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Imagining Prejudice-Free Platforms with June Sarpong MBE

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Author and Co-Founder of WEI, June Sarpong (MBE) talks about navigating social media without prejudice.

We are all a product of conditioning, and it’s not the standard Tresemme. Society has presents when it comes to social order, standards and outlooks and it’s hard to see past them when we’re saturated with them in the form of archetypes, stereotypes and new stories expressing blatant intolerance.

Everyone has an unconscious bias. For June Sarpong MBE, it was whilst she was filming in Las Vegas that she discovered hers. Having grown up in Walthamstow where diversity was second nature, she found herself nerved on set in an unfamiliar country by an unfamiliar man with tattoos. This prompted her to wonder: “how much are we losing as a society to the way that we’ve all been conditioned?”

At Social Media Week London 2018, June sat down with Founder and Executive Director of SMW, Toby Daniels for a conversation about navigating social media without prejudice.

We’re Living on Isolation Station

With help from Oxford University, Sarpong discovered that, in the UK, only one in ten people have a best friend of a different background and a third of Brits don’t have any friends from that at all.

Social media allows you to connect with people we wouldn’t normally, but on the flipside is that it can probe isolation. Sarpong recommends following at least ten people you wouldn’t normally interact with online, in order to make a start on diversifying your feed and acknowledging flipside views. The first step is to acknowledge your bias, then act on it by mastering tolerance, which is the gateway to acceptance.

The Moral Argument vs Social vs Economic

Living without prejudice is morally the right thing to do which is why we feel comfortable talking about it, and the social argument makes for a richer society. However, Sarpong explained how those arguments to date hadn’t enforced a change and used this as reasoning as to why the UK has moved on to the economic argument. Companies with more diversity are able to improve their profits, access more insight and expand, so it’s economically smart. In demand, younger talent like Generation Z are climatized to diversity as it’s like night and day for them, so are likely to be attracted to companies championing it.

We Need a Shift in the Tech-tonic Plates

Sarpong spoke of how the tech industry has been and continues to be the hardest and slowest to make a change in terms of diversity because “it’s still in its relatively embryonic stages.” For example, Steve is essentially hiring another Steve. Perhaps if the minority were able to access Silicon Valley, we’d be able to work from the bottom up?

It’s possible for everyone to start addressing their unconscious bias today. “Go back to your team and look at everyone in the room,” Sarpong advised. “If they’re not [diverse], diversify when you can.”

Outside the workplace, she encouraged speaking to neighbors and sponsoring others – actions with trickle effects. It’s clear it’s possible to use social media without prejudice, and it’s possible to live, too.

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