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Breaking Biases - Part I

7 Mar 2022

This year’s International Women’s Day comes with the theme #BreakTheBias. As always, we have turned inwards to reflect on what this means to us and to see where we struggle with gender bias in our lives. We reached out to several of our female colleagues to ask them what #BreakTheBias means. Here is the first part in our series of stories!

“Back when I was still new to working, I was asked not to use my name but only my initials because people didn’t know how to say it, and it was gender ambiguous. Rather than try to understand me or acknowledge my identity, I was asked to adopt a plainer one, with my initials. Now, looking back, I wonder if a man would have been asked to do the same. I am not sure.

In one of my early jobs, I was on a business trip with my manager. I was wearing my usual high heels, and he remarked, “I’d rather you wore shoes, so you can keep up with me.” He told me to keep my jewellery neutral. (“You don’t want to wear a cross when the other person may be wearing a star of David beneath his shirt,” were his words.) At that time, his remarks were painful to hear but I listened. I understood that being in business development, it was better to be neutral in my appearance. I could still retain my individuality in my demeanour. For the first time in my life, I shopped for flats!

Over the years, as we grow in our career, I also find that we have to adopt callousness as a management skill. Business decisions are prioritised over an individual. My argument is that this has to be softened a bit. Nobody is going to discount your success if you are kind.

I grew up in a home with a strong mother, a professional, with a high EQ and an innate ability to understand people. She’s almost a career counsellor to me. I admire women and scientists like Marie Curie, Hedy Lamar and Rita Levi-Motalcini, women who navigated successful careers in science and research and led life on their terms. I am part of the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA), and gender parity is a big part of our conversations. HBA has shown me how strong a sisterhood of kind, cohesive and collaborative women can be. As a woman, I think we need to be each other’s biggest support.”

“My parents showed us by example that they saw girls and boys as equal. My mother always stressed on the need for me to have a career and to be financially independent. She is probably my biggest role model.

When I started working, I was fortunate to be in organizations where meritocracy was the way of working. However, I learnt that even with the privileges I came with, of a supportive family and supportive workplace, I had to learn to assert myself. Some of us may not necessarily be as assertive as we need to be especially in team situation when it may be challenging to be heard, to make your point, to find that gap. You may let it go but it’s very important not to do that. Being assertive also means asking for opportunities. It may be a simple case of the manager not knowing you are interested in an opportunity; it may not always be a bias.

In my previous organization, I was given the feedback that I needed to be more assertive, especially as I took on more senior roles. When this was repeated over a few cycles, I began to consciously work on it - probably too well, as now I am sometimes told I am too assertive. I don’t think men get told that they are “too assertive.”

Another area where I feel we are at a disadvantage is in salary negotiations. Men use their networks to collect intel and negotiate a high salary. We must learn to do that too.

And bias is also within us. As women, we juggle many roles. When it comes to a choice between home and career, we compromise on the latter. It doesn’t have to be a choice. For this to happen, we need our leaders to understand, to give us opportunities and to enable the flexibility it will need. This flexibility is not a perk; it’s something that helps us bring value to the organization.

Organizations need to view flexibility as a long-term investment; it’s not a free ride for us. As hybrid workplaces become the norm, it will bring more women to the workforce, and we must adapt our strategy to make it work. Women need the right tools to be a part of the workforce. And organizations can help, by becoming an equal opportunity employer, whether in salary, in flexibility or opportunity.”

“Growing up, I was what one would call a “tomboy”. I had mostly male friends, I played soccer, I used to skateboard and I loved cars. I didn’t play with what society deemed “girl” toys nor did I dress like a “girl” I didn’t succumb to peer pressure and always forged my own path. At home, my father (a man of few words) was and is still one of my greatest supporters. My mother was and is always there for me, no matter what and without question. She taught me to learn from every experience, whether it be a positive or negative one. My younger sister and I were raised to be strong, assertive women and were never made to feel lesser because we were female.

I played soccer my entire life. An injury in college ended my career and I turned to coaching. I estimate that 95% of the coaches I came across were men, but it didn’t matter because I wanted to teach young girls to love the sport. I wanted to be a positive female role model - I coached them to be strong while also empathetic for their fellow teammates and opponents, to work hard and to recognize the power of teamwork and sportsmanship.

As a person, I am passionate, I am vocal and I am optimistic. And yet, it is impossible to be immune to bias. As I reflect, it’s interesting that barring my current manager, I have only had female managers. Having so many female managers has afforded me the opportunity to learn & grow from the examples they set. Women being supportive of other women is equally as important as it is for men to show their support.

Indegene is where I experienced my first male manager. Both he and his reporting manager (also male) have never made me feel as if I am being treated differently because I am a woman. They both have offered support, encouragement and wisdom. I also feel comfortable knowing I can be myself – I can show raw emotion in moments of stress and frustration without being judged. I always feel as if I am heard and with empathy and for that, I know I am very fortunate. Empathy is important, and it must be given to all, regardless of gender.

In moments where I need a reminder, I remember a text my dad sent me on the day of my promotional review: “Mesmerize them with your brilliance.” His pride in me coupled with the support from my mother, shows me that for everyone who thinks women can’t break boundaries, there are those who believe in our true potential regardless of our gender.”


Naeiry Vartevan
Naeiry Vartevan
Ritu Kohli
Ritu Kohli
Heidi Rapach
Heidi Rapach