Sejal Thakkar dubs herself “Chief Civility Officer” and “Legal Training Ninja.” In her 17 years as an employment law attorney, Sejal encountered plenty of incivility in the workplace. She shares simple, approachable strategies to foster civility in our kids and set them up for success in life.
- “The reason why I go about the civility angle is because that’s something that’s a common language that we all speak and that we all want.” – Sejal Thakkar
- “When I say diversity, it’s basically differences. Not any specific kinds of differences, but we all have a different way of looking at the world.” – Sejal Thakkar
- “To achieve civility, we all need to makes sure that we make that time to get to know each other.” – Sejal Thakkar
- “Bias, the way I define it is just, it’s another word for preference.” – Sejal Thakkar
- “I honestly will tell you this last year of being at home and homeschooling my son has been the best year of my life. I wish I could homeschool him for the rest of my life, because the opportunity that we have as parents to be able to instill this wonderful information, to help prepare them for their futures, we can easily do that if we just give them our time and attention.” – Sejal Thakkar
- “We have to make time to do this work with our kids so they can be set up for their future.” – Sejal Thakkar
- 1:15 – Why Mom’s should be thinking about civility
- 2:40 – Defining civility
- 10:29 – Discovering your own bias
- 14:53 – When to start talking about bias
- 17:49 – When bias becomes personal
- 21:53 – How do we equip our kids to deal with bullying?
- 24:50 – Get in touch with Sejal
[00:00:00] Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode.
[00:00:14] Emily Melious: Hey everyone. I am glad you’re back for another great episode of Mothers of Misfits. We’re joined by Sejal Thakkar today. She dubs herself Chief Civility Officer and Legal Training Ninja. She is not your average employment law attorney. After 17 years in employment law, Sejal now trains companies on how to bring civility to the workplace.
[00:00:40] She’s also a mom to Shane who is eight, and I got a chance to meet him before we started recording, and he is amazing. So welcome Sejal, glad to have you here.
[00:00:50] Sejal Thakkar: Thank you so much. I’m excited. I’ve been thinking about our conversation all weekend, honestly. So thank you so much for having me.
[00:00:57] Emily Melious: Yeah. And I know this is a little different of an audience for you because you usually work with companies, professionals, in the workplace environment. But I know you feel that this topic really matters to moms and families. So can you flush that out for us? Why should moms be thinking about civility?
[00:01:18] Sejal Thakkar: Absolutely. Great question. Look, I mean, civility is something that is important to all of us, right? I mean, you take away our money, you take away our houses, you take away our cars, you take everything away. What each and every single one of us wants is, we want to be valued. We want to be treated with dignity and respect when we go to work, or when we’re not at work. So the reason why I go about it the civility angle is because that’s something that’s a common language that we all speak and that we all want. So I’m basically out there talking to everybody about sort of what their role is in the solution to making sure that we’re all treated that way.
[00:01:57] Emily Melious: And I know in the work that I do, helping people find fulfillment and doing that by aligning their skills, passions, and talents. I say all the time, I would love to work myself out of a job with adults by helping young people, as early as possible, know their M.O. . says and fulfillment. And when we do that, then, you know, we don’t have all these messages that we then have to clean up in our adult lives and in our workplaces.
[00:02:25] So I think you and I are similarly minded in that way. That let’s learn these core fundamental human principles early on, and our job as moms and parents is critical in that. So you gave us a couple of clues just a minute ago, but I’m curious to hear from you, cause I don’t think this is a word that we use so often in our language, but how do you define civility?
[00:02:50] Sejal Thakkar: sure. And I think it makes sense for me to first define the opposite. What is incivility? Right. So, and, and, and I go about it that way, because as an attorney throughout my career, what I’ve seen is cases of all kinds of incivility. So incivility is basically a whole range of behaviors, right? Anything from rude.
[00:03:10] Unprofessional behavior. And I also include in that category, your microaggressions, right. That are behaviors that are coming from your unconscious bias. So you’re not even aware, but now you’re saying something you’re doing something unintentionally towards somebody else. So usually behavior starts there.
[00:03:29] Incivility starts there. If we don’t identify that, if we don’t detect that, if we don’t then it continues up and it becomes now. Unwelcome dismissive behaviors. If we don’t correct it there now it’s abusive conduct bullying. in court with your illegal harassment discrimination cases, right?
[00:03:50] So That’s what I call the progression of incivility. you know, leading up to your illegal behaviors. So I think it’s important to disrupt that progression early on. When you start seeing the rude, unprofessional, the microaggressions. Let’s start interrupting that progression right there. So we don’t end up on the other side of the spectrum.
[00:04:09] So I encourage everybody to be a part of that solution. We can’t just say it’s HR is or management’s responsibility. We all have to be a part of that solution. So then if we understand what incivility is, then civility is really, the concept of what I tell companies and just for everybody, you know, Identify with civility means to you because we all define things differently.
[00:04:32] But generally speaking, you want to include certain things within that definition, like civility, you have to be present with each other. You have to make time to get to know each other. Most of these problems happen or at least what I’ve seen in my experience is when you put different people together, we’re all different from each other.
[00:04:50] You and I are different from each other. We have different upbringings, different. I mean, we’re all different from each other. So when I say diversity, it’s basically differences. Not any specific kinds of differences, but we all have a different way of looking at the world. And so when you put all these people together, it’s going to turn into misunderstandings conflict.
[00:05:07] And so we just need them, like you said, fundamental skills, right? to be able to navigate through those differences. So to achieve civility, we all need to make sure that we make. that time to get to know each other. We make that time to get to know ourselves so we can address those areas that we may need to about our own cells because of our upbringing.
[00:05:27] So your unconscious bias and then make a commitment that there are going to be differences in opinion, there are going to be disagreements and that could be healthy. Right. That can help us create even better cultures, diversity of thought. So there’s really lots of good reasons for diversity, but when you have that disagreement, you know, when you two don’t understand, here’s a healthy, respectful, professional way of dealing with it, right?
[00:05:53] And so we need to give people those skills. And so civility has to include a component of that. So when I’m working with organizations, I say, make civility a core value. At your organization, define it and then put the resources behind equipping everybody so that they can be part of that solution.
[00:06:15] Emily Melious: From that is a really easy thing that all of us can do, Which is have a family meeting, and really doesn’t matter the age of your kids because you don’t so much have to say the word civility because that may or may not resonate with them depending on how old they are.
[00:06:29] But I’m thinking come together and define your family rules. What’s okay in our family and what’s not okay inside of our family. I love that you talk about there. Isn’t a one size fits all definition. And mothers of misfits is all about advocating for our kids, in a one size fits all world.
[00:06:47]so let’s define it for our own families. What does it look like to be a member of this family inside our family? How do we treat each other? And then I also like taking it that step further, which is how do members of our family treat those that are outside of our family?
[00:07:03]How do we treat people who are different from us? What do we want that to look like? What are our family rules and beliefs about how we interact with others?
[00:07:13] And that can be a fun dinner table conversation. I could see it being a great thing to write down, maybe post somewhere in their house. And then I’m thinking this also gives us. The framework for when we see somebody operating outside of those behaviors, we can say, you know, my kids could even say to me, Hey mama.
[00:07:32] We said, no acting out of anger. And you were raising your voice back there and that’s not one of our house rules and we can call each other out, but we can keep coming back to that. Agreed upon place. Do I have that right? Would that be a good way to really apply these principles in our family life?
[00:07:51]Sejal Thakkar: you said it perfectly. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I mean, that’s exactly it. And so when we look at families, you know, one of the things that I say start with is to get to where you’re talking about is. Start with increasing your own self-awareness in your family unit. Right? So as mothers, for example, trust me, I am doing this work myself, because as you mentioned, I have an eight year old, right.
[00:08:12] So I have to expose him to things that. I haven’t been exposed to, to make sure that he has a well-rounded understanding of different perspectives. So as mothers, we hold that key as parents, right? We hold that key, what our kids are exposed to. And so you can make a lot of impact in children’s lives because look, research shows that when children are, somewhere between three months, Two a year kids start to recognize, Oh, this person is different from me.
[00:08:39] So there’s a preference of hard wiring that we all have at about, you know, I would just say from the beginning, right. That when we see someone that looks different than us, or is it different than us, then we’re going to prefer those that are like us. So that’s called your affinity bias. So as mothers, we know what our kids are exposed to.
[00:08:57] So we really have to do what we can. So for example, this weekend, I got this book called watch me. And it’s by a colleague of mine, Doyon Richards, and it’s such a beautiful cover. You might want to get it for your children too, but it talks about how a little boy from South Africa migrated to the United States and what his experience was like.
[00:09:17] Right. So we talked about that and in the conversations we had that followed reading, that kind of book, They’re not going to have these conversations unless we expose them to that. So watching movies, videos within different cultures, look at different outfits. Like the more that we can do to increase that.
[00:09:34] And then also, Who are they associating with? You know, what can we do to increase the demographics within the social circles, you know? And so look at what school your child is going to. And if there’s not a lot of diversity, then maybe you can find ways to make some friends with people that are diverse so that the kids can play together.
[00:09:51] So there’s a lot that we can do, but we also need to start with ourselves. So that means also being aware of our own. Unconscious biases too. Cause we all have them it’s normal. And so start by taking a look at your own you know, again, bias the way I define it. It’s just, it’s another word for preference.
[00:10:08] We all prefer something’s over something else. So figure out what your preferences are, because it’s likely that you’re going to pass along those or engage in behaviors to your children, that they’re going to see you. And they’re going to now pick up on those as well. And so knowing what yours are, then you can kind of put together some strategies to help you deal with those as well.
[00:10:29] Emily Melious: So give us a couple quick and easy ways to do that. I mean, I feel like this whole thought of reflecting on and discovering my own bias or preferences that feels. Pretty big to me. How can you break that down into some easy steps that we can all take?
[00:10:46] Sejal Thakkar: Sure look, the thing about our hidden beliefs is what I like to call it. I don’t like using that word bias because when people hear that we’re biased, it’s like, it rubs people the wrong way. I can understand why. it’s just another word for belief. So hidden beliefs, and again, we all have them because of the way we’ve gone through in our lives.
[00:11:04]But the thing is they’re hidden to us. It comes out in our actions, in our behaviors to everybody around us. So as somebody that you trust that you feel comfortable with, that will tell you, I would say, you know, gracefully, honest, because we don’t want somebody to be brutal, but we want them to, they’ll tell you.
[00:11:23] Because it comes out in our actions or behaviors, the facial features our tone of our voice when we’re encountering these situations. So sit down and ask somebody, Hey, have you seen me make any decisions where you think that I preferred one thing over another, about a year and a half ago, I was with my girlfriend and we tried to get together every couple of months for dinner. And she said, say, Joel, do you realize that whenever we go to a restaurant, If the first person you see like the waiter or waitress, if they smile at you, you automatically assume that the food is going to be great. Because when I grew up, my parents own their own businesses. So customer service was like drilled into my head. So when I see someone smiling at me, my brain automatically makes that leap.
[00:12:07] Oh, they’re giving me good customer service. The food must be good, but we all know there’s no connection to those two things. Right. The food could still be, but I know that about myself now. Right? to learning that now next time, better decisions to say, okay, look at the quality of the food. Like see what the reviews are, the restaurant, you know, so forth.
[00:12:26] So as somebody that you trust, because they’ll tell you, the second thing is this is an online tool it’s free. It’s called the implicit association test. I don’t like calling it a test because it’s not a test. It’s not like you pass or fail. It’s a tool, right? It’s an awareness tool, but it’s called the implicit association test.
[00:12:45] It was put together by Harvard university, university of Washington, university of Virginia, and went to these big waves. Psychology has got together. They put this test together. It’s been taken by 9 million people. It’s broken out into different categories, like race, religion, national origin, sexual, you know, a lot of different categories.
[00:13:03] So you could do one at a time, break it up and you sit down and you just go through and you make these associations. It shows you a bunch of pictures and words, and you make these associations and it’s free. So it identifies for you. Preferences that you might have one thing over another, that’s such helpful information to know, because then when you find yourself in a situation where you’re making an important decision, right?
[00:13:25] Like something that matters to your children or your family, that’s going to impact you. you remember that preference and then you make sure, wait a second. Am I making this because of my natural tendency to lean in this direction? Or. Am I making a decision that’s really going to work for our family right now, because a lot of times these assumptions are made in your past.
[00:13:43] You’ve seen something you’ve gone through something. So you’ve got this memory lodged in your brain somewhere, and it’s going to associate it. Well, your beliefs right now consciously might be the exact opposite of what happened to you back there. You might think differently now, so you could just stop and take that time to then.
[00:13:59] Make an objective or I would say irrational decision rather than just relying on those assumptions that you’re making. So those are two quick tools that you can use right away. They can just give you more information about who you are. So you could factor that in, into the decisions you make.
[00:14:15] Emily Melious: Yeah. And it’s all about leading by example Our kids are watching every move. We make everything, we do everything we say. And we’re speaking volumes actually, probably more so than the things that we aren’t saying. And I think just hearing that reminder too.
[00:14:32] Parents is, again, you’ve got little eyes on you all the time, and we want to make sure that we’re instilling in them, the lessons and beliefs that we want them to be getting from us. But that means that there has to be consistency between our actions, our words, and what we’re wanting them to be gaining from our leadership.
[00:14:53]So say, Joel, I want to ask you how early should we be? Talking to our kids about bias. I mean, this can go kind of heavy. This could be pretty complex. So walk us through what this looks like. And at what age we should be starting to bring this up.
[00:15:11] Sejal Thakkar: Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t have to be heavy I want to make that like very crystal clear. It does not have to be heavy. And obviously with children, you can be creative with it. And so start early as early as you can. it’s as simple as reading them books with different diversity, different cultures, I mean that doesn’t have to be heavy if you just expose them to that, that’s all you need to do.
[00:15:32] Making sure that you’re not just watching TV shows with a certain one. Demographic show them different things. I mean, it doesn’t even have to be a conversation, for example, one of the things that I’m starting to do with my son is I’m setting up virtual play dates. Like we talked about doing with our kids.
[00:15:46] Come up with a list of like three questions that the kids will discuss, that doesn’t have to be heavy and their conversations are rich. And also listen to those conversations, see what your kids are saying, because they’ve picked up on that from somewhere.
[00:15:59] And if it doesn’t match up with where you want them to be, then. That’s a perfect time to sort of correct that it doesn’t have to be a heavy conversation. Hey, I noticed that you said that isn’t beautiful. For example, why do you think that all colors are beautiful? Simple. Just, you know, it doesn’t have to be heavy conversation.
[00:16:15] You know what? I have a friend here that’s black and she’s beautiful. And so you can quickly just change that preference. These are again, learn to behaviors. in start early, because it’s all about. If they see it all around them, it’s going to become the normal for them. I mean, a lot of times our views are because of what we were exposed to.
[00:16:31]my parents were Indian. I mean, they moved from India in 74. I was born just a couple of months after, or they moved to the United States. So I was exposed hard core exposed to the Indian culture, but I was also exposed to the American culture. So I’ve gotten both. So to me, both of them feel comfortable.
[00:16:49] Right. I would say even the American culture feels more comfortable to me than the Indian culture, because I spent a majority of my time in the American culture. And the only time I got the Indian culture was when I was at home. I have to now intentionally work hard. To keep myself in that culture if I want to.
[00:17:03] But you know, like it’s, fading, because my son doesn’t speak the language and so forth, but we can do what we can. I’ll still play the Bollywood music. I’d still play the movies. Right. So we could do a little things to just let them know that this is all good. We’re all the same.
[00:17:17] We all just have different skin colors. That’s the only thing. But otherwise everything inside of that, it works exactly the same. Right.
[00:17:24] Emily Melious: Yeah, I love, that you keep coming back to this being positive and not hard. Cause these words, these topics, I mean are heavy and thick in society right now. to think about bringing that into our homes and doing that in a productive good, positive way is so encouraging. I love your advice and it feels so doable, which we all need doable.
[00:17:49]So Sejal, you brought up your background and I like to hear about how you were affected by bias as a kid. you look a bit different than I’m sure a lot of the environments that you were in.
[00:18:03]how is this topic personal for you?
[00:18:06] Sejal Thakkar: this is very personal to me, you know, I mean, it really drives all of the work that I do. and a lot of that also deals with having my son and not having him go through what I went through as a child. That’s a major driver for the work that I do. we were the only Indian family in an all Italian neighborhood.
[00:18:22] So we stood out, right. I already looked different, but now I really looked different, you know? And so I dealt with bullying and harassment when I was younger as a child. And, it was awful because here’s the thing, there was no support. And there still isn’t today for children going through that, when you have immigrant parents, You don’t have anybody you can talk to. So I went inside a lot, but I knew very early on, I mean, this was just a decision I made that I wasn’t going to let them impact me in that way, where it was going to take away from my belief in humanity.
[00:18:54] And that is that most of us are good people and. I’m not justifying what those kids did, but I think the parents could have done more and they should have done more. And so going back to what we’re talking about, it really is the parents that are critical in this. And the earlier you can start the better, It’s important to recognize that those scars don’t go away.
[00:19:13]stay forever, you know? And so that drives me because I started going down the wrong path, I started acting out. I was fighting back. I was talking back. I was getting suspended from school and, and I could have gone a whole different direction with my life.
[00:19:27]But I turned to education, you know, I turned again inwards and I turned to the books and I threw myself into that world because I was like, this is an escape. And I knew that I needed to, just get through it one step at a time. And so law school was always a, I knew that this was going to be a path that I could sort of advocate for social justice do my part that I can in this whole solution.
[00:19:47] But the idea of bias is just so important because as I started doing the work. That I was doing here. I was look, I mean, imagine this, the twist, right? I was the victim of discrimination and harassment. And now as a lawyer, I was defending people who were accused of harassing and discriminating. So I had to do the work myself.
[00:20:08] To be able to do my work, right? Because when I stepped into a room and if I just read the piece of paper with the complaint on it, people being bullied and harassed. I had to work through that. I’ve worked through my own biases. I still do that every single day. It’s an ongoing process, but it’s also a wonderful process going back to it being positive when you start doing the work.
[00:20:32] And this is just getting to know yourself as how I talk about it. And you just get to know yourself and you make. Conscious decisions. Instead of being an autopilot, you start seeing your life gets better. Your interactions with people get better. We get this connectedness that starts to happen between people.
[00:20:46] And so I think everything that I went through, I wouldn’t want to ever go through it again and believe me, I don’t want anybody to go through it again, but it really brings the layer of deaths to the work that I do, that it’s me, that I can bring into the work that I’m doing to help.
[00:21:00]Push the needle or move people in that direction because I’ve gone through it. most people are well-intentioned and they just don’t have those skills. It’s not like there’s that many people with, it seems like it right now, but there’s not a lot of people that are maliciously out there.
[00:21:13] It’s just They need to learn how to correct that behavior. And we need to not make those behaviors be normal anymore and say, Nope, this is not how it’s going to work. to be able to do that. This is the tipping point And again, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. Just do what you’re comfortable with, whatever your comfort zone is, and then stretch it a little bit. Cause remember that’s the sign where, you know, okay. We’re feeling a little bit uncomfortable. Let’s lean into that discomfort because it’s worth it.
[00:21:41] It’s worth it.
[00:21:42] Emily Melious: And that’s where you grow. I want to bring this back to. Bullying as you’ve experienced, that’s where it started for you. That’s where those scars and cut deep. How do we equip our kids to deal with bullying? Whether they’re the person being bullied or they’re witnessing bullying, taking place.
[00:22:05]Sejal Thakkar: I think it’s a great strategy to start, including those conversations into everything else that we’ve just talked about. Right? So bring a book where somebody is getting bullied in the book or being treated badly. And that there’s plenty of examples. I thought I was going to have to struggle hard to find books where kids are being mean to each other or treating each other disrespectfully.
[00:22:26] It’s actually pretty simple. Shockingly simple. So pull a book, go to your kid’s bookshelf. Find any book that has got kids playing together, and you’ll find several examples in there that you’re like, wait a second. This is a great conversation right here to have about why did this kid pushed his kid, or take this on somebody else’s kid in therapy, having that being a part of the conversation that is not a good thing to do that, you know, we should handle it this way, teach them how to respond as a bystander.
[00:22:55] If they see that happening to somebody else at school, what should they do? Tell them. I mean, some schools are starting to do that, but we need to reinforce that we can’t just rely on what the schools they’re doing. It’s not enough. We need to supplement that with more, a lot more discussions at home it’s very easy to do that again.
[00:23:13] Like I said, go pull any book with kids and you’ll find 10 examples at least to talk about, to say, what are your thoughts on it? And just ask questions, get to know your kids. See, what do you think about that? How does that make you feel? And see what their responses are, and maybe you don’t need to have the conversation.
[00:23:30] Maybe it’s already something. Maybe you reinforce that. Oh yeah. That’s, you know, I love that. You said that that’s the right way to do it. I mean, I honestly will tell you this last year of being at home and homeschooling, my son has been the best year of my life. I wish I could homeschool him. For the rest of my life, because the opportunity that we have as parents to be able to instill this wonderful information, to help prepare them for their futures, we can easily do that if we just give them our time and attention.
[00:23:58] But I know it’s hard for a lot of people because we’re racing in so many different directions, right. But we have to make time to do this work with our kids so they can be set up for their future and they don’t have to go through what I went through or what so many people are going through or have gone through in this country.
[00:24:13] We can change that.
[00:24:14] Emily Melious: Well, there again is such an excellent example of how you see the glass half full. Your positivity is so contagious and you put things into bite sized ways that we really do feel like it’s attainable. And the big things I’m hearing are open conversations. Defining what is, and is not acceptable, both in and outside of your household.
[00:24:36] And then having that game plan running through scenarios of what would this look like, if, how do we deal with this scenario? When, so when they get there, they have that training to fall back on and they have that confidence that you’ve instilled in them that you are doing the right thing. So say, Joel, if folks would like to get in touch with you, learn more about the work that you’re doing, how can they do that?
[00:24:57] Sejal Thakkar: I would say if you’re on LinkedIn connect with me there. Follow me there. And then the other way would be just to go to my website, train extra.com. and any time that you are seeking information, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. Cause I really believe in, sharing information, especially because there’s so much that is out there, that we don’t really know what we should and shouldn’t trust. So if you’re looking for positive culture, how to instill these diversity inclusion, any of these areas that we’ve talked about here, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.
[00:25:24] Emily Melious: And I know that you are a mom. Um, First. So I, you love to have the conversation about how we can grow these amazing, civil, friendly kind kids. So thank you for giving us those easy to follow, but really game changing tips today. I’m really glad that you came on.
[00:25:43] Sejal Thakkar: thank you so much for having me. This is a great conversation.
[00:25:46] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the mothers of misfits podcast Make sure to subscribe So you never miss an episode We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com