Speaking to a Room full of Entrepreneurs about Biases

If you possess a human brain, you are biased. If you are a machine, sorry, but you are biased too. We biased human brains programmed you, after all.

What is a Bias ? A Mental Shortcut. Linked to Survival.

Two days ago I was asked to talk to a room full of entrepreneurs about biases. The WEN (Women Entrepreneurs Network) of Calicut, a family of which I am a proud member, held a Women’s Day meet at the Malabar Palace.

I will freely admit, I was a bit starry-eyed. The common link amongst us all, of course, is that we are all entrepreneurs here, looking to further our business. But many in the group are stalwarts in their businesses. Veterans, who have charted their growth stories in the face of decades of overwhelming challenges and biases.

Let me try and put this into perspective. Let me give you Sandhya Mohandas from Sandhya and Associates, the Architecture firm. She tells us of a time when on site, the client would refuse to deal with her, the head of the firm, and ask to talk to a male engineer. In most clients’ eyes, females could be interior decorators, but not architects. Today the tables are turned. Today when her clients try to go into minute details with her, she tells them “Speak to my team about it”. She has come a full circle.

Or let me talk about Mini .S, the lady whose company recruits for MNCs globally, sitting right here in Calicut. There are so many achievers there, this post might end up being guilty of name-dropping.

Addressing such an accomplished and discerning audience is a rare privilege. National level trainers and TEDx Speakers like Sandhya Varma and Aswathi Dinil are part of your audience. These are the women who have survived the biases.

Uthara Ramakrishnan, financial advisor with a Top 20 Motilal Oswal National Ranking for the past 10 years, flagged off the event with the story of Nangeli. Her understanding of investments is phenomenal and now her passion is to spread the awareness.

A panel discussion moderated by Aswathi showed us how to take up the ownership of our own growth story. Education is a good start, but what about the intention to succeed ?

Sophy Lukose, Calicut’s much respected Events planner, told us how, in her early years, she focused only on learning the ropes, never mind the credits. For her, the goal was and is perfection in her work. Today, her name is a brand in itself. Soumya Ram, who owns and operates petrol pumps and has received awards for her work spanning multiple years, told us how she stood her ground and moved mountains to achieve this.

The icing on the cake ? The two ladies we honored that day. One was Santhi Mami, a veteran entrepreneur who started more than 3 decades back, fending for herself and her family using her cooking skills. Today she handles catering for 2000+ people on a daily basis. She is a legend in her Tali neighborhood. In her own words, she kept taking small positive steps, incrementally. She says she loved hearing us all talk and now she wants to know the meaning. So learning English is going to be her next endeavour.

The other dignitary invited was Dr. Peeja Rajan, Consultant at the recently opened UN Gender Park in Calicut. Her range of accomplishments in a room full of accomplished ladies were still startling. Her talk on gender bias was practical and constructive, without resorting to rhetoric. She spoke of gender neutral designs for seat-belts and bus stands.

After this array of deep talents came my turn on the stage, to talk about biases. Try and imagine my dilemma. I have told you 5-6 stories. This room was filled with stories of struggles and successes over biases.

I had come prepared with my own stories against the biases I faced at various points, but this crowd had tough experience in that field.

I decided to tackle the situation coming in from the deep end. I talked about the biases we as leaders, employers and entrepreneurs today, hold. Today, the biases we hold are forceful, as collectively we impact a good segment of the society. I focused on the ways we think. I chose three themes : words, colors and numbers. I talked about using the right words as traffic lights for our cascading emotions. I talked about the use of colors for brand building and persuasion. I talked about the use of numbers to anchor deals. I also ended up relating number bias stories from my own young and inexperienced years.

The talk was well received. One of the ladies told me “You held us in your palms with your focused talk.” And that was enormous praise from this crowd. Shwetha Upadhyaya, the Bhima lady herself, told me she found the talk was inspiring. Shyama Bhaskar, a woman whose beautiful jewellery designs hold me captive every time I see them, came and hugged me with her blessings. My day was made.

Do I sound like a small child with her pockets full of candies? Must be because I do feel like one 🙂

These ladies are my inspiration!

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