Breaking The Bias Barrier With Tulia Lopes

by | Aug 11, 2022 | Podcasts

SWGR 116 Tulia | Bias Barrier


How can women achieve more? What is the most crucial weapon in bringing diversity into the professional arena? Join your host Elizabeth Bachman as she talks with Tulia Lopes about breaking the bias barrier between men and women. Tulia’s goal is to support women, eradicate the gender gap in leading positions, and bring women’s voices to global stages. In this episode, she shares valuable insights on women’s communication skills and boosting their confidence. She discusses the importance of being aware, so we can express ourselves with more clarity so we can advance in our careers and business.

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Breaking The Bias Barrier With Tulia Lopes

I’m happy to have as my guest, the brilliant, amazing, wonderful, Tulia Lopes. Tulia, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much.

Tulia is a confident communication architect. She’s the author of the book, Leading in High Heels, which is a step-by-step guidebook to help women boost their leadership skills. For more than a decade, she’s been helping professional women build a solid foundation for their communication, presentation, and leadership skills. Her goal is to support women to eradicate the gender gap in leading positions and to bring women’s voices to global stages.

As the Founder of the Speak Up & Lead Academy, she has a proven system that helps her clients become more confident and position themselves as experts in their fields. By expressing themselves with more clarity, they exude more authority and become more promotable and more attractive to their markets. Tulia believes that communication is the key everyone needs to advance their careers and business. She believes it is the most important weapon to fight bias and bring more diversity to all levels of the professional arena. Tulia Lopes, welcome back to the show.

Thank you very much for inviting me again. It’s always a pleasure to be here in this conversation.

We would have much better lives, relationships, work environments, family, and friends if we knew how to express ourselves effectively with clarity and the openness of listening to others. Share on X

You were one of the first people I interviewed when I began this show. I was on your show at that point. You’re somebody that I follow. You’ve been doing an interesting series about breaking the bias. Before we start on that, I want to ask you what I ask all my guests. Who would be your dream interview? If you could interview someone who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?

When you asked me this question, I was like, “Who is this person?” That came to my mind like that. It was even a surprise for me, Coco Chanel. “Why Coco Chanel? Why did she come to my mind?” With all this topic of breaking the barriers in women, breaking through barriers, I remembered her that she was someone who broke through the barrier of the corset. She allowed women to be metaphorically free in the sense of feeling better because we all know those corsets were a nightmare for every woman physically and mentally.

Also, she brought this new idea of dressing fashion, which was still elegant and remains up to now. That liberated them. The curiosity came and I said, “That’s amazing. Let me research a little bit about her. What was it like to ask her?” Where does the entrepreneurial idea come from? How she came with this she was the first to wear trousers. She was super criticized about it and ostracized because of it.

Not only that. She managed and developed her brand. She was a true entrepreneur through and through. Who doesn’t love Chanel style? That would be my lady. Who would like to listen? Everybody. Not only women but everybody because of the class and style. I’m not getting to the political side of it, but she went to wars and she managed to keep going with her vision or idea of liberating women through fashion. She would be the one for me.

You were talking about corsets. One of the things about having spent a lifetime in theater and a great deal of it dealing with period pieces where women were wearing corsets all the time. There is the political side to corsets of always making a woman look more delicate than she was so that she would be acceptable and fit the fashion designs, which were mostly designed by men to make the women look like they wanted them to look.

SWGR 116 Tulia | Bias Barrier

Leading in High Heels: 3 Steps to Personal and Professional Excellence

Corsets are a health challenge in the late 19th century. I learned this from a costume historian once. In the late 19th century in England, upper-class English women were not having enough babies. Irish immigrants were coming in. The lower-class women couldn’t afford to wear a corset. Whenever they got pregnant, the babies came to term as opposed to the upper-class women who are wearing tight corsets, which caused miscarriages.

There was a political movement to convince more good English women to have good English babies so that we wouldn’t be overrun by these Irish immigrants. You hear these stories going on and on. The Romans were talking about how the upper-class Roman women weren’t having enough babies. This is a cycle that’s been going on for centuries. The part I remember was that the corset was deemed unhealthy. That’s where the bloomers came in and there was a whole Pre-Raphaelite movement where the women were not wearing corsets.

If we take to the metaphorical part of it, society always trying to squeeze us into a form that not all of us fit in. If you are slim, a corset is just another accessory. It’s the same in professional life. We’ve been talking about how many things I discovered by doing this challenge about bias before.

Let’s talk about the challenge because there may be some people who haven’t heard this. You’ve finished a 30-day challenge about fighting bias with communication skills. What got you started with this?

The International Women’s Day theme was to break the bias. That caught my attention because we hear about bias, but I didn’t know much. I believe we all know somehow what it is, but we don’t know what it is. I can say that after going through this challenge. I’m doing my new program for weeks. I’m launching this new program. It’s about breaking through the barriers that women have in a professional environment. I thought, “This is a good thing to link to what I’m doing.” Let me research and then lean organization together with McKinsey & Company.

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They have developed this research of over six years of women in Corporate America, about the 50 ways of a bias and the 50 ways bias affects women in the workplace. They have this program of giving examples of situations based on the research, why it matters, what can you do about it, and why it happens. I thought, “This is a good thing.” I got to put myself in a challenge of 30 days. They have 50 ways. I can absorb the 30 and use them for my challenge. I don’t need to create context as such. I need to get their content, study it, and then talk about it. That was my main idea. I didn’t know what I was going to go through.

I highly recommend going over and checking her out on LinkedIn and YouTube, which is where she has posted these 30 short videos all about bias. I’ve been following it. I don’t manage every day, but it is interesting. It was great.

When I started it, I said, “I’ll do 30 days.” I posted there. Afterward, like, “What have I done every day talking about something?” The more I did, the more I discovered and realized how unaware I was about biases and all the shapes and forms of bias happen that we are not aware of. Also, how this is so important for people in leading positions to be aware of because you are making decisions on how you hire and manage people. We have so many unconscious biases. These are the dangerous ones because they’re unconscious. You are assuming you making decisions based on facts when in fact, you are following those unconscious biases.

It’s programming that we get from society.

It’s the way we behave as human beings. There was another thing that I learned. Our brain has mainly two functions. Our brain is there to solve problems and find the fastest way to solve problems and save energy. Everything that is a change that requires us to change a behavior means that our brain would have to learn that. Also, this means it’s spending more energy. We immediately and subconsciously react against it. This is why we react against change.

SWGR 116 Tulia | Bias Barrier

Bias Barrier: Bias is so important for people in leading positions to be aware of, because you are making decisions on how you hire and manage people.


Our inner nature is, “Let’s save energy because that’s important for our survival.” In this study, going through this process and learning from this research is interesting. They present lots of cases that happened throughout this research because sometimes we think, “This cannot be true.” Let’s take into consideration that these are two well-known institutions so they are serious. You realize that we prefer to ignore it because we don’t want to deal with it. This breaks our routine and pattern.

You have to figure out something new. First of all, let’s address the “yes, but” question that I’m sure is hanging there in some people’s minds. There are all sorts of biases between men and women. Why are you focusing on women in this case?

I’m focusing on women because women are my target market.

You work to support women.

It’s not that I’m against men. To all guys, I love you. When I’m doing my training and coaching, I don’t like comparing men and women because I believe it’s not about comparing. It’s about us understanding our strengths, combining, and joining forces. Sometimes you will have to compare to understand what can we do to improve.

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As the corset, we are told many things that are not real. We are made to believe many things that are not real. In this next workshop that I’m going to give about breaking through the barriers, what I want to talk about is there are some barriers that are real. They are there. They’re part of the culture. Especially if you’re in a male-dominated corporate environment, you cannot deny that. This is a reality.

There are some that are not real. It falls into our assumptions, impressions, and perceptions that are based on our reality in how the stories we were told to believe. When we come to a certain environment, we start trying to identify those stories in that environment. This case can be our perception, not what’s happening in the environment.

There are the ones that are the more difficult, challenging, and worrying, which are the self-imposed barriers. Many women have too many self-imposed barriers. The worst is they project those barriers toward other women. They are the first ones to judge and criticize what they “don’t approve” of as a woman’s behavior, especially mothers in the workplace.

When one hears one’s mother’s voice coming out of one’s own mouth, you say, “Where did that come from?” I was channeling my grandmother sometimes for me. I had a strong grandmother. I hear their words coming out of my mouth and saying, “Do I particularly believe this?” Certainly, we’re not going to be able to get to everything in the time that we have. What are the top three biases that hold women back at work? Let’s start with external because it’s easier to see, and then talk about where that affects the internal biases as well, the ones that we’ve put up for ourselves.

In this study, they mentioned six biases. I can mention them all and then I’ll tell you the three ones. The first is unconscious, then performance, attribution, affinity, and likability and I don’t remember the last one. For women directly is performance and maternal. Affinity and ability are quite close. If you’re a White man, then you’ll have already a woman. The likeability is in question there because you’re two different genders to get started. These would be the three ones.

SWGR 116 Tulia | Bias Barrier

Bias Barrier: It’s not about comparing. It’s about us understanding our strengths so we could combine and join forces. But sometimes you will have to compare to understand what we can do to improve.


It’s a lot of the work that I do around helping single-focused and multi-focused people speak to each other if you think of it as two different languages, instead of assuming that you’ll be understood. Talk a little bit more about affinity bias and how that gets in the way. Affinity is finding someone like yourself.

We gravitate towards people like ourselves in appearance, beliefs, and background. Our primitive brain says, “We are safe around these people.” We might avoid and even dislike people who are different than us without any reason. It’s because of the fact they are different. It will require time for us and energy to learn about these people, and understand the world from their perspective and why they see things in a certain way. Instead of doing that, because that means we will have to spend energy, we ignore it and then we say, “I don’t like these people,” without even questioning why we don’t.

That’s similar to one of the things that I’ve heard about for years. When a woman is up for promotion and the men will say, “I don’t know. She doesn’t seem to have executive presence.” I always think that “executive presence” is code for, “I don’t want to hire her. I don’t like her, but I don’t know why. I’ll say it’s executive presence.”

When I started doing this challenge, I said, “How to use effective communication to fight bias at work and beyond?” You read in my bio that I do believe that communication is the foundation for everything. We would have much better lives, relationships, work environments, family environments, and friend environments if we knew how to express ourselves effectively, with clarity, and the openness to listening to others. Why am I saying that? In the example that you gave there, “I think. I feel. I don’t know,” These are all subjective language that doesn’t give any facts to you.

The big flag for managers, leaders, and people in a higher position here is when you think, feel, and believe, you have to watch your language because you should provide the facts. You could say, “I would say that she doesn’t have the executive presence because,” then you’re talking objectively. You can’t give the reason why you have this perception, but people go with, “I think. I feel.” To your audience out there, take this as a lesson that I’ve learned. The assumptions are the mothers of all screw-ups. Don’t assume anything. You have to get facts.

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That is a common thing that happens in the working environment. People in a higher position likability, “I don’t know you. You come from cultures that I don’t understand.” Would that be a good cultural fit? This is a secondary aspect. This can be something to be considered in the future for the culture of the company. If you are hiring or promoting someone, this is not the aspect. You have to look at the records, performance, and experience. People go through the gut feeling because it’s based on their own experience.

Gut feeling is important. However, when I have two candidates that are exactly the same, then I would say, “I need to find something here that differentiates those two because they have the same records, performance, and everything.” I have to decide. On that, you can even ask other people to help you out. Mainly people go through gut feelings and perceptions. This is not an objective approach.

Would it be fair to say that the first step is awareness, being aware, and the second step is being clear about it? One of the things that I’ve been thinking about when I’ve been listening to your excellent, interesting recordings is women tend to not ask directly, not to ask for a promotion. They will drop a hint. One of the ways that women are taught mostly by other women, mothers, grandmothers, and aunts to not be direct because you might insult somebody if you ask directly. You have to think about how to do it, how to be clear.

I had a client who wanted a promotion. She hinted about it. Her manager didn’t understand that she was asking for a promotion. The manager paid no attention. She thought the manager hated her and was ready to quit, mostly because she had not specifically asked. The manager was focused on something else. He didn’t realize that it was an actual question. That’s one of the hints that women are taught not to ask directly. I have to come back to you about the internal barriers that women put up. How can we learn to be direct and clear once we have recognized that there’s a bias?

I love that you put this because that is an intriguing equation. The fact is when you’re not assertive and direct in your work environment and you want to progress, people will tell you, “You need to be more assertive. You need to speak up.” When you speak up, you become more assertive. They would say, “She’s too much. She’s too harsh. She’s too abrasive.” There’s no winning there. The good thing about this is the lesson that we all have to learn, you can never please everybody.

SWGR 116 Tulia | Bias Barrier

Bias Barrier: It’s our assumptions, impressions, perceptions and these are based on our reality in how the stories we were told to believe that when we come to a certain environment, we start trying to identify those stories in that environment.


The first one to be pleased with is yourself. You need to know where you want to go. You need to know, “What do I need to prepare to get what I want to get?” People are going to talk about you. Elizabeth, we are both entrepreneurs. We have this connection. Why do you call me here? Why do I call you in my interviews as well? It’s because we support each other. We believe in what we are doing. Therefore, I believe in you as well.

I also believe that the people who are doing will never criticize you randomly. They might be not in favor of what you are doing. They might see it differently, but they would come to you and say, “Elizabeth. Fine. You’re doing this,” but I see it differently. I will never put you down and say, “Are you crazy? What are you doing?” All these people that communicate at that level, if you look at their records, they are not doing. They’re frustrated with whatever they are doing. They want to stop everybody else off, pursuing something bigger.

For everybody out there, when you believe you can achieve more and you want to achieve more, look for the people who are doing. Talk to them. Get their guidance, because these people will not criticize you. They might say to you, “While your idea is not effective, the way you’re thinking is not going to help you to get what you want.” They will help you with new ideas. Don’t listen to these people who are saying, “What are you thinking?”

This is another thing. That is the problem with men and women out there. They listen too much to all these other people who try to put them down. They believe them and they start self-doubting. We all have our self-doubts. That’s normal, especially when we are doing a next step that is out of our comfort zone. We will be insecure and uncertain, but we need to start building our foundations. The first thing you should analyze is, “Where am I right now? Where do I want to go? What do I have to get there? What I’m still missing? If I’m missing, who is going to help me to get those skills, that experience, the contact, whatever it is?”

There’s a great phrase that I heard of a woman who wanted a promotion. She made an appointment with her manager so that she had his full attention. She said, “Here’s this promotion. I’m the right person for it. What do you need from me to make that happen?” That put it right out on the table. It was a woman who wanted the promotion and the manager was a man.

We don't need to answer any question immediately. And in fact, we don't need to answer any question at all if we don't want to. Share on X

The manager said, “First of all, thank you for being so clear. Secondly, you’re good here, here, and here. I’d like to see you do more in these two areas. Maybe you’re doing it and I don’t notice it. Be a bit more visible in these two other areas and then we’ll make it happen.” I’ve never forgotten that. “What do you need from me to make that happen?” That had it going. We’re talking about microaggressions. If you feel like someone is biased against you who’s not taking you seriously, what can you do? How can you address that?

It’s difficult to want to stand for ourselves when you feel attacked. The important thing is Stephen Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “Your greatest power relies on between stimulus and response because it’s your power of choice.” Every time there’s a stimulus towards you meaning there’s an action or attack, our first action is a not thoughtful reaction. We react unconsciously. It’s like our defense mode. “You attack me, I attack you. You attack me more, I attack you more.”

That is the primitive way of reaction. The power lies in you allowing yourself to give yourself this space between the stimulus and the response and decide what response you are going to have. That is the power. We don’t need to answer any questions immediately. In fact, we don’t need to answer any questions at all if we don’t want to. Women are told to be nice and polite when people ask them something. You’ll have to answer. We don’t give ourselves the time to elaborate.

I always quote Obama on this because everybody knows him. Also, you can see how Obama speaks. Obama says something and he drops it there. He takes his time, moves to the side, and says something else. It’s the same when he is interviewed. The people ask him a question. He gives these few seconds of silence. What happens there? Instead of appearing that he is someone insecure, it’s the other way around. It appears that he is so secure in himself that he takes the time to elaborate on what he has to say.

For a person who feels attacked, understand, try to listen, internalize what was said, and understand what could be the reason for that comment or remark. You ask directly, “Why are you saying this? Did I give you any reason for you to think that way?” Most people, including myself because I am working on that, but I do not consider myself the best at it. We are not good listeners. We are all ready to speak to say something.

SWGR 116 Tulia | Bias Barrier

Bias Barrier: The power lies in giving yourself space between the stimulus and the response and deciding what kind of response you are going to have.


For listening, I’m holding myself not to say something, because we are prepared to answer immediately, especially women without thinking. The key is to become good listeners and start asking questions. When people throw something at you, absorb it, and then ask to confirm that you understood that correctly. Don’t assume because everybody goes assuming things. As you gave the first example, this person, your client that came, dropped a hint about her promotion. How could I guess your hint?

The other person didn’t react in the way she expected. It is all subjective. She assumed that the person didn’t like her. All of these stories, none of it are based on facts. Back to your question, ask using the same wording that the other person used, because when you rephrase what someone said, you also give the person the opportunity to rethink what they said.

As everybody speaks without thinking, they might throw something at you. When you force them in a way, saying, “Did I understand well that you mentioned this? Why?” I’m putting you against the wall in a diplomatic, polite, and respectful way, asking you to explain yourself to me. That process that happens in seconds forces you. If you want to continue with that, you know in the back of your mind that there will be consequences. What happens as a case? People say, “I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant.”

If you’re going to talk to somebody about how they were not being polite, do it in private. Don’t do it in front of everybody else.

I don’t think you should say you’re not polite because this sounds also like a counterattack. If you ask and you say something to me and I said, “Did I understand correctly that you said X, Y, Z?” and you repeat. I’m not saying that you’re impolite, knowing that you are, knowing that you’re trying to attack me maybe in a subtle way, but I’m not reacting. I cannot change facts, but I can change how I react. I cannot change the questions and the attacks, but I can change how I react to them. That would be my advice to your community out there.

Tulia, this is fascinating. If there is one thing we could start with, what would be the first tip that you could leave us with?

I would suggest people go through reading what bias is about. This is why I’m giving you this PDF, which is a compilation of what I have done so far. I do suggest you do that because that was an eye-opener for me. There are some specific data there for you to understand. From there, you can start looking at yourself. First, everything starts with oneself. When you have a reaction towards the situation, check if that is not real, what is happening, or if this is your own biases, your own conversations.

You need to understand the types of biases, how they work, and how we can fall into them easily, because bias is not only related to gender, culture, and race. These are the easy ones. They’re unconscious biases. There are so many maternal biases. Ladies out there, be kind to each other. Women are the most inflicting towards each other. We are too ready to judge, especially mothers. I don’t have children. I don’t think you have.

I’m aware and there’s no such thing as one size fits all. Each woman understands motherhood, responsibility, and how family works in a different way. The thing is you can express your way of saying, provided it is respectful but don’t judge. First, before judging the world out there, you’ll have to get to do some homework and learn about how you behave towards our world out there.

Tulia, it is an ongoing conversation. I have to have you back in a couple of months to talk more about this so that we can get to the rest of this. Thank you so much for joining us. My guest has been Tulia Lopes. I’ll see you at the next one.


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About Tulia Lopes

SWGR 116 Tulia | Bias BarrierI’m a Confident Communication Architect, and author of Leading in High Heels, a step by step guidebook to help women to boost their leadership skills. For over a decade I have been helping professional women to build a solid foundation for their communication, presentation and leadership skills. My goal is to support to eradicate the gender gap in leading positions, and bring women’s voices to stages globally.

I am the founder of the Speak Up & Lead Academy. My proven system helps my clients to become more confident and position themselves as experts in their fields. By expressing their ideas with more clarity they exude more authority, become more promotable and more attractive for their markets. I believe communication is THE key everyone needs to advance their careers and businesses, and I also believe it is the weapon to fight bias and bring more diversity to all levels of the professional arena.