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Smita Tharoor, Founder, Tharoor Associates

Smita Tharoor is a coach, trainer and keynote speaker, advising organisations on dealing with unconscious bias. Smita talks to The Industry Leaders about how the BLM swung the pendulum for people to think about unconscious bias and why positive change starts from within.

How did you end up sitting where you are today?

Serendipity. I studied psychology (and English Literature) as part of my first degree. I fell into a learning and development job and quickly realised that employees cannot learn and change without some level of self-reflection. Understanding our own unconscious biases is key. We are defined by our narrative, our personal story, our experiences. These have an impact on how we make judgements and form opinions. Often, that's just fine, but every once in a while, we make snap conclusions that have a negative outcome either for the other person or ourselves. Just one particular experience can lead to a lifelong belief.

Knowledge is power, and I firmly believe through learning and reflecting, we can effect positive change.

What kind of work does your role involve?

I am a coach, trainer, keynote speaker and consultant advising organisations on culture and behaviour change, all embedded by our unconscious bias.

What gets you excited about your industry?

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I work with the idea of our humanity. How we are defined by our narrative. Since the start of Black Lives Matter, the pendulum has swung, and more people are reflecting on culture and behaviour change. More organisations are thinking and working on being more inclusive. It is an exciting time to be doing this work as people are listening differently.

What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?

We have to start with ourselves before we can effect change in others.

What, or who inspires you?

I host a podcast, Stories of Unconscious Bias, where I have interviewed people around the world (mostly strangers) to share their stories of unconscious bias. They are all inspirational for their honesty, self-reflection, strength of character and positive attitude to life. I feel privileged to have heard their stories.

How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?

Unconscious bias is a subject very dear to my heart. I am continually scanning publications, podcasts, news, research papers to learn more about what is happening in the industry. Listening and learning from others experiences keeps me in-check with changes in the industry.

What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?

Life is cyclical and, rather than look at one challenging situation or project, I prefer to think about all of them. How we manage and overcome challenges in our lives will impact how we handle the good times; they are connected. Our behaviour in one situation will affect how we manage the other.

You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?

The first thing I would do is make every attempt to return it to the rightful owner. If this is impossible, I would put most of it into a foundation that my siblings and I have already set up in my father's name. Currently, The Chandran Tharoor Foundation aims to help the weaker sections of society through modest grants in the areas of relief for persons in distress, educational and health care assistance, and miscellaneous services to improve the quality of life of vulnerable groups. This vast injection of money would provide a boon to many thousands of people. I would also keep some for my family and share it with friends.

How do you switch off after a day at work?

I love to cook, listen to music, read. All of which I look forward to at the end of a long day.

If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?

I would be out of a job but for people to genuinely understand the nuances of unconscious bias. The world would become a more inclusive, non-judgemental place for all the right reasons and, to me, that is the perfect outcome.

What book or podcast should everyone know about?

My podcast: Stories of Unconscious Bias. I have learnt so much from it, and I would urge others to listen to these inspirational stories from different parts of the world. All different, yet all similar in their understanding of unconscious bias.

There are plenty of other superb podcasts and books out there too! A great one I just discovered is about philosophy; it's called "Philosophise This!"

How should people connect with you?

Club House: @smitatharoor

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