Satya Nadella is right. That’s how we think. We are wrong, we ought not to.

Hey, let’s all bash up Satya Nadella… but first, how many of you women demand equal pay or a well-deserved pay rise? How many of us speak about money and scales with our employers?

I work in a country where I pay a double penalty… first as an Asian passport holder, then as female professional. And truth be told I’ve never negotiated.

If it felt too low, I would just not take it; but didn’t try to argue or sell myself.

I would ask if there was disparity based on nationality. To this I’ve received all kinds of odd answers; from how a cup of coffee costs more in London than it does in Mumbai, hence salary would differ (hey, guess what, but we are paying bills in Doha!) to how Western education was more expensive that what I paid for.

This to an extent I would protest and speak against.

But I was and am too conscious about pulling out the gender-card. Should I draw attention to my sex and be seen as being overly sensitive? Should I remind them that I am a woman…? Should I just quietly take the deal before a man outspeaks me at the negotiation table and walks away with a few bucks more?

Ironically, I continue to feel that a good employer will be fair (karma?) and recognise what I bring to the table… And every time I signed on the dotted line, I did believe that it was so. This rationalisation ringing in my head: When they see my work they will give me more.

And it has happened. It also hasn’t.

My male colleagues were different. They asked, and they got. During appraisals, between appraisals, with a second offer in hand, without a second offer in hand… They continued asking even when they didn’t get it.

I rarely saw this amongst women. Not my peers, not the ones who reported to me.

So when Satya Nadella put his geeky feet in his mouth, was he merely describing the best of us? Maybe the best of his female staff didn’t ask, and were slavishly grateful for the ‘recognition’ that came their way, all the same. So he thinks, that’s the way it should be.

First things first, setting up my home office. Where the magic happens.

Twenty years in the making, my trampoline is ready… let the adventure begin

Twenty years of pursuing what I love, and being paid for it.

Twenty years of stretching my wings enough to take flights of fancy, and always returning to a comfortable nest.

Twenty years of people holding out a safety net, to cushion my fall. Sometimes it’s a trampoline and I bounce back higher and higher.

Twenty years of working for someone else… But, wait. That’s not what I said or believed in. I always worked for myself, even while employed by someone else, right? Right-ish? Kind of, sort of?

Twenty years into your career, you are too old, too expensive, too opinionated, too high up in that damned ladder everyone is clambering up.

Slowly you realise that the nest gets prickly, the safety net wears off, the trampoline is missing a few springs. You realise that you are working for someone else, whatever delusions you might allow yourself.

What you truly love doing will always have to be done within the confines of someone else’s agenda and dream. That ‘someone else’ who pays your bills and fattens you up into a pro lull.

Whereto from there?

First things first, setting up my home office. Where the magic happens.

First things first, setting up my home office. Where the magic happens.

It took me twenty years to dare to take a risk. But for all the risks I consciously shied away from, I unconsciously paid for.

Entrepreneur I am not (and probably will never be). And the only way of living I’ve known and been comfortable with is one that involved a monthly salary and paid vacation.

What do you do then, when your safety net begins to choke you?

So I paused and took deep breaths. I trekked. I meditated. I negotiated terms that in hindsight were half measures, and unfair to all concerned, especially the wonderful people I worked for. So I stalled, procrastinated… and then learned to breathe again, mainly on the rowing machine.

I meditated on the saddle, knees drawn up, pull and release… again and again, enjoying the drench of sweat and clarity; working hard on my core strength, in more ways than one.

What’s the very worst thing that can happen to me, I asked myself repeatedly over the last six months. Not holding a full-time job didn’t even figure in the top 10 worst things that could happen.

Today, on my last day at a full-time job (for the foreseeable future), that doesn’t figure in the top 20 worst things either.

When was the last time I felt as light and relieved as I have in the past month? The freedom to choose and focus on what I love and am good at; the relief of not becoming immersed in what drains my energy; and the overwhelming gratitude for being surrounded by those both appreciative of what I do and supportive of what I wish to…

Gratitude above all. For even when I shied away from risks, I was always in a place and environment that allowed me ownership of my dreams (be it here, here or here). Even when I was full of self-doubt, there would be more than a few souls who would mock me out of my self-pity, and give a kindly kick to my derriere.

It’s time to respect the generous opportunities and trust I’ve enjoyed, time to pay myself… time to tighten the belt, yes, but also to become more mindful of who I want to be. Mindful that no matter how much I fret and try, I can only do one thing at a time, and that one thing should be what I truly enjoy.

More importantly, there’s only one me, and she deserves her very own trampoline.

 

Presenting...

Presenting…

Some days, I give the Teddy magical powers to play me, and I escape into my make-believe world of social media.

How do working-mums work? Co-opt. Don’t take my word for it though…

Some days, I give the Teddy magical powers to play me, and I escape into my make-believe world of social media.

Even the dolls are co-opted… Some days, I give the Teddy magical powers to play me, and I escape into my make-believe world of social media.

Every morning the hugs and kisses are hurried as breakfast is made and lunch boxes are packed. And in those rushed minutes are a hundred dos and don’ts for O and N to keep in mind through the day. A few demands are made too, and I respond automatically. “Yes, I will try to come home early. Yes, I will try to pick up a snack. Yes, I will talk to you when you call me. Yes, I will watch an episode of Masterchef with you. Yes, I will read to you. Yes, I will…” I know even as I make those promises that I won’t keep them all. But, “yes, yes, yes… unless I can’t, and then you can’t throw a tantrum, ok?”

I don’t travel as much as I used to, but my work hours keep increasing. My daughters are 12 and 5 years old. I have a full-time job that requires after-hours networking quite frequently. R’s work is from late afternoons to late nights.

So there is no way we can do all that parents should, but between us we try hard to be the best parents we can be. However, we need help, and I seek it from various people. Some of them do so as friends, some as hired help. Which is why I was chuckling to myself as I listened to Indra Nooyi, in the video below.

I so identify with her anecdote. That bit especially of kids calling at work. My daughters call me every day at about 3 pm, wherever I might be. Nilah would ask if she can watch 1 episode of My Little Pony (or the animation du jour), and Oviya if she can use the internet, and the same exchange ensues: have you had your lunch? have you done your homework. I have no secretary, so I would excuse myself if in a meeting to answer that important call.

Because, when you spend no more than 2-3 waking hours with your child every weekday, these calls are what keeps you relevant in their life.

But for other things, I co-opt people. Friends, nanny, sometimes even the older one to help with the younger one. The nights when I am so in need of alone-time, I would request O to read to N. Or I would order in food so that my maid can skip cooking and spend time playing with N. When I am travelling, I co-opt my sisters or niece to skype and entertain the children.

As working parents, we are never going to be there for our kids all the time, and there’s no getting around that guilt. I don’t sit through the swimming training, because the time between drop-offs and pick-ups are when the grocery shopping or pedicure gets done; I miss a performance because it makes more sense to seek a few hours out from work when they are ill and need TLC, than when they are belting out a song on stage. It’s a tough choice, and as the years go by, one less fraught with guilt.

Last week I was chatting with a friend, a young unmarried man. We were discussing the right age to marry and have children. My wise view was that women marry and have children early, so that when they are at the peak of their career, they are not held back by the needs of very young children. We had a few laughs, and it was more an idea than a serious conviction. But see what Nooyi says here:

My observation, David, is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you’re rising to middle management your kids need you because they’re teenagers, they need you for the teenage years.

So that annoying question: Can women have it all? No. No one really does… men nor women. But what you do have can become your all.

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Reflecting respect or teaching children to be judgmental?

A young mother in tracks and tees is playing with her little girl. Another abhaya-clad mother enters the frame with her son. The boy lays eyes on the other mother. “Oh, she isn’t reflecting her respect is she? Come on mum, let’s go give her the flyer and ask her to respect our culture.” Or something on those lines are mimed, rather badly. (See video below.)

There. That’s what’s wrong with the campaign. That a little boy can go question an adult’s choice.

I have my reservations about dress codes, and have written about it before, here.

But using children in a campaign such as this is not well thought out. Why would you want to sow seeds of prejudice and culture-specific rights and wrongs in their mind? Is this what they are going to grow up with? To question the ‘other’; To probably confuse cultural differences as disrespect?

Do you want your children to focus on clothes and decide if the person is respectable or not? Aren’t there more serious lessons to be taught here? How uncomfortable and unnecessary to have a whole bunch of children in a mall chanting slogans and asking for people to dress appropriately.

And that video. Yes, it was all done with a smile and appropriate nods, and the ‘immodestly’ dressed mum trying to pull her sleeves over her shoulder… but what about the little girl there, who just saw her mother being reprimanded (even if politely); or the little boy who is so smug about having set someone right… how is this acceptable?

If you were in a playground in Europe, wearing a hijab, and a little girl points at you and asks her mother to intervene, and have you remove your… you get the idea, don’t you?

At this point, I’d rather volunteer to distribute those flyers, than have them recruit children to do it.

(Featured image via Fatma Al Dosari)

Butt out of my skirt and my blouse, please

UmmON:

I don’t have much to add, except the ‘modesty campaign’ is back. Read more about that here: http://www.justhere.qa/2014/05/modesty-campaign-relaunched-who-defines-it/

Originally posted on The Life of Umm:

What’s with women’s clothing? Everyone has an opinion on it. No one judged Steve Jobs on his ill-fitting jeans and boring black turtlenecks.

Without exaggeration, I am quite sure my very first memory is of someone telling one of the many women in my family what was appropriate clothing.

This when the men roamed around bare-chested, and an ugly lungi (sarong) tied well below their belly and folded above the knee, for good measure.

But goodness forbid if a woman had the freedom to dress as she pleases. The skirt was too short, the tee shirt too revealing, the sari blouse too deep, the sari too transparent, the kurta too tight, the dupatta not modest enough… it never ends.

And if by some gentleman’s (I use the term loosely) standard your dress is not appropriate enough, then he had the right to treat you in an unladylike fashion.

Here, in…

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