Diversity Day: Kay Formanek about unconscious prejudices

On October 1, The Netherlands celebrates Diversity Day. Under the motto "being yourself works", different companies in The Netherlands show that having a mix of people with a difference in cultural origin, sexual orientation, age, gender or capacity in the workspace is a positive thing.

Spot supports Diversity Day by organizing an event about the theme “unconscious prejudices”. Kay Formanek, founder/CEO of KAY Diversity & Performance, explains that people who are aware of their own unconscious prejudices tend to be more open to greater diversity. This leads to more talent being given an opportunity, which in turn benefits everyone.

The unconscious brain in charge

The unconscious ancient brain (comprising the reptilian brain and the limbic brain) is in charge and determines 90 per cent of what we do, based on a simple set of rules. This is often as a spontaneous response to events or when we feel we are in danger. Even today this still translates into fear of people and situations that are unfamiliar to us. According to Kay this is the ancient source of all kinds of prejudices – feelings we aren’t aware of but which still have an effect, for instance when we are seeking new staff. ‘Our instinct tells us “they are different. They might be dangerous. Maybe I don’t want these people in my company”.

It’s important for leaders to realise that this happens in their own brains as well. By accepting this fact they can create space for switching between the reptilian and limbic brains on one hand and the prefrontal cortex on the other, thus enabling them to value and implement diversity. The easiest way to make this switch is to pause and reflect from time to time while breathing deeply or meditating.’

About the speaker

Kay Formanek knows all about diversity. She spent her childhood in the violently divided South Africa of the apartheid era, but was lucky to be able to visit one of the few private schools where ‘all colours of the rainbow’ are welcome. This meant she was never infected by stereotypes about people with other backgrounds or cultures. As a little girl, she never understood why other people weren’t allowed to travel in the same bus or to live in the same neighbourhood as her, just because they were black.

So at a very young age she already knew that this isn’t right, and she didn’t allow herself to be guided by prejudices which many others didn’t even realise they had. Nelson Mandela was accused of terrorism and imprisoned on Robben Island for many years, and then following his release he transformed into a statesman full of forgiveness who was able to bring together the various population groups.

‘This heritage has led to my passion for diversity and for creating a world in which no one shuts out other people,’ says Kay. ‘I’ve always been curious about why we humans don’t accept others who aren’t like us. The answer to this question is to be found in our incredible brains. This is the reason why I focus on neurosciences and unconscious prejudice.’


16:00 Walk-in
16:15 Kick-off & welcome
16:20 Talk by Kay Formanek
17:00 Interactive part hosted by Women on Air

1 comment

Good morning everyone! Just a little reminder to let you know that you have signed up for Kay Formanek’s inspiring talk about unconscious bias tomorrow. We are looking forward to a very special afternoon. Please note that there has been a change of location: the event will take place on the 3rd floor of WTC Schiphol Airport, across from the Fortune Bar. I look forward to welcoming you tomorrow from 4PM! :-)