Dr Shweta Singh: A conversation on the workplace with any ‘desi’ woman, employed from two to five years in formal sectors like computers or finance or management, inevitably leads to a question about – Why did we not learn to toot our own horn.
In less of a banality, that would mean – Why do I let my skills alone speak for me, why am I not able to claim the hallowed grounds of entitled – self-praise. It is mostly the immigrant woman though, the second and third generation learn or rather are taught to claim self-worth, beyond skill and knowledge, even beyond what is visible on the resume.
While women in the western world are still writing books and reading them about ‘mansplaining’; they do not hesitate to explain things to immigrant – Brown, or Black women. I still remember, when a colleague at one of my workplaces, had not hesitated for a second before ‘translating’ what I had said – From English to English. Considering that I had already noticed that her own command on a language was significantly limited than mine – thanks to my ‘convented’ childhood spent on Tolstoy and Dickens. I felt rather proud of my good manners that forced out a terse ‘thank you’ from my lips. But it stayed with me, this exchange and what I then termed her boldness, then abrasiveness… and fifteen years later, knew to be her ‘white’ privilege.
We have all been there, more, or less, right from our professional college degree to work environments – Being well mannered at the cost of our wellbeing. You have guessed correctly, my first suggestion on the eight most important enablers in your career as a woman is to
- Be Consumed with a sense of Self-Worth. You might as well be, because every third person in the work sector is a male, and he is filled with it…as are most of the generation Z. This sense is not about your skills and the credentials that you carry on your resume. It will enable you to share your ideas, and to ask people or other women not to paraphrase or translate what you said – It is the sense that will make them ask you, to speak more….
- Be Rooted -Always be Aware of where you are coming from. It is the grounding, the roots of our existence that enable us. It is about never forgetting how hard you worked, how much you put in, and how much you left behind to get to where you are and who all you beat at the game. Yes, small towns were cool way before small-budget and then big-budget Bollywood movies were made about them – because you and people you love lived there.
- Be at the Table – A whole lot of people say network, I say it too but what for? Well for this. Like the adage, you do not want to be on the menu but more importantly, you should know who decides the menu. Decisions are discussed first and being present at the table allows you to both observe and participate. That is an advantage.
- Be Mentored – But only by someone you respect for who they are and not what they have achieved. It is true, good bosses, good mentors do much more to smooth out that career path for you than all your experience and while doing so they reaffirm your own faith in you, and the work that you do. So, if respect is mutual, then sure be mentored.
- Be Mindful – in a non-Zen way. There is a reason work is not home, it is a formal…ish place even when you dress in jeans or work from home during this awful corona time. Think of people you trust, and unless you have known them for a lifetime, we trust people who look and sound aware of what is going on and with who. Someone walking around in a daze at work, unaware of the world, is not an asset, she is just an ass.
- Be Well Read– So many phrases in Hindi to tell you how you can tell when someone knows very little, such as the half-full water-pot spills more water. You do not need to collect certificates and trainings, but they help. And what is the point of being at a table, if all you are going to do is smile, nod, or be overwhelmed? Reading (or listening to educated podcasts) is not optional for a career woman. Read and retain relevant information.
- Be Planned – and be prepared to fail. A whole lot of angst and stress in our world would be over if only our parents, friends, bosses and colleagues, clients, and companies expected us to fail. Not in a degenerative dismissive way but as a matter of form. Probability of failing is as much as success in any event and yet…we are always so surprised… so angry at every failure. What you do is try. And plan A and Plan B and …Plan F are all about planning. Its also about mental strength and practical attitude.
- Give Time and Space to Others– This is actually not a contradiction to the first point. Though in non-collectivist worlds, it might as well be… But its important to always have an enabler role in other’s lives. The more you practice, the better you get at it. The world is only separate on the outside; inside, you should experience all relationships and tasks as part of what your whole life experience is… duality stems from taking up all the space – especially in your own mind. What you give, you get. It is the law of Karma.
Ultimately a Career should teach you and make you a better and richer person with more than just resources. It should enable you to be resourceful.
Dr Shweta Singh, is Associate Professor and Director, Certificate in Empowering Women – South Asian Women and Girls,
School of Social Work, Loyola University Chicago. The views expressed are the author’s own.