An Open Letter To Patriarchy!

Speaking to a graduation class at a Mumbai university recently, I was called out by a group of young, intellectually curious and emotionally charged girls on not standing up for right and wrong when I see it at the workplace. Having worked for 15 years in the corporate space I think I’ve gotten used to maneuvering egos and politics and somehow careening along on my own path. Our generation was always taught to work hard, don’t question your boss and strive for proving yourself, getting that promotion.

This generation is very different, prioritizing values and ethics above all. It’s important to them to express their desire and anticipate that they will have an opportunity to see it fulfilled. They want to be treated with respect, as equal citizens with a say. They know they don’t own the business but they want to be stakeholders in shaping the story. They want to be a part of something bigger. Take the example of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg having to convince his employees of his reasoning with regards to Trump’s Tweets on the recent protests in USA. The call for personal action and being part of a bigger story is much louder.

Let me apply this to how I’ve reacted to gender dynamics in my career:

Have I had an interviewer ask me if I was going to get married anytime soon? YES

Have I had someone tell me to not think about having kids as it would hamper my career progress? YES

Have I been made to stay late at work because I’m single versus my colleague who is married? YES

Has it been taken for granted that I can be flirted with because I’m single? YES

Have my colleagues tried to grab a hug, brush past or make some casual physical gesture? YES

(Were these colleagues married? YES)

Did I retaliate to any of the above? NO

There are so many instances during the day when I continue to justify implicit sexist comments as cultural conditioning, harmless intent, or things I don’t have time to bother about. However, it’s insulting to be reduced to a sexist comment when you’re interacting with some of the most intelligent voices in the world. I’ve seen and heard these comments made by women as well about other female guests and CEOs. We are simply propagating and further embedding these deep biases that exist. We don’t even realize that we’re hampering every bit of progress and step towards equality when we sit back and do-nothing during instances like these.

Sometimes I’m inhibited to be the only one to step out and say it’s not appropriate, to be laughed at, isolated or judged for taking a stand. When juniors have shared their concerns, we’ve all heard them out and said tell us if it gets worse. We haven’t raised a storm for that one comment, that one gesture that has made a fellow colleague question their own self-worth, feel powerless to express their anger for being victimized – and for no fault of their own.

The least I’ve done is not forwarded a sleazy WhatsApp on female anchors, or encouraged conversation about who slept with whom to get an interview. But it happens all the time – the insinuations, the crude comments, the invasive messages. There is so much that we all put up with because ‘it just is’. The truth is we need the feminists, the protagonists, the women who shout out for change. And we all need to do our part to support them. 

Starting from telling our senior male colleagues we don’t want to be referred to as a pretty girl during an important interview with a CEO. We need to trust that we are all counting on each other to emerge as one voice, and we need to stand up for one another. #Metoo is a reality and it affects all of us. 

So next time you find something inappropriate, offensive or even sexist - point it out, question it, report it. This is the time to leverage change for the better. Right now, is when people may be willing to listen and reflect, to reinvent the society by reinventing ourselves. And every single call for change could help us build a much stronger wave for generations to come.  It’s time to intervene, influence and improve to perpetuate change by embedding empowered mindsets, starting with ourselves.

Aabha Bakaya
Founder – Ladies Who Lead