Confession: I was worried about coming to work for Asian Women Mean Business all because of the first half of the company name, “Asian Women”. Don’t get me wrong, I am a proud South Asian woman myself and have wonderful Asian female friends, but when it comes down to academics or business, let’s face it: we can be super competitive.
It isn’t always that “healthy” competition either; the type that makes markets operate efficiently, ensures the best prices and services to customers and incentivises everyone to work their hardest. No, it’s that catty sort of competition that goes on within communities. We want to be the best and we take a disliking towards anyone who is on par with or, god forbid, exceeds us. It’s that competition that extends through disciplines, ages and walks of life. I do not want anyone else in my social circle to be as successful as me even if I am a doctor and they are a lawyer, even if I am 40 and they are 30, even if they have 2 kids to support and I have none. I have come across people like this frequently in my short life and I can bet that you have too. Where does this absurd, competitive nature come from? Why are we so quick to kick our own kind? Traditionally, South Asian men have already done that. Just take a look at India, a supposed democracy, where many women still fight for their economic, education and worst of all, human rights.
But maybe that is actually the problem here in the West: we don’t feel the need to stick together anymore. We did years ago when there were less of us in the country; we had battles of both racial and gender discrimination to conquer in the job market and there was no way of doing that alone. Nowadays, that is less strong and less apparent and in fact, we are storming and even obtaining leading positions across a range of businesses. The presence of prejudice meant we once viewed those outside of our racial/faith/social groups as competition. In their place, we now mark each other as the threat. It also means that we have to share the spotlight with other successful females which we didn’t have to do before. No more super intelligent, token Indian in the office!
The other explanation I have is more personal, to do with our culture. The reason that young Asian girls, in particular, can act unsportsmanlike and enviously is desperation; the desperate need to impress that subconsciously comes from pressure they are put under at home. Why did you only get into LSE and not Oxford? Why can’t you be as hard-working as your sister? Why did your friend get that promotion and you didn’t? Even if you, I or our parents are not like this, we know the story all too well. Furthermore, the pressure to overachieve can be so great that it leads to high levels of stress or worse, mental illness, something our community has always struggled to comprehend, a phenomenon reported in media over the recent years as “the South Asian stigma”. Although this is another massive issue I will have to save for another blog post. Hence it is no wonder our females are sometimes forced to view their own as competition.
We cannot aim to change these competitive attitudes in the short-run, or single-handedly, but now we have started thinking about the root of the problem we can consider ways to deal with these sorts of people in the business environment. For example, if you encounter a competitive, seemingly sly co-worker, you should remember their demeanour may stem from insecurity or an external pressure to meet expectations. Therefore make a point of being friendly and compassionate with them so they are not intimidated and most importantly, collaborate with them, making their needs and targets your own. Psychologists suggest that once you praise them, they will see you as less of a threat and once you give them a hand up, they will be more likely to return the favour. I agree with the social theory that humans inherently prefer cooperation because it yields a higher pay-off, they can increase their own resources.
So, in essence, we should analyse a competitive person and think tactics before we get agitated and engage in the competition. As for my fears on entering Asian Women Mean Business…they were put to rest by almost every woman I have connected with in this internship. Like when I met Lisa Åkesson, Voice Coach and Communications Skills Trainer, last week. She specialises in empowering women to be confident leaders. Sound familiar? Yes, AWMB is aiming to do that too! However, her having mutual goals and customer bases meant we have come to regard her as an ally, not an opponent. In fact, we are partnering with her for our next webinar. In the meeting to discuss this we spent more time getting excited at one another’s current entrepreneurial ventures rather than actually getting down to work. Thus I have found myself in a strange, unfamiliar world: this appears to be a unique network of South Asian businesswomen who are repulsed by catty competitors and have joined forces to help each other go forward. I initially thought it too good to be true.
Regardless of whether you perceive competition as a friend or a foe, I will leave you to dwell on this: “Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt.
AWMB meets the charismatic Lisa Åkesson