No, this has nothing to do with the Happiness Project, but everything to do with an article I had read quite some time back. An article that created a thousand thoughts and retorts in my head, but me being the lazy person that I am, I never really got down to actually putting them on paper (or to be more precise, MS Word).
And perhaps that’s for the best. It’s a sensitive topic, and writing about work is something I usually prefer steering clear of on my blog, if for no other reason, to at least not get fired for my words.
But this is something that really should be written about.
So when the article went viral recently, it saw a lot of friends and acquaintances jumping in and talking about how much they agreed with it. It’s the story of a girl in the advertising industry, and the insane amount of sexual discrimination she faced in her career. Let me at the outset be clear, I have not worked in the advertising industry, and if this is industry specific, I would not be aware of it. But at the same time, what she faced seemed so extreme, my first reaction was, what if she really is a horrible person to work with, and hence lost all those jobs and opportunities?
But then I wondered, what IF she was right? What IF she really did face that level of discrimination? What a horrible experience to have at work, over and over and over again. What if others are going through that as well?
At this moment, I have to say I’ve been lucky to have worked in organizations and teams where at least knowingly I have never faced discrimination of the kind mentioned by the writer. I haven’t been skipped for promotions because there was a guy in my team who got it instead. Nor have I been told that I am difficult to work with (yet). In fact, some of my bosses I’m pretty sure didn’t even realize I was a girl so to say, and for that I absolutely love them.
But that doesn’t mean the workplaces have been completely free of sexism.
Nobody knowingly has ever discriminated against me, I think.
And that’s the biggest issue. Everything is done without knowledge, without a thought… Things that are so harmless that they shouldn’t matter, and yet, added up over the years, they do.
As my luck would have it, I have always worked in roles where my team has majorly been made up of men, with women as a far minority, because somehow you just don’t have as many women who deal with numbers and excel. I don’t know why or how, but that’s how it seems to be. And it’s made no difference in my head. But over the years I’ve heard a lot of things.
I was jokingly told by a colleague that I shouldn’t expect a promotion in the team that I joined, since only girls with moustaches do well there.
I was jokingly told by a senior, how a pretty girl in the team manages to get all her work done quickly by our client, and I should try her methods as well.
A client, a senior head of department would watsapp me good morning every day on the pretext of getting an update on the project. Weirdly, my male colleague was asked for no such good morning updates.
Another client inferred that his colleagues were asking him to extend the project I was working on, so I stick around longer.
I’ve been reprimanded by a female colleague for wearing a dress (one which fell below my knee, mind you) in an organization where there were only seven women, as against a hundred men. Because, well, how can you dress like that in a place with dominated by men (Like, whaaaa???)?
And then there are the super subtle harmless ones. Harmless, but annoying. Ones that you can avoid so easily.
Don’t hire me because I’m a girl, and you need a better gender ratio in your team. Hire me because I was the best suited for the job.
Don’t assume I’ll order food for the team lunch, or decide where to dine just because I’m a girl. Ask me to do that because you like my choice in food.
If your values forbid you from abusing in front of women, then don’t. Don’t abuse and then apologize because I’m in the room. Whether or not I have an issue with expletives becomes irrelevant at that point. It just makes things awkward.
Don’t ask me leave office early because I’m a girl and it’s getting dark. How about you don’t work that late? Don’t make me miss out on important meetings that the men can attend, and women aren’t able to.
If I am not asking for special concessions because I have a meal to prepare / clothes to wash / housework to do / kids to get home to, then, don’t ask me to do anything at the workplace specifically because you think girls can do it better. Like, why should a girl present a bouquet to a guest speaker at the office? Like, really?
Work place behaviour is so complex, I find myself contradicting my own thoughts very often. I consider myself a feminist, and yet so many practicalities get in the way. Some people call it wanting the best of both the worlds, but this world isn’t perfect, and as much as I want to be equal to the men, I find I want some considerations. I don’t want to travel back home alone post 11pm. I do want my preferences and comfort levels to be taken into account when planning team outings. And if tomorrow, in the middle of a lot of work pressure, I was asked to choose between hiring a girl about to start a family (with promises of a maternity leave and a lot of shorter office days ahead), and a guy with the same experience, but maybe marginally weaker, I can’t honestly say who I’ll give the job to. And for that, I hate myself, and the current work environment, and pray that I never have to make that choice.
But people do make that choice, every day. And I don’t see that choice changing, unless we see a major overhaul of the entire work culture in this country. And maybe some things can’t be helped.
But these silly unknowing tiny sexist choices can.
Because really, what’s our excuse for that?
P.S. One of my biggest fears in life is that one day, when I’m leading a team, I’ll be labelled as a stereotypical bitchy female boss. Isn’t it weird that that should be my fear at the workplace? Not if I’ll be able to manage the job, but whether my juniors will dislike working with me because I’m a female boss, and most female bosses are absolute bitches? If they’ll comment on how it’s that time of the month for me, always? It’s funny how we never make that comment about cranky male bosses, no?