Understanding Bias in Language

Gender Bias

Gender bias exists because of the social construction and language of gender itself; recognize it and try to avoid it when speaking.

Learning Objectives

Explain how gendered communication creates bias in public speaking

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Gender is the social construction and definition of what it means to be man, woman, masculine or feminine.
  • Gender expression and expectations of how gender should be expressed vary by culture.
  • Men and women have different expectations and perceptions of each other and thus will receive speakers of opposing genders differently. Additionally, gender bias still exists – for both speaker and audience – when speakers who may share the same gender as their audience.

Key Terms

  • bias: An inclination towards something; predisposition, partiality, prejudice, preference, predilection.
  • gender: The sociocultural phenomenon of dividing people into the categories of “male” and “female,” with each having associated clothing, roles, stereotypes, etc.

Gender Bias in Public Speaking


Gender BiasĀ : The late Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, faced gender and cultural bias in her two brief terms as a world leader.

Understanding Gender

Before we can start talking about gender bias, it’s first helpful to understand the concept of gender. Gender is not necessarily indicative of the sex organs with which we’re born. When you’re talking about the biological classification of “male” and “female” you’re referring to sex, not gender.

Gender is the social construction of a person’s sex. Gender refers to the social definition and cultural expectations of what it means to be “man” or “woman. ” Additionally, some people may identify with a gender different from their sex, often identifying instead as “transgendered. ”

Gender is not something with which you are born; instead it is taught, learned and understood through social interaction and experience.

What is Gendered Communication?

At its heart, gender is learned by, defined and taught to us through language and communication. Gendered communication is often culturally constructed as well, meaning that what is considered masculine or feminine in one culture may not hold true in another. How people express their gender often relies on the cultural constructs of the society in which they live or identify. The same is said of how people expect certain gender roles to be expressed by others.

Recognizing and Avoiding Gender Bias in Public Speaking

Just as you want to be cognizant and aware of the cultural biases that exist between both you and your audience, you’ll want to be equally aware of how gender bias may factor into your speech. Know that when a woman gets up to speak in front of a group of men, she is instantly received differently than her male counterpart. In certain cultural contexts, men may be dismissive of a female speaker. Many times, female speakers have to adapt gendered mannerisms, language and stance of men in order to validate their authority as speaker.

It’s not exactly a cut and dry vice-versa situation, either. Women may be at ease with a female speaker, but they may also be more attentive to a male speaker, given that many cultures teach women to be attentive (subservient in the extreme) to men.

Taking a step back and considering what gender bias you bring to the table, as well as what gender biases your audience might have of you is an important step in eliminating or at least addressing gender bias in your speech.

Culture Bias

We all carry cultural biases, intentional or otherwise; try to find and address cultural bias within your speech.

Learning Objectives

Describe how cultural bias can impact the delivery, rhetorical content and reception of a speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Cultural bias exists when you try to navigate the experiences of others through the framework of your personal compass of cultural experience.
  • Both you and your audience bring cultural bias to your speech: how you perceive and communicate with them and how they perceive and receive your words.
  • Cultural bias can impact mannerism, speech, and gesture as well as the rhetorical compenents of your speech.
  • Try to avoid cultural bias if you can and if you can’t, at least acknowledge it. Read your speech from a distanced perspective while considering the cultural context both you and your audience bring to the speech and how it will be received. This will only make your argument more robust.

Key Terms

  • Intercultural Communication: Intercultural communication is a form of global communication. It is used to describe the wide range of communication problems that naturally appear within an organization made up of individuals from different religious, social, ethnic, and educational backgrounds. Intercultural communication is sometimes used synonymously with cross-cultural communication. In this sense it seeks to understand how people from different countries and cultures act, communicate, and perceive the world around them.
  • bias: An inclination towards something; predisposition, partiality, prejudice, preference, predilection.

Cultural Bias in Public Speaking

Understanding Intercultural Communication

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan holds an autographed basketball given to him by President Obama. He and President Obama are talking as Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo looks on.

Cultural Biases: To be effective speakers, we must recognize, acknowledge, and move beyond cultural biases.

In a world of seven billion people, author David J. Smith reduced the world down to just 100 inhabitants. Of those 100, Smith breaks the world down into the following locales and languages:

  • 61 are from Asia
  • 13 are from Africa
  • 12 are from Europe
  • 8 are from South and Central America
  • 5 are from the United States and Canada
  • 1 is from Oceania
  • 22 speak a Chinese dialect (18 speak Mandarin)
  • 9 speak English
  • 8 speak Hindi
  • 7 speak Spanish
  • 4 speak Arabic
  • 4 speak Bengali
  • 3 speak Portuguese
  • 3 speak Russian

When reduced to such simple terms, Smith’s “global village” illustrates the wide swath of diversity among the people of our planet. How we communicated with one another in spite of and in support of our diverse backgrounds is at the heart of intercultural communication.

Our unique cultural backgrounds can be the proving ground for commonality. Unfortunately, more often than not our cultural backgrounds serve as reminders of the ways in which we differ from one another and that our bias can serve as barriers to communication.

What is Bias?

Bias is the state at which we all exist; that is, a non-neutral state of inclination, predilection, and prejudice. By the sheer virtue of differences in human experience, we each harbor bias in some way because we’re all bringing something a little different to the table.

What is Cultural Bias?

Cultural bias exists when you try to navigate the experiences of others through the framework of your personal compass of cultural experience. Your cultural experience inherently makes you biased against disimilar cultural experiences to your own. Remember, bias doesn’t necessarily mean exclusion, so bias can mean a preference for one culture over another. This cultural bias may exist in the form of affinity towards one culture or cultural experience over another or complete detachment from one cultural experience over another.

How Cultural Bias Impacts Your Speech

Cultural bias exists in two forms when speaking in public. There’s the cultural bias you bring to the podium. The other exists in the minds of your audience, as they bring cultural biases with them to the auditorium. Both can impact your speech.

This dissonance between these biases can affect the ways your audience receives you as a speaker, in both trustworthiness and reliability as subject matter expert. Additionally, your cultural bias may impact your mannerisms and speaking patterns as you deliver your speech.

From a rhetorical perspective, your cultural bias may impact the strength and comprehensiveness of your argument. If your cultural bias only allows you to see things in a certain cultural context, there may be parts of your argument that aren’t fully developed simply because you don’t have the cultural context to even realize that part of your argument was not fully formed.

To overcome cultural bias, take a step back from your speech. Consider the following questions as you attempt to recognize and address cultural bias in your speech:

  • What cultural context does your audience bring to your speech?
  • What is the race, ethnicity, nationality, and heritage of your audience?
  • What language barriers may exist?
  • What cultural context do you bring to the table?
  • What cultural biases might your audience have about you as speaker?
  • What is the cultural context of both your argument and supporting evidence?