Sejal Thakkar is the Founder and Chief Civility Officer at TrainXtra, where she is a passionate attorney and educator, focused on delivering specifically tailored employment law and human resources training for employers on a variety of topics including harassment, bullying, discrimination, unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion and leadership training. She specializes in delivering one-on-one sensitivity training for managers and employees concerning harassment, discrimination, and diversity awareness issues. Watch her TedX talk, The Pain, Power and Paradox of Bias.
Sejal was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated with honors from University of Illinois at Chicago and Cum Laude from Northern Illinois College of Law. After moving to Northern California’s San Francisco Bay Area in 2000, Sejal gained extensive experience in employment law. She experienced discrimination, up close and personal, at a very early age. As the daughter of immigrants from India, she was bullied and ridiculed at her elementary and high school. Though Sejal is a native born American who speaks unaccented English, she was not spared. Once her classmates discovered that the store across the street from their school was owned by her immigrant parents who did have accents, her problems began. Suddenly, she was “the marginal other” in a country she’d been born in. These childhood experiences left a lasting impression which helped Sejal transmute a negative experience into a positive call to action for change. Within her came about a passion to use her experiences and her legal knowledge to educate others on the topics of civility, discrimination, bullying, and harassment.
Mike and Sejal cover a ton of great stuff in this episode like why training and education is so important on creating a work environment where people educate each other on boundaries to create a workplace of dignity and respect versus filing formal complaints and instituting legal actions, the difference between bad seeds and people genuinely not knowing they are harassing co-workers, unintentional micro aggressions that happen without us even knowing about it, her TedX Talk on how everybody has unconscious beliefs and the impact it has on decisions we make, and much more.
And now here’s Sejal Thakkar.
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people, microaggressions, bias, deal, training, person, behavior, happen, organization, thinking, talk, culture, complaint, brain, knowing, started, policy violation, interrupted, investigations, sharing
Sejal Thakkar, Mike Malatesta
Mike Malatesta 01:46
Hey everybody welcome back to the show today I’m very excited to be talking to Sejal today. Welcome to the show. This is our second opportunity to talk, we got introduced by Brian Bachand who is episode just dropped number 145 is just very grateful for him to make the introduction and as you heard, say jaw is really different, like she’s a lawyer but she’s a lot more than a lawyer, and I’m really looking forward to getting into this. We had a great time sort of setting it up in a discussion before and now we’re gonna really dive in. So, since all I ask everyone the same question to get started. How did it happen for you?
Sejal Thakkar 03:11
Thank you again for having me here this is super cool. So for me it was really, when my son was born. That was eight years ago. That’s really where I truly started taking a look at what was it that I wanted to do because by then I was already the lawyer, and I had been litigating cases for a long time, and I knew it wasn’t the right fit for me and so I was trying to still figure out where to go but once he was born. It was very clear to me that I wanted to be at home with my son and so I left what I was doing, I was at a law firm in San Diego, worked from home for a while, and I wanted to raise my son, you know, and so I was able to, luckily I had made some really nice connections in the community so I had people sending me work from home so I still was working from home, but if they said that to me at home. And it was during that time where I really found my passion for training. And so I’ve been doing a lot of, I started my company, three years ago, and will train extra and I do training, and really my goal. Mike is very simple, is to do what I can to help create better workplaces.
Mike Malatesta 04:16
and. Okay, so the, the work that you were doing as a litigator, were you before I get into asking you specifics about it. Were you already sort of tiring of it before? Your son was born in this that was sort of the thing that was like, Okay, I have to do something different or was it just your son being born just changed your whole perspective.
Sejal Thakkar 04:42
No, it was way before that, in the sense of I knew litigation wasn’t the right fit. You know, I found myself often actually educating people about what they should or shouldn’t be doing at work, rather than actually being just a defense attorney so I already felt like I was more of a conflict resolution, educator person, and so I was already starting to do that beforehand, but I think when he was born, that was the moment where I was like okay, you know what I’m going to I’m going to pivot here, and I’m going to start looking at other things because my priorities shifted now at this point, he became the center of the universe, and everything else had to fit in, around, around making sure that I could spend as much time as I could.
Mike Malatesta 05:27
And I’m one of the, the, and I hope this is okay with you but this, this job title. When you are at UC San Francisco senior complaint resolution, Officer I when I read that I thought, oh that’s a horrible job title, like chief civility officer is so much better than senior complaint resolute like as soon as it’s senior complaint resolution officer, I’m already off on a bad foot right because it’s like
Sejal Thakkar 05:57
Yes and the job wasn’t that great either. It’s not it’s not a good job to have. And that was interesting because, so I was at home for three and a half years, working from home, and then when he got a little bit older now, I was like okay I need a steady paycheck, maybe it was a health insurance benefits, so let me go back and do something where it’s not going to be litigation, but at least it’s going to be working, using my legal background and doing looking at organizations from a different perspective so I learned a whole lot now doing these investigations because all I did there was investigate discrimination and harassment complaints. Again, not a fun job, but it was good because it allowed me to see organization or at least at UCSF and I did investigations. Before that, too. But that piece of my journey has allowed me to see organizations from a different lens to see how they operated in nuts and bolts level, so it really homed in on those skills and I use everything I’ve learned there to help me with the work that I do right now. Right. But yeah, chief complaint the senior complaint resolution officer I mean, it was a brutal job, I mean the turnover in that position. I mean, within just two years I became the senior person there so that tells you something.
Mike Malatesta 07:10
Yeah, Sure, yeah. And that and that, in my understanding of Title Nine and that type of environment, I mean it’s, it, it’s a very difficult, it seems like it could be can be a very difficult thing to get to the bottom of is that was that your experience with a lot of things that came forward.
Sejal Thakkar 07:33
Yeah, and it’s like that even when you’re outside of the title nine. Okay, you know it’s for any kind of workplace investigations because I’ve done it, you know, before that, when I was working for law firms and when I was on my own, did a lot of workplace investigations they’re dealing with public entities, private nonprofits, it’s the same everywhere. I mean when you’re dealing with people and you’re trying to figure out what happened when you weren’t there, it’s always going to be a tough job. Right. And so I think what you want to do is create an environment where you don’t have to do a lot of these investigations where you don’t have these lawsuits right So be proactive about it and then deal with these issues, up front, rather than waiting till it’s too late.
Mike Malatesta 08:13
So, yeah, and I want to really get into that because it’s, so on the one hand it’s a great that there are people like you. On the other hand it’s why do we need people like you. Right.
Sejal Thakkar 08:24
It’s one of the things I say all the time is my goal is to work myself out of a job, right, right, that’s the goal.
Mike Malatesta 08:31
So in the, in the college environment and in your role. Just, you know, sort of anecdotally, how often was a complaint in your, in your mind or after investigation, legitimate and how often Was it difficult to difficult to, to be sure that it was legitimate, and
Sejal Thakkar 08:57
good question Mike and the issue really is that whether it’s legitimate or not. Okay, in that file, do they believe it’s legit. Okay, sure. So all I was doing was copying all companies, and UCSF, their policies right so all I was doing in that role was seeing, is there a policy violation. I’m not looking to determine whether that actually happened, there’s no way of knowing that I wasn’t there, and the standard isn’t that it’s 51% and when we when we do these investigations. We’re not looking to prove did this actually happen. We’re actually looking at, is there a feather to lean on me in one direction, just 51% I think that’s a very important point for people to understand that we’re looking for one feather. The lameness in the direction that there was a policy violation and that can result in discipline in termination. So it’s really low standard that we’re looking at policy violations.
Mike Malatesta 09:51
Yeah, but it’s got to make it pretty hard because, if that’s all you have to do is get 1% over the medium or 31% chance. Boy, we mean when people’s lives, particularly the people who are being the complaints been made about actually hot that’s. Boy, that’s really hard.
Sejal Thakkar 10:13
and that’s why we want to. That’s why, training and education is so important, right, because we don’t want people to end up in those situations, we want to create an environment where people can talk about these things right rather than file a complaint. So if you and I are at work, and we’ve got psychological culture where there’s psychological safety and let’s say you make a joke, and maybe you didn’t intend to harm me or offend me, but it does. If we have a right environment, then I can say to you. Hey Mike, you know, maybe you were joking but that for me because of my life because of my experiences offended me and then most likely Mike is going to stop. because I saw that as an attorney, most people just didn’t know what they were saying or doing was being offensive so let’s change that paradigm, let’s be, let’s create an environment where we can talk about these things and put each other on notice and let each other know, or educate each other about what my boundaries are, because our all of our boundaries and all of our stuff is different, right, one size fits all solution. So, so that’s all we’re trying to do is get in front of people early to say hey, when this happens here’s what you do in that situation, so that you don’t have to follow that complaint, and, and if you try, if you try to resolve that situation like let’s say I talk to you about it. Most people are going to stop. If it happens again and it’s the mistake that we deal with that mistake right and then if it continues to happen now there’s a pattern. Now the person filed a complaint now we’ve as we’ve shown that we’ve tried everything that we can and ultimately, there are a few bad seeds in every organization everywhere, right, you can’t you can’t help everybody, but that’ll be easier to weed out than now, you know, having everybody, not knowing or not knowing what to do or knowing that their rights are in the now everyone’s like filing complaints and then now there’s all this down there that happens let’s do it up here, Right,
Mike Malatesta 11:59
and having worked for several law firms as well, is this it. And I’ve heard and I don’t know that this is the case because I’ve never worked at a law firm, but I’ve heard that you know you have these issues, even inside of firms that are, you know, sort of built to uphold the law and protect people’s interests and stuff is that that would, that your experience
Sejal Thakkar 12:29
Whoppers. It goes on, anywhere. Yeah, it really is everywhere because no matter where you are, what kind of come because people ask me this all the time like what kind of clients do work with them like anybody that has one employee, I can work with because if your employees make up your culture. So it’s not about whether it’s a law firm or not, it’s an issue of what is your culture for the people that you have there that’s the issue and so really what we’re all talking about right now is, we were ready for this kind of differences right so I think, I think the thing is, for organizations regardless of the industry you’re in, regardless of the size of the people, your goal really is, how do I maximize the potential of the people that I have that. And so you have to look at it both from an organizational perspective to say okay, how do we maximize the potential of everybody within our organization with makes up our culture, so we can achieve our organizational values and goals and objectives. But then, here’s where I think the piece gets lost alive is, you also have to look at it from an individual perspective, how do you help your employees so they can be their best individual selves. Right and so if you can learn what your employees in need, and how you can maximize them and again there’s no one size fits all solution because all of your employees are different.
Sejal Thakkar 13:53
Sure, they’ve been through different things. And so a huge part of that is again how do you value, and make sure you’re making everybody feel like they belong there and so you have to look at it and create it like a comprehensive process there’s no one size fits all solution to this situation and intellectually a lot of this stuff we’re reading about on LinkedIn and you know all of this stuff that’s going on it’s growing pains you know and it’s dealing with all of the beautiful diversity that we have, but that just means we all have to, we all have to organic it’s every person in the organization has to be a part of it in our communities. We need everybody to be a part of this right now, you know, to really make change.
Mike Malatesta 14:32
So when, let me back up a little bit before we go forward because I want to really dig into that individual perspective thing. But before I do, when you when you went to law school. Were you thinking, employment law was what you wanted to do or did you go in, sort of, I want to be a lawyer and I’m not sure what was going through your mind?
Sejal Thakkar 14:57
Yeah, no I had no idea. In fact, I never even took an employment law class. I was thinking, because I’ve always been a social justice champion, you know, I’ve always been passionate about civil rights and I was thinking I was going to be some sort of like, you know activist attorney kind of person and so I took a lot of constitutional law and civil laws and evidence and, you know, I didn’t know where I was ended up, I knew it was me civil, I didn’t want to do criminal but I didn’t know what’s going to be employment law. And then after I got licensed in California which is in 2003. Then, I started working in workers compensation. Initially I was in workers compensation and I knew that I knew that that wasn’t the right fit for me. But when I started working on workers compensation cases that dealt with discrimination and harassment, so people had filed a workers compensation claim, and now there were there were filing a complaint that they were being discriminated against or retaliated against because they filed a workers compensation claim. I got my first exposure to that and I was like, Whoa, that is more interesting to me, so I started kind of pursuing it. And then after doing worker’s compensation for a couple of years, I got into civil, and that’s where I started doing employment litigation.
Mike Malatesta 16:14
Okay, got it. It’s funny, when you said that when you first brought it up work workman’s comp I thought to myself, oh she’s gonna say that people were claiming, like a PTSD sort of thing, because of harassment but you didn’t go there, you went to, which, which actually where you went, makes a lot more sense and where I went, but I wonder if the I don’t know if workers compensation deals with stuff like that, if you can make a workers compensation claim that you’ve been harmed by verbal harassment, for example, You can okay.
Sejal Thakkar 16:49
That happens all the time. And I did get a lot of exposure in there to what I call uncivil behavior happening at work right so yeah I mean that’s where it really kind of opened up my eyes and I was like you know what, it’s the workplace is small enough environment where I can actually make an impact versus me taking on the whole entire world right so it gave me a space that I can really focus in on in and since then I better have done that.
Mike Malatesta 17:18
Okay, okay, and then I’m back before that when you were growing up in Chicago. You had this, you develop this inner Ninja is what you, you call it, which I think is really cool. Based on some of the experiences that you had growing up. And that I’m in, so we’re not so your parents were first generation. The so they immigrated to the United States is that correct. Okay, then you were. Yeah, yeah. Okay. Yeah, and then you were born here and there was a there was, you know, some exposure to people, maybe not understanding that what that, you know, we’re all here for the same reason, right. Yeah, okay. Yeah. Hmm. And was that experience, what made you want to get into law in the first place or was your family sort of one of those things, families where, you know, you’re going to be a lawyer, are you going to be a doctor which way you’re going to go.
Sejal Thakkar 18:32
Yeah, I would say neither actually okay. My dad actually said I was going to be like he would joke around that I was going to be aware when I was around eight or nine years old. Okay, and he would always say because I was one of those annoying kids that asked why all the time, right, like I needed to know why about everything and I know all kids do that because my kid went through this phase two, but apparently, I was so annoying that my dad like he said he would always say she’s going to be a lawyer and she keeps asking all these questions. So I knew I was gonna be. I was always, I always knew I was gonna be a lawyer. It was just something that we joked around about it. My dad actually, for what I know is he started law school in India. Oh really, he didn’t get to finish because they moved to the United States. And so that was also another part of sort of, she’s going to carry on what I’ve been doing you know and so he would always say that too so I’m sure that those were more than things that sort of put me down in that direction, because all the, you know all of the stuff that happened to me when I was younger, that just pissed me off. Yeah, okay, for, for a while. And, you know, but, but at some point. Obviously, all of that brings me to where I’m at now right now all contributes to the message that I’m talking about the education and doing now, so there was all part of it but not the reason why I went to law school,
Mike Malatesta 19:52
got it, and just out of curiosity, what brought your parents here what was, what were the family members here or what was happening.
Sejal Thakkar 19:59
Yeah, I mean, my mom’s sister, her husband so they, he got a job on here as an engineer working for one of the states, for I think was actually Illinois. So he was an engineer, and so he got sponsored to move to the United States and like most immigrants, based on, they bring in the rest of their family. My parents moved geared for the better life, so that their kids can have a better life right for their future. So that’s in line with a lot of immigrants, especially, I mean I can speak for us the Indians you know and the people that I know is that usually the reason someone in the family gets brought out here for work and then you know they bring the rest of their families here.
Mike Malatesta 20:41
Okay, sure. So, um, civility, what, first of all let’s start with how you define it says y’all because I want to make sure that me and everybody that’s listening understands what civility actually means to you.
Sejal Thakkar 20:59
So I think the best way that I like to explain this is let’s talk about what it means, what incivility means first. Okay. Right so incivility is what I call is a range of behaviors that happen right so it could be anything from somebody being rude dismissive on walk me insensitive, you know, those kinds of behaviors, all the way to, on the other side of the spectrum is your illegal behavior, so your harassment or discrimination, your retaliation, right, so those are behaviors that are illegal, defined by the law. So I talked about incivility as anything that falls within that spectrum. So, you know, if you have if you see someone that’s being rude or unprofessional and you don’t say anything to them about it, you don’t have a conversation about it, that behavior will continue, because that person thinks that probably thinks it’s okay to behave in that way and maybe it is. If that behavior continues that we move up the spectrum of that cycle and now it might turn into unwelcome dismissive behaviors. And then if that allows that goes on, it might turn into abusive conduct bullying behaviors, and then then we’re into illegal category so anything in that spectrum, and I also include, by the way, microaggressions in the category of the rude unprofessional behaviors, I put them microaggressions come from a place of unconscious bias, right, and. And so when you, when we have these biases which we all do, it’s totally normal. If you’re not aware of it, you might be engaging in behaviors without even knowing it. These are called micro aggressions. So that also contributes to the instability in organizations right so what we when I talk about stability then is, let’s come up with a plan for your organization to deal with those on civil behaviors. And so, civility means now Let’s equip your people, and empower them with the skills to deal with uncivil behavior that happens at work. Right so empowering them with skills by training by helping them understand if they run into one of these situations, what do they do, what are they saying, how should they respond, and then knowing that this is what they do, then now, they’re empowered to deal with these situations with that person, but also to deal with themselves right because they might be contributing to the incivility so if there are if there are engaging microaggressions that means, that person needs to do the work on their own to figure out why they have that bias right and so it’s really an empowering thing. And so, so civilities is all of that stuff.
Mike Malatesta 23:42
Okay, I like how you started with what incivility is right, because if you know what that is, maybe you can get, it’s easier to understand what civility is that that’s sort of your approach. So you mentioned microaggressions a couple of times, what are, what I want to make sure I understand what you mean by that, what are examples of micro aggressions.
Sejal Thakkar 24:04
So again, microaggressions, are they come from your unconscious bias, right, so we’re all different from each other. You grew up differently you have a different religion, you’re why you grew up in a different culture you celebrated different things right, I have a different way. I grew up differently different traditions, different knowledge, different from each other. So we because of our lived experiences are going to automatically make judgments about people who are different than us. Right, so this is part of unconscious bias now, because of those automatic judgments that our mind is making, which again is normal, we, when we run into people that are different than us. We might without even knowing it happens unconsciously unintentionally, make a comment about somebody say something, make a facial expression, engage in some kind of behavior that’s going to, you know, impact that person’s respect and dignity. And we’re going to it’s going to happen without us even knowing about it. Right. So for example, if we’re in a meeting, right, and you might not realize it but maybe you have some bias against women. Because of your upbringing. And now we’re at a meeting, and I’m voicing my opinion and without you even knowing it. Okay, unintentionally, you might interrupt me, because you have this bias against women. It’s not something that you’re aware of its unconscious that you’re aware of it that’s different than that’s not a microaggression. If you’re aware of it, and you engage in that behavior that’s either a macro aggression, because now you’re conscious of it, and now you’re doing it and then that’s going to lead to prejudice, racism and all that stuff. But if it’s happening from a microaggression, it’s not intentional, so we don’t want to then judge you because you interrupted me, we have to equip you and everybody else around who notices that behavior and how we should be responding to that so if I pick up on it, you will pick up on it because you’re not the one that’s on the receiving end. If I pick up on it you know and if I feel comfortable, then I should be able to say, Hey, Mike, you know, do you mind if I finish what I’m saying. And now that’s gonna alert you just to what you did. It’s not judging you; it’s not making you feel bad, it’s just saying hey Mike you interrupted me or can I, can I just speak. Now, if you pick up on that now it’s on you, you’re accountable to say hey, I just interrupted her, I need to make sure I don’t do that again, right, because I don’t want her to make her feel like, I don’t value her opinion, could you do. Yeah, because maybe long time ago. Your dad said oh women don’t belong in the workplace or something and now maybe the wives been there and somehow we all have it it’s normal, it’s not a bad thing I have my own biases I work on it all the time right we all do it just because of what we’ve gone through, but the more that you understand how your microaggressions are impacting other people because I think most people, and this is a lot of why I think what I’m doing is so important, educating people, most people are not malicious my people really aren’t we’re trying most people are trying
Mike Malatesta 27:05
to do well, they’re trying to do the right thing,
Sejal Thakkar 27:08
but it’s just what they’re used to and so we can just open up perspectives and just give people the skills. So in that situation again going back to that one example of microaggression. It’s really everybody else. It’s really the bystanders. I mean, if I, if I do this work so I’m comfortable in having that conversation, it’s really everyone else to pull the person aside afterwards and say hey, by the way, I noticed you interrupted her again it’s just putting them on notice of the micro aggression itself, the behavior is not judging them it’s not what make him feel that it just say I noticed. Now, that’s all we need to know we can all just focus on the behavior itself. Now people are going to if there really are well intentioned goodness, try their best and I do it again. Now could it happen again of course we’re human beings. I have, here’s one that I caught myself the other day, right do we get, we’re humans it’s normal. The other day I was doing a training, right and then I do this work. So, you know, and it still happened to me I did a training, and I know you know when I grew up in Chicago, we said you guys a lot.
Mike Malatesta 28:07
Yeah, the grass
Sejal Thakkar 28:08
thing right yeah
Mike Malatesta 28:09
right right right.
Sejal Thakkar 28:10
And you shouldn’t be saying that whether women in the audience, I’m gonna say, I know that there’s lots of reasons why you shouldn’t refer to people as you guys, I mean, there’s lots of reasons right. I know that, and I try my best to not do it, but it happened and immediately I apologize. I’m so sorry, you know, and I called things up and I apologize and no big deal. Is anybody going to file a complaint against me no because they know this is human being, making a mistake and there’s nothing wrong with apologize, and I’m going to try my best to not do it again and try really hard, I do, but it just slips out I mean again it’s 40 years of conditioning right so it’s gonna take a little bit of time and, and again it’s not like it’s, and believe me, what happened it was the same group of people, like if I was any of the same group of people insane, then you know it’s intentional because then, or it might be a mistake a couple of times but then I had to do really something on it, but I kind of heard of different groups of people so sometimes I don’t see the same reminders in that mirror that reflection of with a second, you know, but all you do is you track me as long as you’re trying I think that’s what’s important and really truly Trump, right.
Mike Malatesta 29:13
And that’s, that’s interesting you say that because I’ve heard groups of women, many times refer to themselves as you guys. Okay you guys, okay guys, right. Yeah. So the, I want to be clear on the micro aggression, like with the example you used. So the, the gentleman in your example doesn’t realize what he’s done. You mentioned that you know the person on the receiving end say you, if he’s interrupting you, you realize it of course. but there’s other people that witness that they go oh you know that that’s not cool. Right. But they’re maybe afraid to tell the person or maybe this, maybe they just, you know think it’ll be okay if nobody says anything that kind of thing but how long I wonder how long does it take you to work with somebody who has that type of microaggression issue for them too, because like you said 40 years 30 years 20 years, whatever it is, of doing something all the time, particularly if it’s not a something you’re consciously like I’m going to interrupt her because I don’t like her sort of thing. How long does it take, or how do you really get someone to realize, Oh, I did it again, or is that when you know you’ve making progress when they got when they’re like, oh, yeah,
Sejal Thakkar 30:33
I can’t do that. Yeah, I mean I don’t do that, I don’t know that’s it this, but my piece is really about you, each person has to do their own work. Yeah, nobody else is doing that work for you to hear every single day and tell you this stuff but if you’re not going to do the work inside to make progress, but I’ll tell you what I mean, look around, it’s happening. People are doing the work, I think everybody realize that this is important for us to understand that a lot of this programming, the stereotypes that we’ve been fed because of the media and just what we’ve gone through, we realize that we all need to do the work in order to value each other as we, at the end of the day like we all want to be valued we all want to be treated with dignity and respect. The one thing we all have in common. Right. And so if we can all just do our part in creating a communities and workplaces, of where we treat other people in the same exact way that we want the dignity and respect these if we can empower people to do that, and more people start doing that, we’re going to start seeing some beautiful things starting to happen, and it’s starting to happen I’m seeing that in companies that I’m working with. I’m seeing their cultures change is healthier, you can see significant differences and it’s very easy to tell. Because people are online posting about the stuff. Yeah, okay. So the Internet changes is a game changer. It’s very easy to tell whether a company’s culture is healthy or not just look at what their employees are saying, the data is right there,
Mike Malatesta 32:08
Sejal Thakkar 32:10
look at what people are saying, to just read people’s posts, people are, you know, people that are doing this work are sharing their stories and their experiences about what they’re learning. Okay, more people start seeing those stories and more people start feeling comfortable sharing their stories like this whole Asian hate thing that’s going on right now. You’re starting to see Asian people finally sharing their stories, I’ve never seen that happen before, you might use one random person. In person talk about it, but most of the time, they’ve grown they’ve grown up in a culture where they’ve been told not to talk about it and I’ve been an attorney, this whole time and I can tell you I probably have maybe two or three Asian plaintiffs my whole career that I’ve dealt with, people just don’t, but now is recreating safety for people to share and as more people start to hear you start looking in your circles and you were like, Whoa. Yeah, that’s happening and you’re starting to look around and you’re like I didn’t I never even thought about my Asian friends, you know, and I’m just saying like, we’re seeing those lightbulbs start to go off everywhere and people are starting to talk, we’re seeing disabled people start sharing their stories more, we’re starting to see religion start speaking and we’re starting to see these marginalized groups, finally start sharing their stories and the Internet helps with that. So the more that people start to do that. The more that we start to learn. And we start to connect with each other.
Mike Malatesta 33:29
Yeah, I’m glad you brought that story up because that so sadly, young man killed six, I don’t even know how many people in Georgia, Atlanta something, and they all worked in, I guess like massage type places spas Yeah and what after I read the story. I actually said to my wife is, I’ve never heard of hate crimes with Asians I kind of feel like I hear it you hear it with a lot of you hear it a lot but I’ve never I had never heard it with attached to, to Asians before because I just figured, well, just, you know obviously I just figured it doesn’t happen but like you say that, maybe it’s their culture is to, hey, we’re not going to talk about this. And so nobody knows about it.
Sejal Thakkar 34:27
Yeah, it’s really, it’s in, by the way, the fact that you’ve just admitted that, and that’s vulnerable right there. Yeah, thank you so much for that vulnerability that is important. And by the way you’re not the only one right,
I mean, I’ll be honest,
Sejal Thakkar 34:41
I’ve known about, because I’m in this, I do this work and I hear about it. Right. But then, I didn’t know about as much as I started looking into it. Right, and I started looking into it more last year when COVID started because I started doing a lot of training in this area because, you know, because of the prior administration and all these conversations we started seeing some hate crimes in the Bay Area start to happen so I really started getting into it and started learning about it, and I learned so much about just like wow this is a huge problem and we need to start having these conversations and really helping educate people because most people don’t know. You know and so I think again, you know, using our social media to raise awareness about these issues. Each person can do that, you know a lot of people think that oh I’m not out there at the protest so you know I’m not an ally, we can all be allies sitting at home, we can use our social network to raise awareness of these issues. Why do you think I’m doing this podcast right now? Right, I do these podcasts, so I could raise awareness about these issues that I feel very passionate about. So we can use the resources we have and especially the internet, we’re on. If you’re on social media post about sharing information on these issues, read up on it, learn about it and then share about it with other people, and that’s called being an ally, that’s raising awareness. So you
Mike Malatesta 36:07
Yeah, I have questions for you on the internet thing, because you mentioned, and I think rightly so I don’t know that how you could dispute this although I’m the next is gonna go to the fact that people spirit but this unconscious bias that everyone has. So, you’re, you’re born with. Even before you’ve grown up or been raised or whatever you’re born with certain like things right protection devices or whatever judgment devices, and, and those cause you to see something and have a reaction to it, feel something have a reaction to it. Now whether you, how you deal with the reaction to it, is where it changes from unconscious I suppose to conscious, but there seems to be a lot of pee, you know, almost a movement towards you, if you have an unconscious bias, there’s something wrong with you that’s a problem in it, it seems to me like, if that’s where we’re going to start, it’s going to be really hard for us to get anywhere else because that’s something that I can’t control and you’re telling me that having that makes me a bad person. Even though you have to and you’re, you know, I, how do you how do you how do we get past that part of it because that I like the way you approach you say you acknowledge it, it’s like, acknowledging gotta acknowledge that this is real, and once we acknowledge that it’s real, how do we deal with it in a productive way. Where are we, instead of saying, well, because you have it that’s a problem with you, so you have to deal with that problem first before we can, you know, how do you how do you think about that.
Sejal Thakkar 37:51
I, this is what my TEDx talk is about.
Mike Malatesta 37:59
Well good, we’ll be talking about that after he answers to this question is false.
Sejal Thakkar 38:04
Okay, so let me, let me just put it this way. Okay, Let me just clarify this because that narrative needs to go and that’s why I do this, but our brain probably Harvard came up to we know so much about science now that we didn’t know before, and I’m not a brain person, okay so I know I’ve just done my own studying on it and my research I’m not out there trying to say I’m a neuroscientist, I’m just telling you what they’ve told me right so when I read and learn. Our brain processes close to 11 million pieces of information per second.
Mike Malatesta 38:37
11 million, million, a second
Sejal Thakkar 38:40
million a second. How much of that do you think Mike is consciously process.
Mike Malatesta 38:45
Well if it was a lot, I’d be tired and on the floor all day long, because my brain. Yeah, okay 5050 out of 11 million.
Sejal Thakkar 38:54
I don’t know. Are we think we’re walking around being deliberate, conscious intentional in our thinking? We’re an autopilot, a majority of the time, and we need to be. So like you said we were born with these sort of judgment centers, that’s actually a survival thing, it helps protect us, we can make 11 million decisions, we’d be overwhelmed with beings will be six feet under. Right, right. So, it’s a good thing that we make these audits, but what happens it’s a pattern recognition what happens right So, because of all that information that’s coming at you, your brain unconsciously files all of that away in little buckets in your brain. And then all of a sudden you see something it’s going to interpret it by retrieving back what you whether we what you’ve experienced what you’ve gone through, and then brings it here. Right, and so it just, it’s pattern recognition. Now, your pattern recognition will be based on what you’ve been exposed to in your life so if you haven’t been exposed to certain things, that person is different to you. Right. And so, everybody, everybody has unconscious biases it’s normal, it’s just the weight so if you’ve got a brain, you’ve got unconscious bias, right, over the last year, the word bias and words matter we need to start with, we need to start redesigning our words. I redefine bias as what I say in my training, the neurosciences, people that are in there, they might say oh well it’s not the same thing but for most of us, it’s the same thing I did, I redefined the word bias into beliefs. Beliefs unconscious beliefs, your hidden beliefs because of what you’ve experienced because of this pattern recognition that happens. So, my talk is about that and it’s about that there are things that we can do to mitigate the risk of our hidden beliefs, impacting the decisions that we make. It’s really if you think about it, it’s a matter of speed, or unconscious thinking goes at the speed of light. What we want to do is make it more conscious and be deliberate about the decisions we’re making right so if I see somebody that’s different than me. Right. So if I see let’s say for example a gay couple. And I’ve never seen a gay couple before automatically I’m going to make judgments about that situation because they’re different than me, it doesn’t matter what they are negative pain care, maybe that’s not normal or maybe they’re wearing certain kind of clothing or they’re driving a certain kind of car to be anything you can be biased is just another word for preferences. We all prefer one thing over something else, we have to purchase the way our brain is wired. So it’s all normal. But there are ways or strategies that once we. I’m trying to normalize that conversation like you’re saying you want to start here and that’s where I’m trying to get people at least the majority to say, this is, this is who we are it’s not something we want to get rid of. It’s part of who we are. Once we understand ourselves and what our own belief system is what our hidden beliefs are, then we can consciously choose to act it whatever when we want. So that’s really what we want to be striving for is to get people to start having a conversation start understanding what their own given beliefs are and then put into place strategies that work for them, because again, not a one size fits all solution we’re all different.
Mike Malatesta 42:10
So acknowledging that these unconscious beliefs are something we all have the question is what do we do with what do we consciously do with those beliefs,
Sejal Thakkar 42:22
exactly. Hmm. And here’s the kicker. When you start doing this work, what you find, like, is that most of your hidden biases and beliefs are the opposites of what you currently believe.
Mike Malatesta 42:38
Okay, explain that. Okay,
Sejal Thakkar 42:40
so I might have explained what I went through as a child, whatever, when I was growing up with harassment and discrimination growing up. Back then, I have gotten past that I have worked through that I’ve dealt with that trauma, I’m still dealing with that trauma and I’ll talk about this on my TEDx talk too, right, but if I saw somebody, if I saw every single Italian person that came my way and I, my brain is automatically going to go back to those memories, there’s nothing I can do about it it’s wired there that way. That’s a part of me now. So, if I saw an Italian person that I’ve never met and those that bias creeps up, I need to be aware that hey, I might have this bias, because of what I’ve gone through it’s a part of who I am, but that’s not this person’s fault, and so I want to make sure I am deliberate and conscious about how I treat them and not be controlled by that bias that I have, which is what I’ve gone through I can’t change that. That wasn’t my fault. It’s not something I asked for, but it happened, but I need to know about that deal now that belief is very contrary to the work I do I’m consciously out there for bringing a respect.
Mike Malatesta 43:47
Sejal Thakkar 43:48
that didn’t believe it’s gonna say no those are bad people because of what they did to you. So, we all have that. And it’s, it’s about now recognizing that and saying, why don’t those don’t serve us anymore these hidden beliefs appear. They were wired in us, right, they don’t serve us anymore so let’s be just conscious of it, that’s all it is not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing. And once you start doing the work, like I said, it is mind blowing my way I love it because we’re
Sejal Thakkar 44:14
our mind right. How many of these are actually opposite what I believe right now standing here, and you’ll start seeing that there’s something there like this thing our fear is wrong, it’s like Siri. Yeah, your brain to Siri, a lot of times it works but then when it messes up, you’re like, how do I delete a situation.
Mike Malatesta 44:34
I like how you walked us through that too because I was thinking as you were doing it. You know, it wasn’t like these kids that that harassed you and discriminated against you, for example, they weren’t. They were Italian but they weren’t Italians, they were Bobby and Marquis and, you know, Pete and whatever they were people that made whatever decisions they made. So, when you start, I think it gets really dangerous. When you start attaching something that happened to you or something that you saw that a person did, and then attaching that to, you know, ethnicity or nationality or race, you know, religion and all that, that’s where you, that’s where it gets. That’s where it gets not nuts, right, that’s where that’s where you, that’s where you’ve made the wrong choice that maybe is the right way to say
it happens automatic Yeah,
Mike Malatesta 45:31
Sejal Thakkar 45:32
It happens unconsciously, right, first thing you notice about anybody. This is just how our brain is wired. Right. When you see somebody for the first time that you. The first thing you’re gonna see about them is their race, their age and their gender, immediately, these things are going to jump up because you have to attach a description to something you saw your brain does, right. I mean, that’s fine. Then unconsciously,
Sejal Thakkar 45:57
it attaches those same characteristics to things like wealth, education, social status, unconsciously, yes. So now what was it, uh, you don’t even know this person and you’re making all kinds of judgments about we don’t do it right, it’s just the way our brain is right, so we need to know that we know that we need to figure out how our brain can figure out the strategies to help us minimize microaggressions, minimize these systemic biases and things we have to undo all of that. Right, so it takes work for all of us we can’t undo it until we all started doing the work on ourselves, but it’s something that of course we all want. We all want to, I mean, maybe I should take that back. Not everybody wants to grow, and in the do that work, there are some people that don’t, but I think most of us want to grow we want to be inclusive. We want to make other people feel like they belong, we want community, we’re wired to want community I mean look at what happened last year, right we’re stuck in our homes and what do we all, we’re on zoom all day because we have, we’re wired to connect with people we need that connection most.
Mike Malatesta 47:04
So, when someone, a company decides to work with you, can you just kind of walk me through what the process looks like. Because I, I mean we’ve asked, we’ve had at one time or another diversity training of some sort, maybe you watch a video or maybe you watch, you know, then answer some questions and they, you know, tells you that you get a pet you know okay that’s in your folder in your file so you’re good. But, um, but you know, all of those things probably don’t change, many people they just check like they know what they’re supposed to say, you know when you do that, but how is working with you different.
Sejal Thakkar 47:49
Yeah, I mean, look, it’s. It really is. I want piece of the puzzle. Yeah, one piece I’m doing the training piece, I’m not creating the Temescal I’m not all the pieces that are required to create a culture of psychological safety I just do one aspect of working with me, you know, and there’s plenty of companies that do check the box training, and I can sit here and tell you that that is not the right approach and that’s not going to work right now, because people can tell you’re again. Are you investing in your people, that’s the question, Are you investing in your people so you bring me in and I do a training, it doesn’t mean the minute I leave, but your culture is going to be top rated now right if you have to continue to do the work? The piece that I bring to the table is just training on stability training on unconscious bias helping people get give them the tools so that they can start doing their own work, and during the microaggression. I am one piece in you know and as a holistic training plan is not a onetime deal. I have other people that I strategize with. So when a client comes to me if they’re just looking for diversity and inclusion training, I will do a deep dive with them I’ll understand what the issues are they’re going on their culture and I create a customized program training program that I think is going to be the first step for their organization. And then a lot of it come back and we do like ongoing trainings and we build out a program from for them. But there are some clients that will come to me that they don’t even have their training program in place and so I have strategic partners that I would I send them to, to help them create that plan of what is our, for example, if we’re looking at diversity and inclusion. So then they need to create a whole strategy around what are all the different pieces we have to then includes things like your training, your HR so that they’re recruiting properly and there’s a lot that goes into it. But again, I’m strictly focused on the training piece of it, there is no one size fits I think I’ve said that now five times on this call because there just isn’t, and I always tell my clients when they come to me that this is the first step I’m going to set up the foundation. I’m going to tell your team. What we want to accomplish in our culture. I’m going to tell them what instability looks like. I’m going to tell them what unconscious biases and give them some tools. I’m going to tell them what microaggressions are. I’m going to give them some examples, we’re going to talk about bystander intervention so everybody knows what to do when there is instability, but now, everybody needs to be able to feel safe to do that. And that needs to be created by the organization, right so that’s my piece of that.
Mike Malatesta 50:27
But if you come in so that that’s really interesting to me because if you come into an environment to do your, your training. It’s gotta be obvious to you pretty quickly whether people feel safe about this or not, right, because if they, if they don’t feel safe. There’s, you know, like maybe the training won’t stick you know I guess I’m trying to think of how you and how you go back to. Yeah,
Sejal Thakkar 50:54
it’s a process. I mean, I’ll tell you I’ll tell you that because of what I’ve done in my career, I can pick up on things pretty quickly during a just a half an hour training, all kinds of things. And so I always provide feedback to my clients about what I recommend for futures, you know, hey look, three people asked about bias, you might want to consider doing a two hour workshop just focusing on bias and creating a space for your employee to talk about this, I always give my recommendations on what I, but ultimately, it’s not up to me whether the organization does that or not. Right, so if you want to create a safe culture, they need to invest in creating that culture, and I’m willing to get my recommendations and, and most of the time, my, my recommendations are followed right because if they truly care if they’re if they’re not, if I never hear from them again, then I know that they were just checking the box. Yeah, okay. Then I just, then I will I joke around sometimes and say we’ll keep my, you know my legal card with you, Attorney card because then you will need my assistance at that point, so I can help you there too, you know, but if you will do this rain can you do it, to invest in your people which are the most important thing and should be for organizations as your talent. And obviously, you know, to, like, last year, people’s tolerance levels were putting up with instability at work have gone down significantly. People just don’t want to put up with it anymore. And so I think it’s in everybody’s best interest to invest in in upfront and make sure you set up your people are success.
Mike Malatesta 52:23
And I love that you have that perspective to say Joe that you know you. Here’s my here’s my card, you know, you, you don’t want to miss, you know, make the investment and do these things to move your, your people and your company forward. You’re probably going to end up having to deal with a claim in place where you don’t want to write you don’t want to end up in court, you don’t want that, that’d be horrible. So let’s, um, Let’s finish up here with your TEDx talk, how did that come about and, and, when’s it going to be available for people to see and,
yeah, you know, again,
Sejal Thakkar 53:02
doing a TEDx talk was something that was on my bucket list, but it was like way back there. You know with COVID and just everything. But one of my connections on LinkedIn, she’s helped other people, you know, get on TEDx and she just, she saw something in me that she’s like you need to do this right and so she kind of lit the fire and helped me with the process of really sort of believing I guess in myself to be able to do it. It was, it’s a very personal, talk to me, I talked about, again, what I went through in my childhood and how bias has impacted me, so the name of the talk is going to be, what is the pain paradox and power and bias. There’s a screening that’s available this Saturday. But, obviously, by the time this airs, it will be, it’ll already be out so there’s a screening that’s happening this Saturday, and then a couple months later I think I’m going to put it on the TED website, and it will be out for the whole world to see. So, probably by the time this gets out there, it’ll be out there just look it up on YouTube and you should be on my, my LinkedIn profile or YouTube.
Mike Malatesta 54:07
Okay, perfect. The pain paradox and I missed the other P.
Sejal Thakkar 54:11
and the power, power.
Mike Malatesta 54:16
Well congratulations on doing that. That’s a, that’s. and then we were talking before we went on about doing an another down the road and I’m quite sure that will, will happen as well because I know it’d be great. First of all, and I can’t wait to see it on Saturday to You’re so easy to talk to and listen to, and the approach that you take and bring to this really big. I don’t want to call it a problem because it’s really an opportunity more than it is a problem, but it’s a really big thing. And the more that I mean I believe I hope, I know you believe. I hope everybody believes that the more commonality we see within one another. The further we will go together. And I mean you look at the world and see how much has been accomplished and just think to yourself, Man, if we could get rid of some of the things that are in our way. And remember that all of us are from a DNA standpoint 99.9 whatever percent does same. Let’s just say let’s just, let’s just be good with the differences because we’d be really boring if percent the same right. But you the way you’ve, you’ve just lay it out and talk about it, it’s just, I don’t know how anybody could listen to you and not be like, Yeah, that makes total sense to me and I’m gonna do it.
Sejal Thakkar 55:44
Thank you so much for all of that, it means a lot to me. My pleasure. Like I said it’s. I’m humbled by the you just serving and grateful for this opportunity but I even the TEDx talk, you know, it’s
Sejal Thakkar 55:57
it’s wonderful that we can share our own stories, to kind of help people see. And I think, I hope more people, you know anybody who like watches this or listen to this and start talking about their stories, start to get to know people, that’s, that’s the minimum it’s just starting to know people around you as you listen to people, as you start to get to know people, you start seeing different perspective, right I mean if you have a feeling it’s getting so complicated, you know, they’re making it feel like it’s so complicated, it’s not that complicated, right, just get to know the people in your own life. Just ask questions, get to know them on a deeper level and it’s not on the superficial of just because you’re that you know don’t make these assumptions you don’t know until you’re in my home. What I do is you might have assumptions about but just ask, and especially the people in your life right I would say, you know just get to know the people you work with the people you socialize with if you look around and you don’t see any other colors in your social in your friend circle make an effort to bring diversity in so you can learn and get those perspectives you have to be very intentional, by itself you have to be very intentional and I’ve tried to do a lot with just raising awareness and it starts in our own just, if you have kids, grandkids, your parents start like introducing diversity books with diversity, how to be allies all of this stuff about bias, start the conversations early doesn’t have to be complicated, it really doesn’t like today and there’s an event of attending at 430 That’s with this author who wrote this book called changemakers, you know, and she used to be like a writer for Disney and she’s doing. It sounds diversity so this group called me, they’re doing this, you know, and I’m telling everybody, I’d like to bring your kids to this event, come to this event, learn from this author get this book as a Christmas gift as an Easter gift, get it for your kids, your grandkids, start introducing people with color, people that are different disabled people start introducing diversity of thought into your everything you’re doing, and just make it simple, keep it simple, and then you just start to see the growth happen and you know I really am hopeful for our future. I really am. I truly believe that we can make a change. So,
Mike Malatesta 58:07
yeah, me too. Keep it simple like a pseudo How do you want people to connect with you. Um,
Sejal Thakkar 58:16
I’m only on social only social media I’m on his LinkedIn, so feel free to follow me on there you know I’m seriously and Mike, if you look at any of my posts or anybody just spent five minutes, I am all about sharing resources like that is a part of what I spent, I set aside time in my day to do that so I’m always about sharing good resources LinkedIn and then the only other place will be my website if you want to learn more about what I do and that’s train nextdoor.com www dot, train, and then it’s extra.com
Mike Malatesta 58:46
train with any train extra with any LP Okay so it’s train X TRA. There you go, I just wanted to be sure I thought I had. Okay. Well this has been fantastic, thank you so much for doing the show. It’s been a pleasure to get to know you and learn from you and I appreciate you sharing.
Sejal Thakkar 59:05
Thank you so much.