I am not sorry I am a Naari

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I have long been wanting to write about women at work. So here it goes!

When I started out working, I wasn’t too aware of things like conscious and unconscious bias against women at work. Well, frankly, most of my life I have been very indifferent to that. If I don’t feel respected or wanted somewhere, I usually leave. There are better places and people to spend my energy at.

However, I was blessed with my first and only corporate workplace - HSBC. My first few bosses were phenomenal. They never treated me, or any female colleague differently. They never gave less or more attention because I was a woman. I got the attention I deserved for the value I brought to the table. And that is exactly how I grew in my career.

I learnt that if I had to be heard, I had to say something of value. And if I didn’t get heard the first time, I just had to get louder about it. And frankly, being loud has never been a problem for me :) Of the many people I met there, I will tell you about how it averaged out. Initially, people were a little taken aback by a loud, smart, young woman waltzing around the office unabashedly. Some might have expressed other interests, which I always warded off unless they caught my interest too. But over time, I saw respect in the eyes of the senior team members. I saw encouragement, for the right reasons and expressed in the right way. I did meet some who got intimidated. But I was realised that it was out of their own insecurity - and they would be equally intimidated by a young man. It’s just that the ego would be a little less bruised if it was a man outsmarting them. Frankly, my dear, I didn’t give a damn.

I do not know if I was being paid less. I would assume not because we got hired from the top b-school and we knew each other’s salaries. I do not recall any incidents of bias - it has been a while since I worked there and I was too young and oblivious to such things at that point in time.

I have been running my agency for the last 8 years. There was one thing that was very clear in my head - no person will get hired because of any sort of bias. Every hire that we make has the same criteria. For a good 7 years out of 8, our diversity ratio was abysmal. It did not bother me. I got asked really weird questions - was I insecure about hiring other women, did I want all the attention to myself, did I hate women, etc. I did not have anything to prove to anyone. I knew we had no bias against women while hiring. However, if not too many eligible women came in, it was not our problem - we would wait it out. I have been born and raised in the system of meritocracy. And that is what I truly believe in. If you deserve it, your background, gender, or any other factors of bias will not come in the way.

Today, we have, so to say, reverse diversity in the office. We have more women in the office than men. But that is also incidental. At some point in time, we tipped over and started attracting the talent we wanted to. It just so happened that they were mostly women. We did not change anything in our process.

There is one thing that I tell the women in the office - the mantra that I have lived by. Do not behave differently because you are a woman. Do what comes naturally. Do not expect to be treated better or worse because of your gender. You do what you are good at, and the world will take notice. If they don’t, it is indeed their loss. We have many other places to be, where we will be valued. Do not abuse your gender. Do not take attention away from what you say or do by bringing sexuality into it. Do not abuse your powers of manipulation. Do not abuse the weakness of men because of how you look. Respect is truly, only earned. In the enviroment we have created, the respect you will get will most often be a reflection of what you present. You will never have to try extra hard. Be yourself, bring your best to the table and you will be rewarded as you should be.

At Graffiti, my co-founder and the core team, have worked hard over the last many years to ensure that our people get the respect they deserve, inside office and at the client’s office. We have let gone off many clients where we felt they did not have the basic courtesy in place. We have let gone off clients who think women were brought in by agencies to keep the men in the room happy. Trust me, in an agency business, it is filthy the way women are treated. Not one person in our office has ever exercised any power to get shit done the wrong way. We keep our space clean. And it is by design. 

No one should feel unsafe in a work environment they spend the majority of their lives at - not a man or a woman or a transgender. No one should get less than what they deserve. No one should have to prove their worth every day to anyone. They should know it and so should their own team. Workplaces are the new families and if we don’t live like one, we will all be unhappy.

This Women’s Day, I do hope more and more leaders work towards creating workplaces which are enjoyable. They should not be built for genders. They should be built for humans, and maybe other animals. There should be so much love that there is no room for any bias. Let there come a day, where POSH policies don’t need to be created or abused. Let there come a day when #metoo is an expression of seeking opportunity. Let there come a day, when we don’t have to talk about equal rights and duties for all because we all treat each other with an open mind and heart.