‘ Beyond fear lies freedom’
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