Rethinking Bias — International Women’s Day
Author: Lilly Spantidaki
My English has been top notch, ever since I remember. If you’re looking for a reason, I can’t give it to you as easily, simply because I don’t know it. I remember my parents always trying to converse with me in both my native language and English from the beginning of time. I also remember I could pick it up as easily as making scrubbed eggs [#1].
Given my literary tendencies, it was only natural for me to perfect the use of it in my preteens and then dive into the wonderful and terrifying world of English literature. Linguistics amazed me, the origin of words, their true meaning and how they can be re-used, like a good old sampling does in hip hop. Long story short, I got in the literary circles, I got to write my books and I got to get myself a career on the thing that I loved most in the world, literature.
One would say, that moving over to Ireland would present absolutely zero problems in terms of communications and having to prove my level of understanding the language [#2]. *Buzzer sound* Wrong. My naiveté was jerked out of my system rather abruptly when I was sitting for my third and final round of interviews at a company that I had applied as a receptionist -that is after almost a year of not finding a job at my level in my field [#3]- when a hr representative came to inform me that we wouldn’t proceed with the final round as the CEO of the company had reservations about my performance “as I wasn’t Irish” [#4]. At the time I justified this. If the situation was reversed and there was a foreign lady sitting to be interviewed as a receptionist back home, the reaction would be the same; does she speak Greek? Her last name indicates she’s not. [#5]
*Record scratch sound* fast forward a couple of years later -I got involved with the DEI department of the workplace I was in. Their goal at the time and a rather pressing one, I might say, was to create a safe space for women and women’s issues. One that would influence the senior leadership team and their decision making in order to be more equitable and motivating for the female personnel. I was in deep waters. Identifying the areas of improvement, pulsing the interests of the workforce and tailoring this into a successful group seemed daunting. But with a couple more driven women like me [#6], we made it.
This was a massive learning point for me -not so much for the project itself but on the leadership factor. I moved over to my current role, I -of course- got involved with the women’s network there and along with the wonderful committee that consists of it, we have given it wings.
So, I bet you’re wondering what are the numbers in the brackets.
I just told you a story, it’s my lived story, and it’s how I perceived it at the time.
I am in the habit of revisiting the situations I find myself in, the thoughts that I have and the way I look upon things, quite often. The reason is simple, and I think that most of us resonate with it; I want to be a better person.
The number in the brackets are my biases.
The number in the brackets are the biases towards me.
If I was to retell my story then, very briefly, I would say that making an omelette is not an easy thing. Has anyone tried the art of perfection that a Tamagoyaki¹ needs? I have been trying daily for a month, and man, it is HARD. But at least it tastes better and better. I would also say, that knowing that I know something [like speaking English] does not mean that the people around me do -especially in a new work environment. So, moving here, was not as easy as I wanted it to be or as I had made it out to be, falsely, by my own preconceptions.
Every major change in one’s life; a move, a breakup, death or a new baby comes with the tedious yet amazingly creative opportunity to rethink ourselves, re-present ourselves and remove our biases. It also comes with the sharp confrontation of the biases of our new situation towards us.
Do I have some advice on how to break those biases, either ours or the ones we receive? I will give it my best because the only certain conclusion that I have come up with is, it’s everyday work, it’s like training, the results don’t come all at once and they are definitely not permanent. The easiest thing is to revert to our default state [I don’t want to use the word ‘natural’ because I don’t consider our default state a natural one]. Since day 1, we have landed in family environment with certain opinions, upbringings, traditions etc. This only grows and shapes as we grow older in the same environment and we keep absorbing like a sponge, until the day we don’t. The day that we are solid that we have reached our true shape and there’s nothing else there, no room. We are, who we are.
This is where my advice comes in; there’s no final shape. As long as we keep having conversations, as long as we reach for a little bit more, there’s also room for improvement, there’s room for rethinking ourselves and there’s certainly the opportunity to break the biases.
It needs resilience.
It also needs appetite for growth.
But most of all, it needs empathy. For ourselves and for others -no matter how opposed we are with their views.
Learning, after all, comes with care and repetition.
This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #BreakingTheBias and I am up for the work, every day.
1. Tamagoyaki is a type of Japanese omelette which is made by rolling together several layers of fried beaten eggs. It is often prepared in a rectangular omelette pan called a makiyakinabe or tamagoyakiki