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Damon Pistulka, Sejal Thakker
Damon Pistulka 00:06
All right, everyone, Welcome once again to the faces of business. I’m your host Damon Pistulka. And with me today I’ve got a very special guest. Sejal Thakur thanks for joining me today. Sejal, thank you for having me. Well, you know, I don’t even know how I found you how I found your TED talk, but I watched your TED talk and listening to you growing up in Chicago and and you describing how you experience bias on a firsthand level, growing up in in an area where you were were, and I might use the wrong words, but you’re a minority in the in the area and just suffered the bias because of that. I really was drawn to it, I was drawn to it.
Because it’s, it’s something that I think that we need to talk about. Because as as I go through my life journey, this is one of the things that I realize that I am bias without even understanding that I’m biased, just because of whatever, you know, just the things that have happened in my life, or the way you where you grew up, how you grew up, or what where you went to school, or, you know, bias comes in a lot of different forms. So thank you.
Sejal Thakker 01:28
Thank you does, it impacts all of us, it really does. And it’s it’s an area, I completely agree with you that people just don’t understand. It’s not anybody’s fault. We just haven’t received proper education on it. And so once I started to learn about it, I was like, I’m on a mission to make sure other people do because a lot of times we’re, you know, whether we act, when we act from a place that we’re not even aware that it’s happening, it can interfere with our relationships with people without even knowing about it, right? Yeah.
Damon Pistulka 02:01
Yep. And the thing that I think and let’s, let’s start, let’s because I’ll get going. So let’s first for the people that haven’t heard, give us a synopsis of you growing up and some of the things that that you, you endured and had to deal with, and then talk about your background as an employment lawyer and how this kind of gels together to to bring you to where you are today.
Sejal Thakker 02:26
Yeah, so my parents are immigrants from India, they moved here in 1974. And I grew up in a small suburb of Chicago called Elmwood Park, we were the only Indian family in a predominantly Italian neighborhood, my parents came to this country for the same reason that a lot of immigrant families come here is for a better future for their families. So they, you know, they barely spoke English, they went to work right away. And so you know, growing up, I dealt with bias on both in the house as well as outside of the house.
And in the TEDx talk, I primarily focused in on what I dealt with that was outside of the house, but I just want to I just want to explain that this was a lot of this stuff was also going on inside of the house, because my parents moved here, they weren’t used to the American culture, the people here, the traditions here, all the different religions, you know, and all of that other stuff. And so, I was asking why a lot, I was asking, why is this happening? You know, I was asking that at home, about, you know, why are you telling me that I can’t go outside in the sun?
Because I’m going to get too dark? You know, what’s the deal with that? You know, and why are you telling me I can’t do this, this or that, which is part of the American culture. And I’m growing up here, and I love the American culture, too. So a lot of asking why at home, a lot of what was going on outside of the house bled into the home, because people were, you know, because we were the only Indian family, you know, we stood out we were different. So I dealt with harassment and bullying at a pretty young age growing up.
And primarily, you know, it was things like name calling, bullying, harassment, exclusive behaviors, there was some vandalism to our home, a lot of name calling, and all of that stuff was happening. And as a child growing up with sort of already feeling like you’re living on the fence of being between two cultures, and then having to take that on. It was a pretty tough childhood. And there wasn’t a lot of support there. You know, so there was, you know, several things that sort of led me to doing that talk. And, and being on the victim side of bias and having gone through that harassing behavior.
You know, I started noticing in myself that I was starting to act out, I was speaking up, I was fighting back and I was getting in trouble at school. All of this stuff was going on. And, you know, I basically had a decision to make, you know, am I going to continue to Am I gonna let this situation which is something I have no control over? be something that defines me. And if that happened, it’s not going to be good, right? Or am I going to change the situation and it just kind of have to go through that journey on my own. And I’ve always had a social justice aspect to me, this is from when I was a child, because I felt like an outsider for most of my childhood.
So I when I pick up on that anywhere, I’m at, you know, I can pick up when somebody is feeling excluded, I could pick up on that I’m hypersensitive to it. And it’s always been my thing to make people feel like they belong. And and that’s just something that I’ve always done. You know, I’ve always gone out of my way to make sure that I had diversity in my circle of friends. I was exposing myself to different cultures, different religions, just because I wanted to understand these different perspectives. So having gone through it, it was obviously very horrible, right? It was a tough situation.
I knew I was gonna go to law school early on, it was something I just knew. And in every question that I think I was around eight or nine, my dad told my mom at the dinner table one time, you know, she’s going to be a lawyer. She has way too many questions. It was in anyways, right? I did. And I still ask a lot of questions. But so. So the interesting thing, though, is this is what you and I were talking about before we went live is, you would think after hearing my story, that I was probably going to be there representing the victims, right?
Yeah, once I got in there, I actually was I actually ended up representing leaders and supervisors and managers in cases that dealt with harassment discrimination. So now these are the people that were accused of harming other people. So now I’m on the other side. And it was, you know, I call that the paradox of my story, because, you know, that’s the twist where I feel like, that’s really where I got to see how bias impacts all of us in different ways. And I don’t think I would have been able to see that perspective, had I not had that twist in my story.
Damon Pistulka 07:03
Yeah, I Well, I’ve got a, I’ve got to believe that it was, as as we were talking earlier, it was it was good for you to be able to get to know some of those people and understand their situation from the other side, to really get the full 360 degree view of, of bias in those situations.
Sejal Thakker 07:27
100% agree? Well, first of all, and I had to go through a really tough part of that journey of really checking my own biases, and really understanding what they were, and how they might interfere with my ability to stay neutral in these cases, or to advocate for the best interest of my client. So I had to do the work myself. So I’m not out there preaching, or talking about anything that I have not personally done the hard work and still continue to do every single day of my life. This is the thing about understanding your own biases, it’s not a one time situation, it’s a lifelong journey. And you have to just commit to doing the work.
But it’s completely 100% worth it. Because once you understand what bias is, and you realize that it’s not something that we’re trying to get rid of, it’s not that we’re you know, it’s a bad thing. It’s just a part of who we are because of what we’ve gone through in our lives, what we’ve experienced, and the world, we use views that we’ve been, you know, exposed to in our life.
Once you understand that, and you take that first step of understanding what your own hidden beliefs are, or unconscious biases are, then you can put into place some simple strategies to help you mitigate that. And that’s really the key. It’s not like there’s gonna be this one point where you’re gonna say, I’m bias free, or I’m, I’ve got it under control. It just it changes all the time, just like life changes all the time. Right?
Damon Pistulka 08:57
Yes, I think I think that would be that would be a bold statement, if everyone anyone was able to say that they were bias free or or that they weren’t biased about anything, because I think, I think you know, at the depth of that you could say someone was biased about not being biased if we really thought about it long enough.
Yeah. But but but it you know, it is interesting, you know, that when you go and you when you hear examples, and I hear examples, and I and I believe that when you and Andrew dois talked, he was he was talking about resumes and and and this is something that I can remember doing when I would was in the position where I was hiring people, and you wouldn’t even think about it but you were doing it you were you’re trying to picture the person because of a name. Now, that’s that’s if, if you’re not neutral, or if you are neutral, even, I don’t care.
It doesn’t really matter. You’re just by having a name. you’re picturing a person there. That will be 100% wrong. It Be right on, really doesn’t matter. But that that little thing can make a big difference in in, you know, are you really, truly creating the diverse workforce that you want to create? Are you letting something in you or someone else that’s, that’s screening a resume? to wreck that? Exactly.
Sejal Thakker 10:24
And especially when you’re making those important decisions like hiring somebody, right? That’s, I mean, you know, we make 1000s of decisions every single day, we’re basically an autopilot, we’re not even we think we’re being conscious and intentional. It’s like not even 10% of the time, right?
We’re basically on autopilot all day long, which is fine. If you’re combing your hair, you’re putting your makeup on, you’re tying your shoelaces, you know, you’re getting dressed. Nobody wants to think about all those things, right, we just want to do it, we would be overwhelmed by our brains would be like that emoji where it’s like your brains gonna go, it’s just too much information. As I said, In the video, as I said, in my TEDx talk, we I mean, we are processing close to 11 million pieces of information, every single second 11 million, right.
And so it’s only 50 of that that is consciously processed, the rest of it is going into all kinds of buckets into our mind. And then when you see somebody that reminds us of like that memory or that belief, or that bias is going to get triggered. And now without even knowing it. And intentions has nothing to do with it unintentionally, unconsciously, you’re going to make snap judgments about that person, and you may not hire them, even doing it and it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad that you’re a bad person.
It’s just happening because of that’s how what you’ve been exposed to, that’s your hardwiring. And so we want to put some measures in place, especially when we have leaders or people that are making important decisions, that we do what we can to mitigate it, right. And there’s tools now, I mean, we’ve done a lot in neuroscience over the last decade, where there are things that we can do to minimize it, it’s never going to be completely bias free. And no one is saying that we need to be because bias can be a good thing too, right?
But I started to also look at it from the perspective of, you know, if you have a positive preconceived notion towards somebody, right? Now, you without knowing it could be doing things that are showing that person like affirmations, like you’re going to give them more leeway, you’re going to give them another opportunity, you’re going to let them have that day off that they want, without even realizing that you’re not doing it for the rest of your team. And so now, unintentionally, you’re excluding the rest of your team, and you have no idea that you’re doing that.
Damon Pistulka 12:45
Yeah, it’s a great example. It’s a great, that’s that is a great example. It is it is a great example that, that that that happens, and you’re doing it, as you said, You don’t even realize you’re doing it, but you’re doing it and everyone around you sees it. Yeah. So So I don’t know if this is something that we talked about the tools to to measure bias, I think is a fascinating subject. And and maybe we’ll we’ll get to that. But that I’ve written a wrote a note down here, because I think it’s something I would like to cover in a moment. But it is this. When you think about it there, like you said, bias is not necessarily bad.
And in certain certain situations, it can help you make the right decisions as well. And and it’s and that’s the one thing I think that I I love hearing you talk about about it, it’s not all bad. It’s we have to understand and appropriately not use or use it in to the best of the best way we should. And when you’re out, you’re experienced now it’s so unique, because you’ve seen both sides of this. This What did you learn as you started to help to defend people that were in the situation, they were accused of bias, or harassment or those kinds of things?
Sejal Thakker 14:09
I learned so much because what I was what, as I was doing my own work, so that I can stay neutral and or I can advocate for my clients as I was doing that work. I also realized that a lot of these people that were doing bad, bad things right where the complaint had been filed. A lot of times it was happening because of their unconscious bias that it wasn’t that they were intending to harm somebody else. Right, which you would imagine if somebody files a lawsuit, that there’s going to be some evidence that this person intended to harass somebody or intended to discriminate against somebody.
That’s what we would think that’s what I thought. Right? And one of the reasons why I became a defense attorney and not a plaintiff’s attorney, my thinking was, you know what, I represent the employer side they have deeper pockets. And if they’ve actually done something wrong, then I can help educate and make sure this harm doesn’t continue and harm other employees. So that was sort of my thinking going into it, where it’s like, okay, I want to take an opportunity where I can help create better workplaces, right. And so what I found in that process was that a lot of times, these were well intentioned people that were really trying to do their best.
But they found themselves in situations where they weren’t properly educated, they didn’t have the skills to navigate through those differences. Because the way that I look at it, we’re all different from each other period. We’re all been raised differently. We all have different unique lenses by which we look at the world, we have different religions, different cultures, just different traditions, everything is different, unless we live in the same roof. And even then, like I look at my siblings, and I’m like, what, how did you know?
How did we end up in the same house together? Right? So now you have people that are living in different houses, totally different, some immigrants, some not some born here, some not. I mean, and then you put them all in a work environment, and you’re like, yeah, we expect you to be a team, that’s never gonna work, it hasn’t worked, it’s not going to work. You have to give people the skills to navigate through our differences, because we’re all different from each other.
And inherent in that is going to be some conflict, there’s going to be some communication issues, there’s going to be some issues with how do we resolve conflict, there’s going to be some issues where if there is something that’s happening because of your unconscious bias, so now, whether it’s a micro affirmation or micro aggression, that resulting from your unconscious bias, people that are observing this need to be able to call you in or educate you about that situation, but people never were receiving that kind of support from their organizations.
I mean, I’ve done this for years, I’ve been licensed in California. That’s why I can say this, like loud screaming off the top of a mountain. And, you know, I’ve done this since 2003, is an employment lawyer representing management in these cases. And what I’ve seen is that very few organizations, were really supporting their leaders with the proper training and their employees, if they were supporting their leaders, it was that once a year, you know, check the box training. Yep.
If you work for a really good organization, well, then you got some other, you know, retreats and some other kinds of training. That’s not enough. You know, leaders need to know how to lead by example, leaders need to know what it means to be civil. What does diversity mean? What does inclusion mean? What does equity mean? What does justice mean? What is microaggressions? mean? What do we do? I mean, there’s so much that goes into it, that there’s no way that you can do that unless you educate.
And then the problem that really frustrates me is, why do you think you only need to train your leaders and nobody else? Yes, like, that is so frustrating when and I and I try to say that in every single podcast that I do, because I’m not like somebody who’s gonna hear that, because every single person that you have in your organization, whether indirectly or directly affects the culture of that organization, you cannot do this without getting everybody properly educated, trained and get everybody’s buy in and then have accountability for every single person, not just your lawyers or your HR or your leaders. It’s literally got to be everybody.
Damon Pistulka 18:23
That is I just thinking about that. I think about the the businesses I’ve been involved in in the past. And I think that, just as you said, the diversity in the workforce, and just their ability to solve problems or abilities to work together, how much it would have been enhanced. If we would have talked about things like this, we want to talk about, because, okay, that’s your loss. I, hell, I’m in the I’m of the age that we didn’t talk about this until the last whatever, 15 years at all, at all. I mean, yes, there were the big, the big things that people talked about it the discrimination because of race and gender and those kind of things that’s been around a long time.
But as we’re talking now, it’s truly getting to the root of all bias, and educating and how to how to how to, yes, tactfully make people aware of it and resolve this to the point that it needs to be resolved. is I think it’s enlightening to me because I think it’s, it’s, it’s a great thing for us to do, just from the standpoint of how much it’s going to make things just eliminate so many problems that that a we don’t know are there but are there that are causing this traveler, or B that are causing this terrible, terrible problems that that people could be causing, like you said, without even realizing it.
Sejal Thakker 19:55
They weren’t even I mean, the organizations that I’ve worked with and what I’ve seen as far as you know, They weren’t even talking about discrimination. They were talking about sexual harassment. Yes. But they weren’t even talking about race. And it was it was always the opposite. Don’t talk about it. Those are things that are taboo, we’re not going to talk about have those conversations. And we all know and this is goes back to what we’re two years old, right? You tell a child not to do something?
What are they going to? Do? You have to explain it, as far as why is it that we cannot have these conversations? And why do we need to have certain conversations, even if they’re uncomfortable, because we need to talk about these issues, and name them, if we don’t do that we can’t solve them. You can’t solve a problem until you actually name it. So if you can’t have a conversation about how systemic racism is every single system in this country, and you’re afraid to have that conversation, because it might open a can of worms, guess what, it’s going to be there in your company, whether you like it or not, because you’re not addressing it. Right.
And so it’s like we’re starting at square one on certain in certain aspects. Because here’s, I went through law school. Without any training on unconscious bias, I went a majority of my career, representing people not knowing about you that there’s something wrong with that something majorly wrong with it. So when I started learning about it, I was like, holy crap, I gotta I gotta educate people on this, because this is huge. This is this, these things were meant to divide us. How can we? How can we unite us if people don’t understand what these things are and where it’s coming from?
I mean, you basically are living a life or having these beliefs that have been fed to you. And you really haven’t been given an opportunity to discuss it. Like, I don’t even feel like a lawyer these days. I feel like a therapist, I literally do. I feel like a therapist every day. Yeah. And it’s all about going to companies and creating a space. So we’re going to get off of here, and I’m holding a workshop at 430. On, you know, systemic racism. And this is what I do for companies and people want to talk about it, you know, they just want to have a space where we can have a healthy dialogue doesn’t mean that you and I have to agree on everything, let’s not commit, that’s not what we’re looking for.
In fact, we want to create a space where you can have your opinion, I can have my opinion, but we’re going to commit to engage in civility in every interaction, like that’s the commitment that we need, right? That’s, that’s the reasons why I called myself the chief civility officers because I don’t, we don’t have to agree on everything. In fact, it’s okay if we don’t, but we have to commit to one thing is that we are going to be civil, we’re gonna have respect and dignity for each other’s perspectives we’re gonna have for each other’s well being, and that it’s not enough, in my opinion, it’s not enough to just merely be civil. Right?
So so I’m going to be civil when I interact with you. But I’m going to sit back quietly and silently when something’s happening to you that I should be doing something about as a bystander. It’s also failing to act, you know, when action is warranted, like we need people, bystanders to interrupt these situations that are happening that we all know are happening. I mean, I did a conference. You know, I actually, this is just one example that popped in my head. But this happens to me so often.
The minute I tell them what the minute I tell anybody what I do for a living, the stories about horrors of workplace just starts spewing out from all directions, right? Yeah, yeah, I literally was invited to this conference, and basically was told you know what we’re going to introduce you, you tell us a little bit about your story. And then people can ask questions. All I literally did is tell them my job titles, tell them I was an attorney. And the rest of the time people went around and shared stories about all this crap that was going on at work. Yeah. And so then I was sitting there thinking, like, we all know what’s happening.
And then what are you doing? What are we all doing about it? You know, and so, we need to start, we need to start when we start seeing this stuff happen early in the in the progress, I like to call it the uncivil behavior spectrum, right. I think organizations are focused, you know, have been focused on legal compliance, we’re going to check the boxes, we’re going to provide the annual sexual harassment training because we need to, and I think what the the, the boat that everybody missed, was that if it’s gotten to the point where there’s a law, yeah, requiring you to do that, that should be the bare minimum that you do not the only thing you do.
That means there is a bigger problem out there. Right. And so my approach is, no, no, we want to empower everybody on when things start to happen, like rude, unprofessional behaviors, when there’s a microaggression. That happens unintentionally, but it’s harmful to somebody. We want to equip every single person in your organization and how do we address that in a respectful, professional way? When it first starts to happen? Because I’ve heard this over and over again in my career. Sejal, I wish I would have known. If somebody would have told me I would have stopped saying that joke or I would Stop making those comments or I would have stopped.
So let’s just kill that excuse, let’s just put people on notice of their behavior. Because if they truly don’t want to harm somebody, they’re going to stop. Most people will stop. Yeah, we’re not going to work kind of, you know, make people offended or uncomfortable, we want to go to work and be part of it. Most of us spend so much time at work. This is our work family. These are people we spend most of our time with, we want to have fun when we’re around these people, we want to be successful together. So but but if we don’t show people how to do that, in those situations, they’re probably not going to do anything.
Or they might handle it the wrong way, and then blows up into something bigger turns into a lawsuit, or they just sweep it under the rug. And then it continues to fester and fester and fester. until it turns into a lawsuit. So none of those, we want to train people early on, here’s us. Here’s what you do. If you’re the victim in that situation, here’s what you do when you’re the bystander in that situation. And here’s what you do, when you’re being told, when you’re when someone points out to that what you’ve done has offended them, here’s how you respond, we need to tell that person how to respond to right, because you’re gonna get it’s natural.
If you were to tell me right now that I was saying something that was offended you, I’m automatically going to get angry or upset or feel defensive, I’m going to feel like Why aren’t you know, I want to I want to defend myself? Right? That’s normal. But then I need to be taught. What do I do with those feelings? In that moment? How do I respond in the way that aligns with what the organization’s values are? Because it’s I’m sick and tired of organizations talking about people first and all of this stuff, that well, what are you doing about it? What are you doing? Where are the actions supporting that core value?
Right. And oftentimes, I be surprised if I haven’t got a definition of what they meant by that core value if they were able to, if the leadership was even able to recall, because I’ve been plenty of it. Everything I say comes from my experience, right? So you know, but I have plenty of trainings. And I’ve trained 1000s of employees over the globe, where I’ve asked leadership, senior leadership to name the core values of their organization for me, and they’re not able to do it. So they’re not able to do it, how are they leading by example, you cannot lead a team about your core values unless you know them and you embody them.
Right. And so, so for example, I just joined, I just accepted a position at a venture studio as their chief culture officer. And my first question was, like, are you sure you want to bring me on? Because you know what I’m out there talking about? Yeah. And they’re like, exactly why we want to bring you on like, Alright, then because I’m going to be challenging. And I’m going to make sure that we are walking our talk, because I, that’s that’s what I believe needs to happen. And the other thing I’ll just add about that, too. It’s not about blame or shaming anybody, it’s not about calling anybody out, I just want to make that very clear.
I’m so sick of hearing the term, canceled culture, like it’s just Can we just get rid of that term altogether, those two words altogether, because it’s not about that, if you understand bias, and you recognize that it’s normal, it’s something that happens to each one of us, then you realize that sometimes your actions or behaviors if they truly are coming from a place of unconscious bias, and I tried to really break that down in my TEDx talk, so that people can really understand it. from just a perspective that applies to all of us, then you see that we all add from unconscious bias.
And it’s not about it’s not about I intentionally want to harm somebody, it’s unintentional, it’s unconscious. It’s about calling that person in and educating them. And so it’s, it’s something that bystanders really need to be doing, right? It’s on the responsibilities on everybody that’s observing this type of behavior happening, it’s on that it’s not on the person who’s the victim of those situations, that person’s only responsibility is to take care of themselves, and try to get their work done. It’s not to educate everybody.
It’s not, you know, I love how we have great complaint policies, and we have all these, you know, legal policies, we need all that stuff. But it’s really about if you and I are in a meeting, and we see that somebody who’s engaging in micro aggressions, you or I need to be the ones who figure out how are you know, am I going to talk to this person, if it’s a safe environment, where we you and I feel safe, then one of us should bring that up in a polite, respectful way.
Or we pull the person aside and just really stay focused in on the behavior. We noticed that you know, you made this comment and it might have been perceived as being offensive. And that’s it. And that other person when they’re being called in their response, if it truly is a microaggression. So if it’s from unconscious bias, their responsibility is to hear listen to what they’re being told to acknowledge it, to pay attention to what emotions are coming up for them, and then to Apollo. gize and then not do that again, or try not to do that again, right?
That’s really the only response. Because otherwise if the person says that wasn’t my intention, or I was I was just joking, or Sage’s being too sensitive. That’s that’s not the point. The point is, it doesn’t matter what your intention is, it’s still harming that other person or potentially creating an unsafe environment for that person. So it’s not about the intention. It’s about the impact. Yeah, right. So these deeper conversations can you can only make through change or have belonging at your organization, when you start having these discussions. There’s no way around it.
Damon Pistulka 30:38
Yeah. Yeah. And you make a good point about it’s not intention, its impact. Yeah. And, you know, and when it is, when it is unconscious, you don’t even know you’re doing it. No, you do it. And it’s, and quite honestly, it’s, it’s not just bias. It’s, it’s personality. Yeah, like myself, I’ve got a I don’t even say it’s not aggressive, but I get things done. That’s what I do.
I just is part of me, and people. And when, when we’re in business situations, I have to reel myself back. Because I just as a normal part of my day, it’s like, Hey, we’re doing this, you know, and I’m, and I’m not, I’m not in somebody’s face, like that. But I’m there to, I know what I’m there to do. But I have to in the situation, you have to take notice of the room, or the people you’re talking with, and act appropriately in that situation.
And that’s not that’s not even considering anything that would be you know, most people would think bias is personality. And I think that when we talk about things, and we talk about bias, it just it’s human behavior, and I think at the core, and when we when we that’s why that’s why to me I think is so cool what you’re doing, because it’s really about when you when you study human behavior, you study the mind, you study the way that works. And you study the way that we can take ourselves from where we’re at today, no matter where we’re at today.
And we can make such tremendous, tremendous gains, in our mind, if we do it the right way. And the way that outwardly we do things. I think it’s just cool what you’re doing. And the the approach, because you’re not taking the approach of Hey, you got you need to do this right now. And this is the way it was we need to understand so that we can civilly change the conversations Yes. So they’re productive all around. And, and I just I’m so inspired by that. And I come back to the, to the very foundation of of the United States.
We came here because we wanted diversity, we wanted freedom we wanted not no freedom from oppression. I mean, you come back to clear to the beginning. That’s what we said. But yet, we still haven’t figured it out. Obviously, hopefully we’re getting better. But I just love the the conversations you’re leading is comes back to civility is human human civility. Yeah. And understanding and, and really trying to educating and get better. Because the way what you’ve seen is there is a lot of unconscious bias. And so
Sejal Thakker 33:21
so unconscious bias is just another word for preference, right? So when presented with two options, you have to prefer one thing or the other. That’s just how we are, you know, if I were to give you two colors, it could be any color and we pink and green. And I said Which one do you prefer? And you automatically you lean in one direction. That’s your unconscious bias, right?
So in any situation, it could be anything. So I’ll share an example. So this was this was a story that I was, till the very end go to include in my TEDx talk. And then I, I eliminated last minute, but I think it really highlights a very important point. That that it’s really, it’s based on our own lived experience. Our own biases are based on my own lived experiences, what I’ve been exposed to, right. So, you know, I remember one of the first cases that I worked on, it was an Indian female. She claimed that she was sexually harassed by her male white supervisor.
Okay. So she had you know, I met with her. And before I even learned much about her case, right. When we first met with her, we started talking and I realized right off the bat, she had an Indian accent. And I have a negative bias associated with Indian accents, and I’m Indian. Okay. So, if you if you didn’t know that about me, and I just said to get guess what I had this case, Indian female said that she had been harassed white male, who do you think? I would say With Who do you think that I would naturally prefer, most people would say the Indian female because I’m Indian, I was harassed. And so I might lean in that direction, mine was the exact opposite.
Why? Because my parents have accents. The reason why I was bullied and harassed was because they had accents. So now because of that, I have a negative bias against it. And it’s, it sucks. Because it really impacted my relationship with my parents and people. I have tons of people in my family that have Indian accent, and I have to be very intentional, to not let that impact my relationships with people. Is that fair? No, it impacted my relationships with my own parents because of it.
Now, you’re not going to have that experience. So you’re not going to have that you might not have that feeling. But the point is, is that I recognize that. So now that I know that I have that bias, which makes no sense if you just heard it from just the factual perspective of when you see what I’ve gone through in line life, and how it caused me suffering and the years of my adolescence, you can understand that, right. So this is what I meant about that paradox of bias stories. When I started working in representing management. In these cases, I started seeing a lot of that going on.
And I’m like, man, if we could just educate people on how this works, and give them some tools. So you asked about earlier, you know, some tools to help people identify what their biases are, I’ll give you three right now. They’re simple tools that everybody can use to just, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It’s just to identify your preferences. So that you can make sure when you’re making these important decisions, you don’t let those preferences disadvantage certain people who may not have done anything to deserve those, right.
So one of the tools is really to just to you could take a test, there’s an online tool called the Implicit Association test. I don’t like calling it a test. But that’s what the name they gave it to them. It’s, it’s a tool in my opinion, it’s not like a pass or fail. But it’s a tool that was put together by Harvard University, University of Washington, University of Virginia budget is big psychologists got together, and they created this tool, where now you can go online, it’s broken out into different sections like race, sexual orientation, age, etc.
And you answer a series of questions. And then it identifies for you areas of potential bias, that’s valuable information for you to know. And so I learned so much about myself when I took that that I was like, Whoa, I had no idea. And that’s the scary part about all this is when you start doing the work, you actually realize that your unconscious biases are often the exact opposite of your current beliefs.
Damon Pistulka 37:46
Yeah, the opposite. That’s powerful.
Sejal Thakker 37:48
I’m an advocate for social justice for diversity. And yet I’ve got a negative bias against Indian access. Just that makes no sense, right. But that’s just the reality that I live in. Right. And so, so Implicit Association tests, a great place to start, it’s what I love about it is that it’s free, free, and it’s broken into different sections. So you could do a section here, you could do another section, and then you use that information to just sort of start your own process, right, wherever you are. We’re all at different places in my journey. And then you start to question those preferences and the assumptions that you’re making about people.
And so one of the things I said in my, my TEDx talk was like, did you know that within the first seven seconds of meeting somebody, you’re making 11 judgments about that person, without knowing anything about them, 11 of them. And then the scary part is, is then you spend the rest of your time of the entire time of your relationship looking for information to confirm those initial judgments you made about that person. Whether or not they were true or not, you will look for evidence to even if they’re wrong, you’re going to look for evidence to confirm those wrong assumptions that you’re making.
So it’s very, very harmful, because you’re doing it without even realizing that you’re doing it. Right. So Implicit Association test, great way to get started on understanding what your own unconscious bias, another tool you could do, right, is to just start questioning the assumptions you’re making, you know, pay attention to those you meet, you see somebody and all of a sudden you have a negative or positive reaction towards them. Why start in question those assumptions, instead of just being reactive, instead of just being an autopilot?
Ask yourself things like why am I thinking this way? What if this would have been a male instead of a female? What if this would have been a transgender person versus a heterosexual person? Would my conclusion still be the same? and really take the time to analyze? Right so in my TEDx talk, I talked about the hat acronym, right? But you can’t apply the hat acronym till you do the work to learn what your own biases are in the first place. So starting Pay attention to analyze, you know, when you’re having those, we’re making those initial judgments because we’re creatures of habit, we like to just keep doing the same thing we don’t know.
So this takes work, it’s intentional, you really need to, you know, I tell people make some time every two weeks to sit down and analyze, what are the interactions you’re having with people on your team? Are? Is everything going? Okay? Are they not you know, is where can there be room for improvement. And then the third tool is really, you know, the thing about unconscious biases, they’re unconscious to us, it comes out in our actions in our body language, and our facial gestures, or hand gestures, or, you know, whether we look at somebody make eye contact, the tone of our voice, people around us can pick up on that, even though we may not be aware of it.
So as somebody that you trust, that will be honest with you, that knows you that truly cares about your well being not the person. And I’m not talking about the person that’s gonna just tell you what you want to hear, that’s not going to be helpful. Yeah, the person that truly cares about you and ask them and say, Hey, do you think I’m biased when I make certain decisions? And just be ready for the answer that you get? Right. So yeah, well, that’s
Damon Pistulka 41:13
a lot about like you said, you talked about earlier with the person that if you’re if you are bias, and don’t realize it with unconscious bias, you have to be ready for the feedback. Yes, really? Do you have to go? And you know, you just as if you’re in the right frame of mind, you can you can do that. And that’s that’s just what I think people have to do to realize is that if you’re doing something you don’t realize you’re doing it. Okay. First of all, you didn’t realize you did it. So, all right, let’s just go right there. You didn’t realize you did it. So but you did it. Right. So accept it. Yes. And, and take that, take the feedback and apologize and move on.
Sejal Thakker 41:54
Yeah. And again, you might get defensive, I want to it’s not easy to get this feedback. It’s really, really hard sometimes to hear it. But if you create if you do this, right, and you create an environment, let’s say we’re talking about at work, right? Look, I just had this conversation with my mother yesterday, right? My mom’s visiting from Chicago.
And, you know, and she made some statement, and she It was a racist comment that she made. And I had to, I had to say, Do you understand what you just said, is extremely racist. And she, you know, she did it happened twice, like the first time she said it, I said it to her, and then it happened again, it’s not comfortable. Nobody said, it’s easy to be able to tell your mother that she’s, you know, she’s making racist comments. But it has to happen. It has to happen otherwise, you are being complicit in, you’re allowing that to continue.
We’ve done that for so long. And that’s why we’re in this mess that we’re in right now, is because we’ve just become complicit. And we’re not, we’re not supporting each other, and we’re not being allies the way that we should be and we can’t get there. Two people understand what bias is about, which is why I did that talk, because I’m like, I need to do more to help people understand what bias is because it’s preventing us from getting the true true inclusion and belonging, which is what we all want. We all want to feel like we belong. And we connect with each other.
Damon Pistulka 43:15
Yes. Because Because as we improve, improve the inclusion and and reduce the amount of bias, unconscious bias in general, it is it is going to be a much, much better place.
Sejal Thakker 43:33
Yeah, so I’m positive. I’m really, I just the only thing that scares me right now is that I feel like we’re relying so much on I mean, this is past year. And this is a fear that’s starting to get bigger and bigger. And I’m hoping that I can start to address it at the venture studio that I just joined. But we’re relying so much on technology and with technology, if it’s garbage in its garbage out, you know, and, and that’s where I’m that’s where when I hesitate.
It’s because I’m scared that if there’s only a few people at the top that are making these decisions, we have a lot, we really need to be worried about what these algorithms look like, and how they’re impacting our lives and all of that. So that that whole part I’m a little nervous about, you know, we’re too heavily dependent on AI right now. And it’s going to be it’s going to be happening really quickly now. You know, that’s the part. Yeah.
Damon Pistulka 44:26
Well, because because look, look, let’s be let’s be honest, if and I’m not going to go down this road very far. If I if I so this is something I do like, I grew up in the Midwest, I like old pickup trucks, right? I like old pickup trucks. So I’m on Instagram. I find when I like I if I hit like on it, what do I see more of? I see him morrible pickup trucks. And pretty soon I’m liking more and what happens is that AI fills my feet what I like so this can be a good and harmless thing, maybe I spend too much on old pickup trucks then if that’s that’s my deal, but it’s harmless in that situation, but it can be taken to very bad extremes.
And people don’t even realize they’re going down those roads, because it happens over time and slowly and surely. And, and and just increases the intensity of whatever feeling it is whether it’s good or bad, you know, and that’s the thing. I think you’ve you’ve hit one topic, and we could spend hours on that serious. Because it Yeah, we have to stand back from that. And we have to understanding again, just understanding what that algorithm is there to do. It is there to keep you in. I don’t care what platform you’re on. It’s there to feed you what you they think you like, yes, what’s gonna do? And that that can lead you down a bad road? And did you? Did you see that movie coded bias? No.
Oh, my God,
Sejal Thakker 45:58
you got it. I would really want you to see that movie. All right, let me know what you think of it. Scared the pants off of me. And the other one that you should watch, if you haven’t seen yet is social dilemma. Have you seen that one?
Damon Pistulka 46:12
Yes, I did see the social dilemma.
It’s like, ah,
Sejal Thakker 46:18
after after I watched social dilemma, I went off of all of the other social media websites I was on. I’m only on LinkedIn right now I went off of them. I just got on clubhouse, just because it was something that I needed to do for the new venture studio that I’ve joined. But it scared me but coated bias after watching that, that fear became really real for me, because if you’ve got, again, if you’ve got just a small number of people that are making these decisions on AI, and there’s no not much regulation around it, there’s not much nobody’s double checking all that.
And it can result in a lot of disparate treatment. It already is its research is already there. That’s the part that I get scared about. And I’m trying to figure out how I can tap into that space. Because I think from an from an individual perspective, I’m doing good work. I’m reaching people, I have more of these conversations it started. But from that AI perspective, I think that’s a whole different ballgame that needs to be cracked into.
Damon Pistulka 47:18
Yeah, because it it doesn’t really allow natural reach of of news of information, anything, it it artificially. It’s almost like a drug. It artificially feeds you what it thinks they need more of, and and and until it’s unhealthy levels, I
Sejal Thakker 47:38
think and it’s already unhealthy. It’s really unhealthy. It’s it’s, so here’s an example. So my TEDx talk that I did, right? I mean, this is, this is how it’s scary. I did a TEDx talk. And there was somebody else that did a TEDx talk at her talk was fantastic. I love the talk. So it’s not about the quality of the talk. We both did a talk at the same event. Come out, my talk has right now. And we just look at it. And again, it’s I’m just pointing out how AI works and how we have no control over it.
Right? My talk has 3000 views. And believe me, I’ve worked for every single one of those views, because it’s everybody that I’ve sent there. Her talk is over 50,000 views. Right? So you think about AI if I’m just looking at from a perspective of how is that possible? When we did the same event, the talks were released on the same exact day. And when I talked to her because I didn’t even know about that until I spoke with her. We’re friends. And she’s like CTO IoT at 15,000 views before I even got the link to my talk.
So somehow the algorithm whether it was a name over there was something that got triggered, and it shut off because she’s like, the people that have commented on my talk, I don’t even know who these people are versus mine. It’s everybody that I’m connected to. Mine never got to the public. Hers did, right. So you talk about control, you talk about what control Do we have over these situations, it’s not much we can’t really do anything about now the talk is one thing.
You know, I mean, I’m looking at it from I’m going to keep doing what I do. And I think about somebody who’s applying for a job or a loan for from a bank. And now they’re getting rejected because somebody didn’t check the right box or use the right word. Or you put down a zip code where we know there’s a high racial group that lives in a zip code. So you’re going to get declined or your house is going to get appraised at twice the value. This is all of machines making these decisions based on what’s been fed into these machines and these are having huge impacts on people’s lives. Yeah, it impacts
Damon Pistulka 49:37
it Yeah, yeah. Oh, we could go down. Pick it out hard because it is it is. Yes, it is. It is it it is something that we need to really and and yes, well stop on that because I’m so glad you brought it up though because now I got to watch coated bias. I will get back to you on that. And and I did look at your I did look at your your TED talk on YouTube before we got on today earlier today. And you can tell these are people that you know that.
Sejal Thakker 50:10
Yeah, every single person and I’m like, wait, why? Why isn’t anybody from the somebody that I don’t know looking at this thing now one person?
Damon Pistulka 50:18
Yes. Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s it’s interesting how that works. And you know, obviously, I put a lot of videos on YouTube and there is no rhyme or reason in my mind is how you get how you get views you don’t, or there really is none. And I don’t know how it works. I don’t know how it works. But but you know what i think that the good part about it is you keep bringing your message out.
And I love that I love that I love that I love your perspective, you have that dual side of perspective, and you’re showing people how to be aware of their their unconscious bias how to be civil, and really embrace the diversity and be inclusive as we should be in our dealings in business and in life. Because it just makes I believe, if you can do this holistically, it’s so much better for us. And it because we all bring good stuff to the table if we can if we can find it. So
Sejal Thakker 51:15
we do and what it’s all about. It’s about all of us. It’s not about being anybody you know, I think I think this last year, unfortunately, you know, words matter. And that’s one of the reasons why I did the talk was because the word bias it was just being has a negative stereotype associated with it. But our language is changing, because we’re realizing that we’ve been using language that has this one narrative to it. But it’s not taking into account everybody else’s narratives and lived experiences.
So good things are happening. And I’m very, very optimistic that we’re heading in the right direction. And I just hope that we continue to be better allies for each other that we realize that we really need to get off the computers and do what you and I are doing right now and have these conversations and keep continuing to reach into our own networks, which I truly believe if we’re going to make the changes that we want.
Computers aren’t going to help us this technology isn’t going to do that it has to be human to human where we can control it we can’t rely on it’d be great to get that one $3 million, every 3 million people saw a situation but we got it we got to talk about impact in whatever way we can make it whatever that is. And so I just want to thank you again for giving me an opportunity to be here and share this with you and whoever listens to this because I think the more that we continue to have these conversations, the more perspectives are going to get broader and broader and it’s going to pull us all closer together. That’s that’s the goal at least.
Damon Pistulka 52:43
I couldn’t have said that any better. So awesome. Sejal. Thank you so much for being here. Thank you, Joel Thacker. I just I gotta tell you, if you haven’t listened to her TEDx talk, get on listen to it. It’s awesome. I will also have it in the I didn’t. I didn’t put it in the post yet for this because I just now I think about I got to put it in the post too. But it’ll also be in the blog page.
And it’ll also be in the other, the other on our YouTube channel as well. So you can see that, listen to her TED Talk. Listen to what she does. She’s got a lot of other talks. She’s done. Go out. And practice, practice and get better. Thank you so much, everyone. Thank you, sage. Oh, we will be back again next week on the faces business talking to more interesting people in about their life and business. Thank you. Bye