Confessions of an AWMB Intern: Sexism at 21

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Confession: I was scared to write this second blog post simply because I am scared of you. The reader. The likelihood, given AWMB’s client base, is that you are an older, wiser, more experienced and respected businessperson, so I cannot educate you on anything business-related and I most definitely, unlike my bosses, cannot share strategies on sales maximisation or HR management. What I can share though is my experience, my “fresh eyes” perspective and even my concerns as I continue to intern at AWMB and also prepare myself for the working world, which I hope to enter next year after I graduate from university. The experience and concern I will share today is sexism.

On Wednesday I hosted the AWMB Twitter Chat asking if you think sexism is still at large in business. I had been inspired by various comments made on the internet after John Simpson, the infamous BBC World Affairs Editor, was quoted in The Sun criticising the grotesque management of the BBC because it is run by women. Many were disgusted, some were not fussed. They put his sexist remarks down to men of a certain age and time, implying that they have an old-fashioned mindset and soon they will retire so we do not have to worry about them anymore. Does that mean we should sit back and let sexism in the workplace, quite literally, die out? Will it die out? I don’t think so and here’s why.

Firstly, sexism outside of business is still strong. Take a look at The Everyday Sexism Project’s Facebook page, one of my favourite blogs recording your stories of gender imbalance from minor offences to outrageous crimes, like the man who severely beat a student at Notting Hill Carnival last week when she stood up to him for groping her. My mother was gobsmacked that girls are even groped in public. I had to break it to her that unfortunately, I see it is normal. It once even happened to me at 7.30 in the morning on a packed tube commuting to my internship in the City…by a man in a suit, also presumably heading to work. He probably wouldn’t try that in the office but what makes us think he wouldn’t take his sexist attitude with him? If attitudes and the culture towards women are not improving in general, then we cannot expect them to in business either.

Secondly, business sexism is more subtle now which makes it harder to spot and penalise. Research shows women are still discriminated against, particularly to do with their perceived stereotypical “norms”. For example, a woman may be less likely to get hired than a man of the same calibre because she is assumed to be too emotional or sensitive. On the other hand, if she succeeds and obtains a traditionally male role, her performance may be judged differently to a man’s because now she is powerful and domineering when she should be gentle and warm. It’s a lose-lose situation. For the empirical evidence and a more insightful read, see the book “The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men, and Our Economy” by Barnett and Rivers.

Governments and firms may be working to reduce the pay gap, push for more female leadership and so on (although this is arguable) but that does not necessarily change the treatment of women in the workplace which could be unspoken as discussed, or actually quite verbal, especially in male-dominated industries. It may surprise you that even I, at 21 years old, can vouch for this. During one of my work experiences my manager persisted on making sexual, appearance-based comments about me, in front of me and in front of a meeting room full of men too. He was in his mid-twenties so we cannot blame this one on “old age”. It got to the point where I was underperforming and I could not approach him to ask for guidance in fear of being humiliated and put down again. Now you might ask why on earth didn’t I raise the issue with HR or his senior? I was intimidated. In a company division consisting of mostly men, everyone knew and adored him but nobody knew me. I was convinced people wouldn’t believe me or think I was taking his “banter” too much to heart.

This is the final sad reality I’d like to touch upon. Sometimes we, as women, do not have the courage to expose and protest against sexism. Fortunately, my experience was not enough to deter me from aspiring to go into that same field of work but it did and could limit my progress. It got me thinking, how many other women, in much more important positions, are affected by this; fearful to express themselves at work, seek a promotion and grow? Furthermore, imagine how many feel like they cannot embark on their own entrepreneurial journeys solely because of their gender. These are the types of women Rupinder and Panna are working to help. When I first joined AWMB I was shocked to hear stories of women who manage their own finances but were seeking their husbands’ permissions first before trying to set up a business, common in Asian culture. At our recent networking event I met women who agreed and admitted to this. It was hosted by the inspirational Angela Malik, the accountant-turned-chef, in one of her own Modern Asian Delis in Ealing (for a healthy, all-flavours-going lunch you have to go there!). As Angela cooked for us, the ladies shared what had made them become entrepreneurs and for several it was what they had been told they could not do by men that gave them the push to prove them wrong. Wouldn’t it be great if more Asian women had the confidence to do this?

Hence, sexism to me, even at the tender age of 21, still exists. I read about it, have already dealt with it both in and out of work and watch even wealthy or successful women battle with it. The question for me now is if it will be a barrier.

Thanks for reading. Comments and thoughts/your personal experiences are very welcome!

Saijal Reahal

Talking business (and food) with Angela and the other entrepreneurs

AWMB angela 2

Angela in action at the AWMB Immerse Event

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