Pre-talk annoyances and how that’s strengthening my talk

I’m doing a talk on battling unconscious bias for an internal work conference.  I’m super stoked about it.  I’ve been unknowingly compiling resources on this for a long time.  I’ve been even more excited when people told me that they voted for my talk to be included, and they’re looking forward to it.  Score!

I have not been excited about the amount of people who are annoyingly sarcastic about it.  The people who are like “Well, I have a bias to think [insert the opposite of a stereotype].”  Or, the people who keep telling me that I’m inherently biased because I’m a woman, and that it would have been more powerful if a man had given this talk (I was shocked the first time I heard this; I had a real “fuck you” moment the second time it happened.)

My favorite has been the white males that have warned me not to make the talk an attack on white men because the studies on racism/sexism/bias are all inherently flawed for some reason or another.  “Hope it’s not full of anecdotes because I’ll be giving a hard look at your citations!”  Well, I have dozens of citations, and I plan on handing the list out like candy.  Delicious, delicious data-filled candy that I hope people savor and enjoy fully.

As always, instead of yelling “screw you” towards people, I’ve channeled that energy to work twice as hard on my presentation.  Basically everyone I’ve talked to about the talk at work, I’ve asked them if they have anything that they’d like me to include in my talk.  It’s been incredibly eye-opening because the majority of people have had a suggestion or a story on things that they’ve seen or faced themselves at work.  Not only that, but people have opened my eyes towards the bias that we don’t address a lot — invisible illnesses, how we introduce people, learning styles, etc.

I was talking to someone who was saying that he was so upset when people were making a joke against a certain group of people, no one spoke up, and the person in that group said they didn’t think it was a big deal.  I was there, I didn’t say anything, and I asked the person in the affected group how they felt about it afterwards.  This was probably the murkiest situation for me, and one I’ve been thinking about the most.  On the one hand, the person saying the joke had a trusting relationship with the person who was facing the butt of the joke and so no harm was done.  On the other hand, if an outsider was looking in, they might see it differently.  Or, studies show that just saying something over and over (even if it’s not true) helps your brain makes patterns and associates those words together.

Where do we draw the line between bias and making a joke and having a good time with friends/coworkers, etc?

In the middle of all of this, I realized that I’m afraid to give this talk not because of the naysayers, but because I so want to do right by the people who are affected by bias every day.  I don’t want to come off as saying this bias is worse than this bias so if you pick one, make sure you fix sexism before race or something like that.  I don’t want to prescribe an edict to say this is how you deal with every situation either.  I want to give people the tools to recognize situations that aren’t ideal and grow to be the accepting person that they want to be.  Hopefully, that’ll be a good start.

2 thoughts on “Pre-talk annoyances and how that’s strengthening my talk

  1. Very powerful and thoughtful, Neem. As a nurse practitioner who is valued by patient and management alike for making quick correct decisions about diagnoses and treatments; I find it hard to also be unbiased. Where is the line? My experience is that this type of person does not readily accept what I recommend, so I plan to go slow on prescribing the needed blood pressure lowering medicine, allow for time to change diet, loose weight, exercise more (even when I know odds are it won’t work, and meanwhile the patient’s risk for MI, CA go up.) This other patient just wants the medicine and counseling, to start now. What happens when I mis judge based on my biases is that the treatment plan does not work and we start over with a new plan.
    I saw ‘state of Jones’ yesterday. That story deals a lot with biases and outright prejudice, but gets one thinking. Loree

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