‘ Be­yond fear lies free­dom’

WKND - - I T ’ S M Y L I F E -

AN­JALI CHANDI­RA­MANI, the founder of A- tone fit­ness Lounge, on her ‘ no guts, no glory’ way of Life

ET TU, LADY?: A re­cent global study by Unilever found that a sur­pris­ing ma­jor­ity of women sur­veyed ( 55 per cent) be­lieve that men are the best choice for high stakes projects, and sug­gest­ing the prob­lem with stereo­types may be more com­plex than pre­sumed wasn’t afraid to speak her mind (“the lat­ter prob­a­bly caused a lot more stir than any other fac­tor”).

There’s a whole spec­trum of stereo­types that women have been known to be sub­jected to at the work­place over the years — from be­ing called stone- cold ice queens to be­ing re­jected at job in­ter­views for be­ing new mums. Kris­tine be­lieves a time­line of her ca­reer over the last few years would show a great deal of con­sis­tency in be­ing cast in sev­eral of these lights. “If I speak my mind, I am branded the aw­ful ‘ B’ word. If I am friendly and ap­proach­able, I am ‘ easy’. Women are ‘ emo­tional’. Women are ‘ crazy’. We have been shamed for leav­ing work be­cause we have a sick kid to take care of at home. If we are emo­tional, we are PMS- ing…”

It’s a ver­i­ta­ble catch- 22, see­ing as men are per­ceived — ac­cept­ably — as ruth­less or ‘ in con­trol’, but fe­male coun­ter­parts con­sid­ered as cold as Mi­randa Pri­estly for the same ag­gres­sive or no- non­sense ap­proach. “I think these la­bels come to the fore when the fe­male boss has very hard and fast rules about what per­for­mance means from a team mem­ber,” the 39- year- old CEO muses. “When we de­mand per­for­mance, we are pushy. When we do not ac­cept ex­cuses for medi­ocrity, we are cold… Un­for­tu­nately, we put la­bels on every­thing when the def­i­ni­tions them­selves are hazy.”

It doesn’t help when click­bait- hun­gry me­dia houses re­in­force these very stereo­types ei­ther. Two weeks back, a sin­gle photo of Ivanka Trump look­ing at Justin Trudeau dur­ing a

She says she’s learnt every­thing on the job. Four years back, she was given a team and asked to man­age it — even though she’d had no prior ex­pe­ri­ence of do­ing so. It was a mark of a man­age­ment iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tial and tak­ing a cal­cu­lated risk. “I was re­ally lost in the be­gin­ning,” Taghreed re­calls. “Man­ag­ing clients and bud­gets is fine; man­ag­ing per­son­al­i­ties of mul­ti­ple team mem­bers is not easy. But it was be­ing pushed out of my com­fort zone that taught me to grow. I learnt to force my­self to do things I was scared of, make tough de­ci­sions…” In the end, she be­lieves it wasn’t work­ing “ex­tra hard” that stood her in good stead — just work­ing hard.

When Sh­eryl Sand­berg’s book first came out in 2013, I wasn’t too sure I bought into the whole ‘ Lean In’ psy­chol­ogy. I was more in­clined to­wards Anne- Marie Slaugh­ter’s ar­ti­cle in The At­lantic about why women “still can’t have it all” [ fem­i­nists, read the ar­ti­cle be­fore you jump!]. In fact, soft­ware en­gi­neer Kate Hed­dle­ston put it best with her ‘ ca­nary in the coal mine’ al­le­gory. “Nor­mally, when the ca­nary in the coal mine starts dy­ing, you know the en­vi­ron­ment is toxic and you should get the hell out. In­stead, the in­dus­try is look­ing at the ca­nary, won­der­ing why it can’t breathe, say­ing ‘ Lean in, ca­nary. Lean in!’ When one ca­nary dies, they get a new one be­cause get­ting more ca­naries is how you fix the lack of ca­naries, right? Ex­cept the prob­lem is that there isn’t enough oxy­gen in the coal mine, not that there are too few ca­naries.”

Speaking to wknd., HR Di­rec­tor for Unilever Gulf Shelly Kawa­tra echoes the same sen­ti­ment. “Merely bring­ing in more women into the work­place won’t work. You need ed­u­ca­tion and you need to have the nec­es­sary poli­cies in place in or­der to sup­port those women.”

At the time of our interview, the “37- and- a- half- year- old” had just re­turned from ma­ter­nity leave. The com­pany’s “ag­ile, flex­i­ble” na­ture to­wards new mums al­lows her to choose the hours she works in the of­fice versus the hours she works from home, al­low­ing her to struc­ture her schedule around her child’s feed­ing times. “It re­quires a huge amount of or­gan­i­sa­tion and dis­ci­pline from my side,” she ex­plains. “I have to be re­spon­si­ble with the free­dom I’ve been given, which is why I’m su­per- pro­duc­tive at work and use that time to do things I can’t do from home.”

There’s no talk of slow­ing down or tak­ing it easy just be­cause she’s had a child though; Shelly in­tends to con­trib­ute just as much as her male coun­ter­parts now that she’s back at work — some­thing that’s pos­si­ble be­cause of how much her hus­band sup­ports her on the home front. As far as stereo­types go, she says she and her hus­band are as atyp­i­cal as can be. “I’m not nat­u­rally a mother or a home­maker; he is. When I had my first child six years ago, I went straight back to work three months af­ter the de­liv­ery, be­cause I wanted to and even though I had the op­tion not to. My hus­band was sup­port­ive of that.”

A couple of months later, when she was asked to go to Sin­ga­pore for an important 10- day trip, it was her hus­band who said she should take it up. He bot­tle- fed their son, and then brought him to Sin­ga­pore five days later so Shelly didn’t have to be away from him for so long. “I re­cently asked him why he wasn’t grow­ing his busi­ness more,” she says. “He said he could see I needed time to set­tle back into work at the mo­ment, so he’d do so in due time, just not now. It was some­thing he saw in­tu­itively with­out me even think­ing about it! Hav­ing that sup­port sys­tem both at home and work is why I can go back to work as peace­fully as I can… Guilt is what kills women.”

Hav­ing said that, not all ‘ stereo­types’ have ori­gins in truth. At a re­cent in­clu­sion fo­rum to dis­cuss is­sues re­lated to gen­der bal­ance at the work­place, Shelly notes how the all- male panel’s main con­cern was ( sur­pris­ingly) not the chal­lenges that moth­er­hood brings, but that women, many times, didn’t have the re­quired ex­pe­ri­ence to fill strate­gic roles. That’s not dis­crim­i­na­tion, she ex­plains. “Ev­ery­one reaches a par­tic­u­lar stage by ac­cu­mu­lated ex­pe­ri­ence. In many in­stances, a lot of women choose not to take up cer­tain roles or go abroad for work- re­lated com­mit­ments, cit­ing fam­ily con­cerns. If you don’t have the re­quired ex­pe­ri­ence, you can’t ask for the pro­mo­tion. That’s just women hold­ing them­selves back.”

Sub­con­scious bi­ases are ev­ery­where and, as a so­ci­ety, we’ll need to keep tack­ling them. While an im­mense amount of ed­u­ca­tion at the work­place is im­per­a­tive, it’s lead­er­ship that will need to play the big­ger role in bring­ing these changes to pass. “You’re not do­ing char­ity by sup­port­ing more women at the work­place,” says Shelly. “Stud­ies have proven that it makes busi­ness, eco­nomic and so­cial sense to do it. But those are changes that need to be im­ple­mented top- down.”

[email protected] khalee­j­times. com EVER THE PRO­FES­SIONAL: She’s just re­turned to work from ma­ter­nity leave, but Shelly Kawa­tra has no plans to slow down or con­trib­ute “less than her male coun­ter­parts” on the job

No fight is only for the group fac­ing the is­sues. Sup­port for women at the work­place is ev­ery­one’s fight — and stud­ies have proven that it makes busi­ness, eco­nomic and so­cial sense to do it” — Shelly

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