A Response to Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg on Bloomberg last month

Last month, Facebook Chief Operating Officer and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg spoke out against sexism and misogyny in the workplace. Responding to a sexism lawsuit against a fellow female Silicon Valley senior exec, she said:

 “What’s happening is we have systematic stereotypes of women, and systematic biases of women.

 “For men, likeability and success is correlated. As they get more successful, more powerful, they’re better liked. For women, success and likability are negatively correlated. As a woman gets more successful, more powerful – she is less liked.”

It’s great to have women at the top of some of the biggest companies in the world like Facebook and Yahoo. And it’s even better when they speak out about gender discrimination in the workplace.

But what about the discrimination that women of colour face; and those of us who are discriminated against because of culture and cultural stereotypes?

Not taken seriously

Female entrepreneurial group Asian Women MEAN Business (AWMB) found that a massive 74% of British Asian women felt their culture held them back from starting a business, while 44% had experienced race discrimination at work. Last year I hosted Twitter chat on behalf AWMB discussing British Asian women’s experiences in the workplace. A lot of the comments echoed that research.

This week I’m making a guest appearance at Asian Women MEAN Business. To read the rest of the article, click here.

Join the Twitter chat every Wednesday at 7pm GMT. Just use the hashtag #asianwomenmeanbiz

Asian Women at Work pt3: Balancing culture and success

By day she negotiates huge contracts and smashes her targets. By night….she makes roti, doesn’t make eye contact and sits in the kitchen with the other ladies while the men all eat together. This is the life- and split personality of many Asian women at work.

My final post in this series continues to explore the comments that I gathered from hosting a Twitter chat with a fab group of women, the Asian Women Mean Business network.

“It’s tough for Asian women in the workplace. Values we are taught at home and in our communities don’t always hold well in the workplace, such as modesty & submissiveness. At work you have to blow your own trumpet!”

“Being dominant in the workplace but then being expected to be subservient in the home is a challenge.”

“Self-promotion at work doesn’t come naturally to us Asian women due to our upbringing & culture”

How do we balance the demands of the work place with the culture and behaviour we are taught at home, both of which are often at odds with each other?

The Western world tells us we need to ‘lean in’ but South Asian culture tells us quite the opposite, particularly when men are in the room. Proper desi female behaviour is polite and respectful, never bolshy, opinionated and assertive.

What’s even more challenging and frustrating, according to my AWMB Twitter chat, is slipping into the alter-ego at home of the submissive wife and daughter-in-law. Unfortunately some women still have to juggle both roles.

I worked for almost ten years in sales. Being a naturally chatty person, communication has always been my thing. But I always struggled to display that dominant, self- assured sales persona that is required to succeed in a fairly tough industry. Fortunately I never had to do the dual-personality thing with my husband; but certainly being ‘assertive’- a much needed quality in this industry, was considered by my South Asian family (even my own mother) as brash, rude and frankly undesirable behaviour.

For me the only way to resolve the tension between family expectation and workplace culture has been to keep the two worlds separate, and slip in and out of the two roles. Yes that’s frustrating: it’s a disappointing by-product of a culture that oppresses us, in my opinion.

But there’s no need to give up on ambition and achievement just because this family/work dichotomy exists. As British Asian women we can have both! In fact, as my AWMB peers have shown me, many women are bucking the trend by balancing successful careers with marriage and family life. Yes it’s tough to slip in and out of roles; but if career is important then it’s a case of managing both worlds. And perhaps it always will be a juggling act for our generation. But look at this way: we’re blazing a trail that our mothers only glimpsed at. There are now more British Asian women than ever in prominent roles in politics, business, entertainment and the media, science and technology. If these women had shied away from career progression because of cultural expectation they wouldn’t be where they are today.

So let’s not give up. Stand your ground against male counterparts or extended family who say South Asian women shouldn’t be assertive or successful. And perhaps our generation can change cultural attitudes so that our daughters won’t have to play a dual role at home and at work.

Read part one “The Need for Mentors” and part two “Racism at Work”.

Asian Women Mean Business meet every Wednesday night on Twitter between 7-8pm. Just tag your comments with #asianwomenmeanbiz to join the discussion

 

The tinted glass ceiling: Asian women at work pt 2

Racism in the workplace

Continuing on in my series on British Asian women in the workplace, this week I’ll be looking at racism. My thoughts are based on comments that came out of a Twitter chat I hosted a couple of weeks ago on behalf of Asian Women Mean Business (AWMB). What was clear from all the experiences that women tweeted was that for British Asian women, the glass ceiling is tinted. Both our gender AND our race are barriers to career progression. In this age of political correctness, tolerance, equality and all those other buzzwords, it’s clear that in the workplace, some things still haven’t changed.

In particular, negative stereotypes surrounding the role that women play in the Asian community have proved problematic. Many women feel they have to work harder to prove to their bosses and colleagues that they are committed to their careers, due to the perception that Asian women are expected to settle down, raise a family and give up on working life.

I have written before about the limitations that South Asian culture and community places on us women. But being a part of AWMB has shown me that there are plenty of British Asian women today bucking these trends. There are those occupying senior roles; those with business vision and plenty of entrepreneurial spirit. Some do this with the support of their family, others forge on despite of cultural pressure.

So to hear from my AWMB peers that many still put up with narrow minded, racist attitudes every day at work is disappointing and frustrating. We’re overcoming- to some extent at least, the double standards of South Asian culture, and yet we still face discrimination in the workplace. Two women at last week’s chat tweeted that they were asked by their managers whether they were going to have an arranged marriage and get pregnant straight away. Does doing both of these things mean you can’t also be ambitious?

Everyone assumes that racism is calling a person of colour “Paki” or “Nigger” to their face, but what about the subtle levels of racism that go on every day, when someone is passed over for promotion due to the notion that they’ll have an arranged marriage and be locked away; or sniggered at due to the sound of their name (I worked somewhere once where the Director’s PA hung up the phone on a caller from laughing too much at her Asian name).  One contributor to the twitter chat had an interviewee refuse an interview with her because she was Asian (apparently they showed him the door- thank goodness).

For many British Asian women it means “acting white” as one woman said she had to do in order to overcome this. Why should we have to do that? In a country that boasts countless curry houses and once considered Chicken Tikka its national dish, why on earth do we have to hide our culture and our difference just to get by at work?

But perhaps not hiding our diversity is the answer. Ignorant comments aside, many employers and colleagues are simply not savvy about different cultures as one woman pointed. It’s up to us to be our true selves at work, and share our strong family and work ethics as a positive thing. By doing this we add value to our workplaces. If Britain is a multicultural place, we should be the ones who prove how much worth the British Asian community has.

I think the idea that we add value to our workplaces just by sharing our diversity is so inspiring. It gives me hope- amidst the prejudice and frankly stupid comments we have to battle with on a daily basis. As someone recently said to me, if all the British people stay in one neighbourhood and all the ethnic minorities congregate elsewhere how will integration, and eventually understanding and acceptance of each other ever happen? Well the answer is that it won’t so it’s vital that as British Asian women we ‘own’ our ethnic minority status and culture and share it as a positive.

Yes that’s going to be frustrating as we are time and again faced with racism. But to me turning racism on its head is better than playing the victim card.

 

Read the rest of the series: part 1 “The Need for Mentors” and part 3 “Balancing culture and success”

Asian Women Mean Business meet every Wednesday night on Twitter between 7-8pm. Just tag your comments with #asianwomenmeanbiz to join the discussion

 

Celebrating 1000 Followers!

When you start a blog you really don’t know if anyone’s going to read it. It begins life as something you do for yourself and you hope people will join you along the way. Now, as I celebrate two years of British Asian Woman and specifically, 1000 followers (yippee, thank you guys SO much for following!) I’ve been thinking a lot about how to mark these two milestones, particularly my awesome 1000 followers. I thought about writing the obligatory piece on highlights & low lights. But that felt a bit self-indulgent and rather like writing a thesis on my own blog. Dull, dull, dull.

Instead I’ve decided to write about the two biggest things that have come out of British Asian Woman over the last two years: the Thing I’m Most Grateful for and the Thing I’m the Proudest Of.

So let’s see.

The Thing I’m Most Grateful For

Well it’s two things really.

British Asian Woman has been a real sounding board for me. As pretentious as this sounds, it is my world: it’s literally the things I think about every day. Like current affairs. We look at what’s happening around us and often cannot relate or make sense of it, even when they’re the big issues that we should be aware of.

For example, when 200 Nigerian girls were kidnapped earlier this year, the whole world got tweeting #bringbackourgirls. I use Twitter a lot, but even I thought “what good is that going to do?” Can hashtag activism really make any difference? And when the Government started the British values debate, right off the back of an investigation into extremism in our schools, I immediately wanted to know how British Asians can respond and where we fit into that discussion. Researching, thinking about, processing and eventually writing about these things have really helped me to understand and find some answers- and that’s point number one of the thing(s )I’m most grateful for.

Identity is a big deal to me, mainly because as a first generation, South Asian expat who has lived in Britain all her life, who is now in a mixed race marriage and raising a mixed race child, there are a lot of factors to work with. I always used to think of myself as a coconut- you know, brown on the outside, white on the inside. Growing up, I identified more with the ‘British’ part of who I am. I even felt a little sheepish about calling my blog “British Asian Woman” like I was extolling myself as some kind of archetypal Asian person, when deep down I knew I didn’t fit that mould. But slowly, over time in writing I’ve come to see that there is diversity everywhere- including within the Asian community.

So when I wrote “What kind of Asian are you?” it was kind of like my putting to bed all those guilty, mixed up feelings and thoughts on identity. I was, and am finally able to say to other Asians “not Asian enough for you? Oh well, you hold onto your stereotypes while I celebrate my heritage.” Or to the British people who look at me wondering if I speak English or “is she like us?” I laugh and know I don’t need to act white to make them accept me. I can just be myself, and that’s incredibly freeing.

So the (other) Thing I’m Most Grateful for is that writing this blog has been like a cathartic working out of my often mixed up thoughts on identity and issues. I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to tackle some of the big things that I’ve struggled with, and all the while my readers have patiently let me rant,  muse, and ponder (and still continue to read!) until….I reach that light bulb moment and I know I’m done with it- I’ve found the answer I was looking for.

 

The Thing I’m Proudest Of

Finding answers and solutions to problems has been an interesting development that has come out of my writing.

When I wrote “The only brown face at the school gates” I would never have thought someone who Googled “the school mums all ignore me” would find me; (WordPress offers some analytics tools that allows me to see who finds my site and through what search terms they put in) I really hope that person found some practical help in the tips that I offered for making friends with the other school mums- the school playground is a scary and isolating place- for parents.

Time and again, so many of you have thanked me for writing on subjects like rape, child abuse, what it’s like to parent a mixed race child, British Asian identity. As I said before, when you blog you don’t even know if people are reading, so be thanked and told through comments and tweets that “you’ve nailed it” on a certain topic is so rewarding. Probably the best comment I ever received was:

“You write about the things we all think about, but just never know how to put down onto paper”

Wow.

When I wrote my first post on the rape culture in India, which is to date my most successful due to getting Freshly Pressed two years ago, I never thought of the massive response I’d get. The most moving comment I received was:

“You obviously are concerned about everyone receiving the respect they are due. You are not just interested in your own fame and fortune. That’s refreshing.”

That comment blew me away and I spent a lot of time thinking about it- it was never my intention to be some kind of advocate for issues or disadvantaged groups or people. But it’s happened that way and a new focus of British Asian Woman going forward will be to do just that and importantly, find solutions.

You’ll see a series that I’m doing on Asian women in the workplace, a practical angle on how we can as Asian women can channel workplace disadvantage and discrimination for positive change as just one example of this.

This series came out of collaborating with Asian Women Mean Business, a fab group of like- minded British Asian women. I’m really proud to have worked with them and some great people over the last two years: the fabulous MasalaMommas, Indian Connect and Red Magazine. I love the partnership aspect that blogging allows, and hopefully creates more interesting content to reach a wider group of women- women who are perhaps struggling with the same issues I am.

I’m excited about the future of British Asian Woman and the potential it has to be a platform that continues to help people and ask provocative questions.

THANK YOU all for following, reading, commenting and being a part of my journey. See you along the way.

British Asian Woman x