Conversation on women in the work place

Informal conversation with a lovely senior female executive…

Me: “What do you wish to see happen for women in the workplace before your retire?”

Woman: “You know I don’t think I’ll give the typical response of saying more women in the workplace or more women at the top. I think those hopes are talked about enough in the media nowadays. I’d say my real desire is to see women stick together and support each other more. I wish to see the day when more women will realize the value that comes from truly helping other female colleagues – juniors, peers or seniors. I want when I recruit younger women and they’re told their direct boss will be a female, that they are excited by that as opposed to being apprehensive in many situations. When we respect and help each other for real – it is easier to then command that respect from men and society in general. We can’t continue to judge and undermine each other a lot of the times, and then turn around and say to the guys – ‘hey you gotta show us respect’. Obviously am not talking about all women…but there tends to be quite a few that fall into that category unfortunately.”

And after a longer debate on this point:

Me: “What’s your best advice to me?”

Woman: “Don’t ever be that kind of woman I am talking about. Trust me – most women don’t realize this until a much older age – nothing is stronger than a woman who surrounds herself with smart, successful women who genuinely mentally and emotionally support each other. When you grow up and face many of life’s problems…work and even personal – you’ll realize that support is crucial to your well-being. Unfortunately too many women at a younger age are seeking validation from men – be it within their families, with their partners or work. I mean I understand that. I was in your shoes too. But as the years pass you realize you spent too much time on that and somehow took for granted building strong ties with the good women who come into your life, whether its friends or co-workers.”

Women’s belongings…

I’m continuously perplexed by how (and why) women find it very easy to own and become possessive about their personal belongings..bags, shoes, clothes, furniture etc but when it comes to their success (whatever form that takes) they will tend to discuss it flippantly and will in many cases downplay it and feel more comfortable attributing it to pure luck? Why can’t women ‘own’ the things they’ve worked hard for in the same way they ‘own’ their belongings? #randomramblings

The female hairdresser experience

If anyone ever wants to assess a woman’s behavior for real – she should be mostly observed in a hair salon. The hairdresser’s place is truly a unique venue that brings out some pretty unsettling behavior in some women.

First of all, I never understand why the hairdresser needs to know the entire history of the woman or her most intricate private life details – whoever said that a hairdresser (particularly the male ones) need to be part of the family and know about all your marital or relationship problems?

Secondly, the entitlement and audacity with which some women speak out when the final ‘make-over’ isn’t up to their standards or they don’t particularly like it is appalling! Hairdressers and all their support staff are humans too with a complete set of feelings and emotions – some seem to forget that! Yes you are paying for a service – but really just like any other service in life – sometimes it is up to your standards and sometimes it isn’t. Hair grows back out again! No haircut is permanent! No color is permanent either! Why should all hell break lose if you are not the almighty queen 24/7?

Where are the basic manners??! Some decency please. #randomramblings

The modern male marriage mindset

I have had a few interesting conversations with several accomplished men lately regarding their thoughts on marriage and choosing a partner. And some commonalities in the conversation have propelled another one of my #randomramblings. This is by no means a criticism as I highly value the opinions of these men.

Many of these men have expressed that they are very much attracted to smart, accomplished women however they are hesitant getting married to such a woman – not for the typical stereotype of that they’re intimidated or whatever because in many of these cases they actually enjoy the mental stimulation- but rather because the men highly value family, family life and child- rearing. They think to themselves if am a driven accomplished man the likelihood is that I’ll be part of a demanding work environment entailing longer work hours, frequent travels, so if I get married to a woman leading a similar lifestyle – how will our family be properly established and how will it continue to fare?

And my response or thoughts on that are its not wrong to set your priorities and say you highly value family life, but I don’t understand why the men project their binary bias on the women they describe – that if she is accomplished and giving over-the-top attention to her career now, it will always be like that and she’ll always prioritize work over family? Does the woman actually openly express that her career will be above everything else? Does the woman say she doesn’t believe in more time dedicated to child-rearing?

I wonder if the men have asked what maybe really driving these accomplished woman? Is it the relentless pursuit of prestigious jobs and titles ? Is it a path towards serving a bigger goal? Is it to prove something or break stereotypes? Is it an emotional fulfillment for a sense of meaning? Or something else?
Maybe a single accomplished woman is allocating her time a certain way now but wouldn’t it make sense that a smart woman will also be aware that in the presence of a partner many things would require some form of recalibration and compromise from both sides?

I just feel like there are so many questions for the man to ask the woman directly if he is really interested without ruling out potential partners on such quick assumptions.

In general, and this is probably both ways I am baffled by the number and quickness of assumptions we (the fast shrinking list of single friends I have:)) make about somebody who may interest us as a potential life partner. We seem to run ahead with our biases and set assumptions without even asking the person. It is ironic because for many of these people they are very educated, well exposed and even well versed in human psychology to recognize that for a person to succeed and maximize potential one should train themselves to control their sub-conscious bias and learn from their surrounding as opposed to quickly projecting their ideas.

We seem to forget that everyone, including ourselves, is continuously growing and evolving with the life experiences presented to us and with that growth, it is inevitable that views on certain life matters will change and so will priorities.

Because there is so much change I believe more of the focus should be shifted to evaluating a person’s core values, but such is only my humble opinion.

Random women at a community iftar

Had the opportunity to have a ‘community Iftar’ yesterday which turned out to be a much more interesting encounter than I had anticipated. I sat with a friend I have only recently been acquainted with, a vivacious French woman who has recently moved to Dubai after almost two decades of work experience across multiple sectors in Europe, with both of us munching at an interesting menu that was supposed to be a Japanese-Arab fusion. Seated on the bench next to us were two clearly younger women (mid 20s probably) who we hardly had any interaction with throughout the Iftar time. At one point my friend goes to the restroom, and I ask one of these girls to pass me the Arabic coffee on the table, and she responds by saying “here is your qahwa (coffee)” in a very Saudi accent, despite her looking Southeast Asian to me. I was super intrigued, and so started making conversation with the two girls. I quickly realized this girl was half Saudi-half Chinese, and more interestingly the Chinese part comes from her father’s part (such a rare occurrence in the region in my opinion). Not only that, but this girl had studied law in Australia, and spent some time there. As an added coincidence we found out we both went to the same high school and know of common friends! Her friend was an Iraqi-Australian, with a very interesting immigrant background story herself.

Despite the fact that at that point my friend and I were about to leave, we ended up sitting for an additional two hours to discuss lots of global topics, including the current wave of feminism, and the changing role of women in society and the workplace with these girls. I sat back (while recovering from my post-Iftar food coma) and marveled at the varied experience on the table, not only across cultures and backgrounds with experiences being relayed from all of the Middle East, Europe, the US, China and Australia, but also across the different age brackets, with the age range going from 25-43, and truly internalizing how much has changed in society and the workplace when it comes to women for the different generations present at the table.

At one point, the Saudi-Chinese girl was retelling one of her discriminatory work stories (ironically bought about by a female manager), and her passionate and outspoken response to her manager refusing to accept the incident. My friend, the French woman, who is in her early 40s said:

“See this is what I love about millennials. You’re very outspoken about everything, and you want to change everything, and you will refuse to be just bossed around for no reason. Good for you, but there is a sad part of me when I see how passionate you are about speaking out on everything. My sadness comes as I reflect on my own career and wonder why I never spoke out myself, and why my generation did not act in the way that you did. I was almost raped three times in three different work contexts. That is aside from the endless trail of incidents of very visible sexism I have observed working in the hugely machismo automotive sector. I was told to fetch the tea when I was meant to be the presenter in different meetings. I was told off in Germany for putting on French manicure and some light makeup, and told I didn’t look professional enough and that I wouldn’t be taken seriously by the men. I spent years waking up every day thinking of how I can shield and hide my feminine self as much as possible going into work every day. I was always referred to in emails as Mr. Vincent, even when I would respond back and make it clear I was a female. I was told to go through ‘customary check ups’ of the automotive company I worked at for years in Germany, where the first health checkup needed on the front cover of the manual was that of the prostate, and HR didn’t even bat an eye or internalize that the manual itself did not assume the presence of any women, and this was in the 2000s. But I stayed silent, and kept going on because my female colleagues and I – we could see that those who spoke out and complained too much ended up somehow losing their jobs. And for me maintaining a job and financial independence was key. But now when I see how outspoken you all are I say maybe my generation we were just cowards.”

The Saudi-Chinese girl quickly puts her hand on the woman’s shoulder and responds: “No. You can’t ever think of it that way. Why don’t you think that because you persevered, because you stuck it out you and your female friends, you were not laid off, and so eventually you were promoted, and then you started being aware that you should hire more women as you were just saying. As a result there are a lot more women in the workplace now and it has become a more normal occurrence that we can now afford to speak up in the way that we do. So in a way your silent perseverance is what enabled us, because maybe had you spoken out earlier, we wouldn’t have been here today because you would have been silenced or removed from your post and that status quo would have prevailed.”

The French woman, taken by these words, teared up lightly, and said “oh thank you what a lovely way to frame it – to make it feel like we’re all part of one journey, as opposed to disjointed stories…you’re so right!”

I sat back and smiled and thought what great interactions come when people from different backgrounds collide, have a discussion and share experiences and more importantly when women of different ages and backgrounds sit at one table and relish each other’s true presence as opposed to sizing each other up on society’s metrics of youth, beauty, fashion etc. There was so much to take in at that table. The Iraqi path to Australian immigration, the Saudi-Chinese girl’s mother’s struggle and strength to marry a non-Saudi, the French woman’s path of independence and her own intriguing story of adoption and tracing her roots back to North Africa. The beauty on that table had nothing to do with how these women looked or dressed or how old or young they were, and that feeling felt very refreshing. Now I felt re-energized to lean back in…only to grab the dessert on the table though;)