there is a problem because that is now very much a given, but to recognise that we are all diverse, we are all on a spectrum and we all have value. At Channel 4, the Diversity 360 Charter introduced the Diversity Commissioning Guidelines back in 2015. This strongly encouraged all our indies, suppliers and advertisers to commit to employing and promoting diverse talent on and off screen.

The next step was to continuously unearth diverse talent and bring them forward to commissioners and independent production companies – you must be seen to be heard is my mantra. The most important step, is to insist on diverse authorship and portrayal. You cannot tell a story effectively and authentically unless you have insight and experience. This can only come from a diverse perspective because it is the subtle nuances within the experience that resonates and rings true onscreen.

So, funding and supporting diverse talent from C suite to runner in the broadcast industry is the only way to ensure true authentic on-screen portrayal of the society in which we live.  

If you had one message you wanted to leave your audience with, what would it be?

The catalyst of change lies within the collective minds of our society. We are a far more powerful than what we have been led to believe. Be open, be curious and strive to evolve. The future is watching our every move… 

And finally, what's next for you?

Do you really want to know? I am launching a podcast on the power of sexual transcendence. Yep, another avenue to explore and the revelations may surprise you!

For further information or to book one of our speakers, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email info@speakerscorner.co.uk.

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