[Women’s Day] The biases we faced and how we overcame them
One of the themes of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. It speaks of a gender-equal world – a world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world to foster women’s equality where, together, we can forge women’s equality.
According to the LinkedInOpportunity Index 2021, more women in India have experienced the impact of gender on career development when compared to the APAC region.
Four out of five working women (85 percent) in India have faced gender bias at the workplace with respect to increment, promotion, or job offer.
In fact, about two-thirds of working women (63 percent) and working mothers (69 percent) said they have faced discrimination at work because of familial and household responsibilities.
What are the biases women face and how do they overcome them? HerStory spoke to a cross-section of women from various fields to understand the challenges and the way forward.
Passion wins over bias
I think the biggest bias I faced when starting my own business was my age. People are hesitant to back a 21-year-old with no experience and I guess I under why. But we are like sponges, we absorb and learn at such a rapid pace that the same vendors, investors, agencies that weren’t taking me seriously a year and a half ago are the ones who are ready to put their money and mouths behind me being successful today. Passion wins over any bias society puts on us every time.
Kairavi Bharatram, Founder and CEO, Typsy Beauty
Do what you gotta do
As a woman entrepreneur, you often come across questions like how will you manage a family and a business at the same time? Making time for your business will be rough, and a lot of people still believe that women entrepreneurs cannot build a big brand. Biased remarks like these bring in a lot of limitations and make the entrepreneurial journey a little more difficult than it is already. But you got to do what you do; you have to learn to ignore the negativity and move forward with whatever encouragement comes your way. Since women are great at dealing with multiple roles, an additional role of an entrepreneur can be taken care of gracefully. That is why one-third of the entrepreneurs in the world are women, giving hope to many more like them.
Shilpa Khanna Thakkar, Co-founder, Chicnutrix
Don’t forget to lift other women up
Bias is everywhere. I experienced it when I started my journey with wine and visited wine caves; the winemakers were less than enthused about a young woman’s curiosity. I’ve experienced it as a three-time tech CEO without a tech background; a room full of engineers can be challenging. I’ve experienced it as a founder who didn’t go to the Ivy leagues or operate within the VC crowd.
Here's my advice: Acknowledge your road may be the road less travelled and lean into those differences. Focus on what you bring to the table that others don’t. Prepare for difficult interactions, acknowledge what you don’t know, and listen and learn. People will open up if you show interest and that you’re working toward the same goal. If they don’t, remember there’s more than one path to that goal. Once the bias is no longer a deterrent, don’t forget to lift other women up.
Neha Sampat, Founder and CEO, Contentstack
Give back with performance
The gaming industry is still a male-dominated place and biases continue to exist. Not being considered a “hardcore gamer” is one of the industry-specific biases that most women face.
To break biases, perseverance and determination are critical. When gender is thrown at you, you give back with performance. Women have worked double or triple as hard compared to an average man to get to the same level. And today, because women have done that, other women can look at it as a viable industry. Disconnecting the gender from our head also helps. Focus on the problem and work towards the solution, gather allies, and have a voice. We are game developers first and always will be.
Poornima Seetharaman, Director of Design, Zynga
Unconscious biases need to go
Very often it is assumed that women have made it to a leadership position because the company had to meet its diversity numbers, rather than because of their ability and expertise. This reduces years of their hard work to a 'quota' and puts pressure on women leaders to continuously prove their competence. These are unconscious biases that need changes in individual and institutional mindsets.
Juhi Hajela, Vice President, Global Marketing, now.gg:
Walking the path of conviction and commitment
Being unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer at a young age gave me an early realisation of the extent of my mental strength and how I could channelise it to achieve or overcome anything at all. It is this sense of strength that also helped me professionally every time I faced a gender bias in the male-dominated aviation industry or when I was at the receiving end of prejudiced comments about being a woman and being too young. Despite these recurring hurdles, I decided that the success of my business would only be determined by my extraordinary ideas, competencies to execute them and my sense of self-worth. So from day zero, I was fully conscious of the discouragement and biases I was going to face in my journey ahead, but I decided to walk this path with complete conviction and commitment anyway. This was largely possible due to the awareness about my inner strength and unwavering self-belief.
Kanika Tekriwal, CEO, JetSetGo Aviation.
I was fortunate. Never in my academic or professional life was I made to feel different for being a woman. However, I did face scepticism of a different kind. My calling in the technology domain came after completing my post-graduation in economics and business management. Nevertheless, I studied System Management at NIIT.
At the beginning of my professional journey, I felt some apprehension towards candidates from non-engineering backgrounds especially if you were from vernacular medium schools. The reservations did not perturb me. I kept persevering. Early exposure to startups gave me hands-on experience and the confidence to work independently. Today I manage critical biometric service delivery for multiple client governments at VFS Global. Sudha Murty has been my idol. I don’t think anything can work negatively if you have the ability to turn negativity into positivity. Believe in yourself.
Vaishali Mavlankar, Biometrics Service Delivery Lead, VFS Global
We have to believe in ourselves
Being a woman, especially a young woman, I've had to prove myself more than my male counterparts in any situation. My organisation, HealthSetGo, has been pioneering school-based pediatric care delivery for children across India, so I work at the intersection of two traditional industries - healthcare and education which are dominated by men. From people making eye contact only with my male colleagues to asking me if I’m going to get married soon in meetings, to questioning my credentials, I’ve been through some interesting situations. Women carry the dual burden of trying to change the mindsets of people we meet, along with achieving our goals. In a world that might not believe in us, we as women have to believe in ourselves. I’ve let my work and my confidence speak, and I have seen attitudes change over these years. By encouraging women representation across industries, boards, and media it’ll inspire more women to step up!
Priya Prakash, Founder and CEO, HealthSetGo
Setting the right precedent
Bias and prejudice are in the eye of the beholder. Being a woman, there may sometimes be a certain expectation to manage household chores along with work, which may lead to managers at work being sceptical about handing you certain assignments. However, in my case, I managed to #BreakTheBias by setting the right precedence right at the start, coordinating with my team both on and offsite, and delivering quality work by meeting all deadlines. All it required was focus, communication and dedication.
Manshi Sachde, Director, Deloitte India
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta