Of smoke breaks and glass ceilings

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favourite books for many reasons. But chief among them is I love how Atticus treats Scout with the same freedom, same rules as Jem.

My life has been quite the same. I grew up in a family, where a ‘NO’ was really unheard of. I don’t recollect being told not to dream big or try to do things that were bigger for my hands! It was perfect harmony when the love of my life walked right in, and he treated me nothing less than an equal partner; I still feel he did the opposite & gave me more credit than I could handle. The cherry was in the form of friends who were always welcome to let me give a hand on life's heavy weight lifting.

You may wonder, then why am I writing this? Well, the world didn’t stop there for me; let me put it this way, I wish the world stopped right there for me.

A majority of my waking hours is spent at work. Work is where I first caught a glimpse of my gender being a big part of my identity. Surprisingly, being a woman was like becoming a number contributing to diversity ratio or an added colour to the office on festive days.

I have walked into offices where I could see enough young ladies, but struggled to spot to the older ones. I could walk into meeting rooms where I was possibly the only woman, yet all the main talking points were done during a smoke break.

This is where I think it gets interesting, I didn’t enjoy being treated differently. So being a woman or not, I would want to be able to walk into an office where we don’t discuss diversity ratios or wonder how we can find some eligible woman to scale up in the career ladder. I would want people to know that I am incapable of adding colours because I hardly wear colours. I love my neutrals way more at work. But this would need time, effort and work.

So what has worked for me? I did things differently, I did what I despised the most. I accompanied my colleagues on their late hour smoke breaks, hung out with them for a drink after office hours. I did everything I didn’t quite easily associate with work. Yet, I must confess in the process, I learned who they really were & hence was looking forward to the odd hour visit to the highway dhaba. I enjoyed that my colleagues wore pink more easily and some humour would get them to be the colour on festive days. Because I would later compensate by participating in playing ball.

What does it all mean? My biggest learning - it’s not really about where we are, who we are with. We need to treat ourselves as equal to men (or women) and not expect a differential treatment.

Think beyond the reasons of gender for being passed on for that promotion or that “critical” assignment. I still remember people reached a stage with me where I was asked to do extra shifts more often than any of my male colleagues, with no other differentiators really, we were all happily married to our spouses and had a lively life outside of work. I liked how that discussion was very annoying because that meant cutting short my weekends and lesser time home. But I loved how I was picked without a thought!

So neither pink nor blue works for me. What does, is a simplified outlook towards colleagues, towards work.

Meera wears many hats - daughter, sister, wife, mum and a friend. She also comes with 14 years of corporate experience in myriad functions such as program mangement, client management, operations.