I have to make a disclaimer before I go on: I am super fortunate to know some ‘strong independent’ males and have a few such friends too. Feels weird when used with males, huh? And I share views on gender dynamics and my own experiences with them as I share them with my female friends and they listen, they empathise and they don’t prescribe. And that’s all you expect – no one is blaming anyone, it is no ONE person’s fault; patriarchy is a product of centuries of social training of males and females. That doesn’t mean that I should stay quiet and not say a word against the unfairness I have to face because of my gender (which I am very proud of).
So what’s troubling me is whether you play down being a female because it helps with career progression or be yourself to the fullest (i.e. female) and be content with mediocre growth (read: less lifetime wealth accumulation). Money isn’t everything but it is oh-so-important to pay the rent!
But how dare a privileged* woman like myself even have the audacity to enlighten the group with her perspective because... for well I should just be thankful for being where I am. Because my privilege exempts me from comments at work place such as “You are the HR diversity token”, “Bibi, apku kia pata duniya kysay chalti hai?”, “You are being emotional, we need to look at this issue more rationally”, “You need to dress a certain way”…. to the general harassment and ogling one is subject to? And before one gathers the courage to tell anyone of any of these, be prepared to:
- Debate on whether your story is rationally and contextually correct or not
- Be okay with the laughter; because catcalling is funny.
- Story dismissal; [just because someone else hasn’t experienced it, does not mean it's not true]
- Stigma; harassment victims are at fault hence better to stay away from them
- You sharing your experience might trigger conscious and subconscious misogyny or fears; and you are on verge of the diversity removal from the homogeneity. So it stays a ‘safe space’.
But how does playing down a female work? You have to make it easy for the males to accept your presence; the easier it is, the better for you. In 5 steps?
Step 1: Don’t mention you are different or talk about experiences you face because of those differences i.e. no to pregnancy talk, Big NO to any mention of harassment.Step 2: Do voice your opinion but not too much; know when to stop.Step 3: Be okay with foul language; which you might be anyway, but in case you are not.Step 4: Smile on sexist jokes. If that sounds a bit extreme, just pretend like you didn’t hear it.Step 5: Pick on social activities popular at your work place and casually mention it. Let’s say its snooker; learn to play snookerBonus: Identify and crack allies – use the strong independent males (it’s a rare breed albeit growing) here – they can be magic.
Follow the above steps and you are closer to being more likeable and promotion [studies have proven a strong correlation between the two]. Your pre-dominantly male colleagues and bosses will soon accept you as one of their own and that is important for growth. Remember: women are expected to have a communal-orientation so don’t exhibit too much leadership traits and maintain good relations with most, if not all.
So the question really is whether I be myself and keep at raising awareness about women in workplaces which will hopefully result in better progression at workplace(s) for other women and not necessarily me. Or do I build an even thicker skin and power through as far as I can and give talks on my success story one day?
With this piece I hope to spark some thought in minds of men and women and what they can do to make workplaces more inclusive, even if that’s a conversation, and also to pen-down some frustration :p.
Inclusivity helps us all; its not for any one gender’s benefit.
Disclaimer 2: I have work experience from over 5 work places in 3 different industries and the above are just excerpts of ‘women in workplaces’ from my view point; no workplace is exempted. It would be very ironic if I have to mention many good things they do to table this topic which is neither a priority nor seen as a challenge. [see how I subtly did that]
* economic independence