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I Get To The Top Based On My Merit, Not To Tick Off A Diversity Check Box

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We see a lot spoken about having a diverse workforce, not enough women in the corporate world, women not getting equal pay and opportunities as compared to their male counterparts. Many corporates are waking up and taking this widening gender gap seriously by investing in women. They are setting measurable targets for the percentage of women they want to hire, thinking about ways and means of encouraging their existing women to grow in the organization, standing side by side with women as they go through life changing events of having a baby and providing them facilities like day care, flexible work arrangements to keep them in the workforce.

These are no doubt great initiatives and as a woman out there in this cut throat competitive corporate world for the past 7 years, I have seen that the journey of women towards the same destination is so different from men. I have been raised by strong gender neutral parents who never distinguished between my brother and me. We were given good education, set of values and raised equally. As I completed my education and joined the corporate world, I was still blissfully unaware of the biases women face.

As a fresher I saw not equal but a good number of women around. But as I moved ahead in my career I saw the stark reality. About how women who were equally talented or at times better than their male colleagues were not promoted in the same year, when they spoke up they were considered bossy.  There is no proof of this but what goes around a lot by word of mouth and is many cases backed up by research reports is about women being underpaid than men. I was dumbfounded to read that a 2015 survey tells us that women in Silicon Valley are paid 60% lesser than their male counterparts. Can you see how wide the gap is?

An ex-colleague of mine who is brilliant in her work, her technical expertise is by far one of the best I have seen, is articulate and good at communication, has all that’s needed to get to the top – when I joined as a fresher I looked up to her and thought-wow that’s how good I want to be at my job. I always thought she will have a meteoric rise in her career will get promoted fast and she should because she deserves it. But to my dismay – she quit the organisation after 4.5 years of solid performance. The reason given was she was immature and had spoiled her relations with an onshore manager by speaking her mind rather than mutely listening to him. No one had the backbone to support her in India. I am glad she took the wise decision of leaving.

It’s been 4 years now. We are in touch and I find it very surprising that she has still not got her due. She is doing well, gets appreciation emails from her bosses, everyone gives her great feedback but she is not getting promoted. She slogs her butt off for 11 hours a day at office and then logs in again at home – her boss calls that flexi work arrangements. Not getting what you deserve at the right time takes a toll on you – I can sense her dejection but she is unable to change her job as she cannot move out of her current city given her hubby’s job. It really makes me so angry and frustrated when I see someone as talented as her and as committed and dedicated not getting her due.

I changed my job recently and when I was looking out for a job – I contacted one of my ex-colleagues who works for one of the top I banks. He made a really insensitive remark, “Won’t be tough for you to get a job here, they have a diversity quota which they are looking to fill.” I did not take up that job though I wanted to ask the man – “well I think I am happy to go for the general quota.”

So are you telling me that they will take me just because I am a woman? How about the fact that I am a gold medalist and an all India CA rank holder?

Or that I worked in the world’s top investment bank for 7 years? Or the fact that I am bloody confident I will crack as many interviews you wanna take for I have no doubt I my abilities?

I am an ambitious woman who just doesn’t come to office to spend 9 to 5 doing some desk job and taking her paycheck home. I want to grow and grow fast. I have very high expectations from myself. And I know I have to work towards fulfilling them it’s not going to be easy. I am ready to fight it out.

When talking to a colleague on Friday night, I casually enquired about how soon I can move to the next level. He mentioned a time frame which didn’t really appeal to me and I mentally set my own target. He then told me casually, “Don’t worry you will make it in the diversity stream, they need more women senior leaders.” This infuriated me badly and I retorted, “Look here I want to reach the top based on my merit not to tick off a diversity check box. I do not want the organisation to do me any favor by promoting me early in place of any other deserving candidate. I will make it to that list because I deserve to be there and they give me what I deserve and what I am worthy of.”

As women we are conditioned to feel low about ourselves, we don’t ask for that promotion or fight for the pay rise or a better rating because we feel we deserve only so much.

We can tick off 8 out of 10 on that list for making it to a VP. What do we do? We say to ourselves let me work on these 2 and once I can tick off all the10 will I raise this with my manager. But a man, he may not even be able to tick 5- he will confidently stride into his manager’s office and have the promotion discussion. See the difference!

A recent article about the deep set biases against women in Silicon Valley and the obnoxious suggestion by the writer that women should try concealing their identities by using their initials instead of names and try to work around the biases – note he puts the onus on women rather than the firms and their governing bodies who should do something to shake off these biases. This article drew a lot of flak from people all over- it is ridiculous to expect women to work around it- so telling them that this is a part of life here and you need to find your way out, rather than work towards changing this mentality and the biases that exist.

As a woman who is as passionate about her career as any man out there, and is not at all ok with ” this flimsy corporate gyan of how does it matter in a 30-year-long career if you get promoted a year or two late” it bloody well matters to me for I have slogged by butt off to make it to the list and I deserve to be on it this year. 30 years down the line when I look back at my journey I will be proud that I made it when I deserved it and not when someone just gave it to me as a favour or because I have been here too long and they thought let’s just give it to her.

Let meritocracy be the only criteria, we don’t want to be put on a pedestal, we do not come with a “fragile, handle with care” tag. So stop the bs talk that “you have it easy because you are a woman”. Or “oh you will make it because of the diversity checkbox.” I will make it because I am worth it. Period.

This article was first published here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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