It was 2012. I was a design director in an upcoming startup.
A large project was coming to a closure in June 2012. There was an opportunity to go to Hong Kong and present the final design solutions to our client. I wanted someone from the design team to accompany me in this trip. The budget was allocated for two individuals to travel.
I had two choices. I can choose the freelancer I worked with in the project or I get to choose someone promising from our current team for this trip.
I weighed all options and presented my case to take an young promising designer in our startup with me. In less than 2 mins, I got an email from the founder saying NO. It was just a plain simple baseless NO. He refused to tell me the why behind the NO. I did try my best to influence the decisions but the NO did not change even after 4 days. It was time for us to book the tickets and stay, so I went ahead and took my freelancer friend and colleague with me.
Myself and Sowmya (yes, real name) had a blast of time. It was an amazing trip and we learnt lots. When I came back from Hong Kong, I got some lovely stationary for the young typographer (Arjun) in our team and told him I wished he came with me in this trip. He smiled and thanked me for dotted notebooks and lovely pens.
I just couldn't get this off my head so I walked upto to my founder-friend and asked why he said NO to Arjun travelling with me. He said he didn't earn it yet and he didn't deserve a trip like this so early. I was baffled by the statement.
The trip had no criteria and no earning needed. It was just an exposure trip and it was my way of inspiring potential talent. I just wanted my team to see how the real design projects work. That incident made me think deeply.
Discrimination can come in many forms and shapes.
Gender is just one form. There is color, race, caste, creed, subjectivity, tags, prejudices and a lot more. We do talk about some grave ones today but we hardly talk about all the others which makes it hard for people around us.
We intentionally or unintentionally take away the ease in climbing up. Sometimes we don't even know what makes it a hard climb.
Many opportunities are an alignment of a lot of things.
Right things, right place, right people are a few. Color of your skin, your fitment ratio, someone feeling you deserve it (or otherwise), someone liking you in the context, someone having different feelings for you etc are also discrimination in one form or other.
A personal story: Can you beleive that my HOD (Head of the department) had an issue with my short hair to make me flunk in a subject I loved the most (Electron devices and circuits) twice? I was beating myself up and was wondering how could I get such poor grades (13/75 and 18/75). It didn't add up. So I applied for re-evaluation to see that my papers are striked out and some random numbers are filled in. After a little investigation and asking around I was told that my HOD hates me as I am not a typical Tamil girl 🤷♀️ I was stunned by what I learnt about the subjectivity and discrimination.
I knew about this short hair problems only in my last year of engineering. Little did he know that my sinusitis is chronic and I can't handle wet hair for long. The issue was not just the sinus infection, the issue is the underlying auto-immune condition that affected my heart rhythms when I catch a cold.
Wish he asked me, before judging me in his own way. Also who said tamil girls should have long hair and bindi everyday? I still don't understand that part.
I hated my time in engineering despite loving the subject. I only have not so good memories from that time as my other professors were also under the wings of my HOD (including women professors). They just sucked every ounce of love I had for learning. Hair and learning. Do you see any connection? Arrgg...
All said and done, I have been lifted up in a few. I have also been pulled down from a few. These external forces do have a part in your success (or failure) equation.
Just ask yourself this one question before you beat yourself up badly for everything that happens in your life: Who are your enablers and who are your disablers?
Have gratitude for enablers.
Move away from disablers as much as you can.
That is all you can do.
Be watchful of hard ladders in the name of deserving, earning, worthy and more.
🥂 to enablers!