A British Asian response to Sheryl Sandberg’s comments by British Asian Woman
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:
“We’re never taken seriously enough in the boardroom- because you’re Asian and a woman you can’t do business”
“It’s not only spouses but in laws and extended family who are bothered when you start to succeed in your career.”
“During early part of my career found it hard to be taken seriously by the Asian community”
It shocked me that so many women have experienced this type of attitude from both employers and husbands simply because they are Asian- talk about a double whammy of disadvantage.
In Sandberg’s interview, she went onto say: “The treatment of women in the workforce is an issue. The assumption is that men can have both families and work but women can’t.
Asian women seem to be held back by that assumption even further, as I found:
“When I joined my last company I was asked if I was having an arranged marriage. Even if I was, does that mean I can’t still be ambitious and successful?”
“As a woman of an ethnic minority, I have to work harder to prove I am committed- because of the stereotype that I am expected to settle down and raise a family.”
There are obviously attitudes and stereotypes that we still need to deal with- deeply held attitudes that Asian women should fill certain roles and not others. Of course there are exceptions to this. There are many, many successful South Asian women breaking that tinted glass ceiling all over the world. But for others there is still a fight to simply break the traditional mind-set of families and stereotyped attitudes of bosses, let alone the glass ceiling.
Strategies for change
So how do we do as Sandberg suggests and “expose, understand and change biases” against British Asian women?
Co-founder of AWMB Rupinder Kaur says we must do this by raising awareness of them “unreservedly and unashamedly”. She told me:
“We must talk about (these attitudes), dissect them and challenge the very foundations on which they are based on. We must have the courage and conviction to have the conversations that start a shift. “
Women working together can be powerful tool for change. It’s all too often that we are pitted against each other, competing for the limited number of senior positions available to us or a limited share of voice in an often male dominated world.
“We’re very proud to champion, connect and encourage women to collaborate through our network. It’s great that our work is playing a small part in challenging some of these biases and showing what women in our community are already doing,” says Kaur.
Kaur also points out that sometimes, we as women hold ourselves back and that “we need to overcome our own, as well other people’s limiting beliefs and mind-sets about the role and capabilities of women in business”.
It’s clear that the need for change is greater than ever. Sandberg, now one of the most influential women in business, says she sees herself in the discrimination suffered by other women. While her empathy is very welcomed, it’s clear she doesn’t experience some of the factors that keep Asian women from success. And that’s a conversation that needs to be had.
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