I see you
Do you remember the first time you experienced sexism in the workplace? I do. Can you recall the first time a misogynist spoke to you about you? I do.
In a former life, I was living a different kind of dream. I had an important job at an important company where I had influence. An impressive amount of responsibility was laid upon my shoulders, as I broke through glass ceilings that were previously impenetrable for women like me. It still gives me a great sense of pride to think about that time.
In the white-boys-club that is the Asia Pacific regional advertising scene, a group of us Asian women were slowly starting to gain the respect and recognition of our Caucasian male colleagues and management. We were a tight and determined team. At first it was me from Manila, Geeta from Mumbai, Haruko from Tokyo and SuetLan from Kuala Lumpur. We were a good mix of fun and hard work, determined to succeed at both and we were on fire! We worked long hard days and had many late nights. We spent a good amount of time traveling, as our responsibilities included supporting and supervising the twelve local offices in the region. The work was high profile within the organization, and it was relentless. You were all at once required to be firm and diplomatic, solve problems while keeping the peace. Stress levels were through the roof. You could find yourself having to be in three or four cities in one week, going straight from the airport to your meetings in Tokyo or New Delhi or Seoul.
So you can imagine that setting up a home base that provided a sense of calm and refuge was critical to our well-being. It was in talking about this with one of the most senior leaders of the company that I had my first direct experience of misogyny.
Living it Up, The Peak in Hong Kon
We were fleshing out the details of my contract when we came to the discussion of housing allowance. I naively thought that the company had standard allowance allocations based on level of seniority. When asked about my expectations on housing allowance, I said something like, “Well, I would expect the same housing allowance allocation that you would give to the other Regional Planning Directors already being housed here in Bangkok.”
To my sheer and utter shock, the man who was one of my bosses, this man who was speaking on behalf of a global organization for which he was the regional vice chairman said to me, “Well, one would think that a single girl like you wouldn’t need more than a studio apartment. You can’t really compare your housing needs to those of a man who has brought his entire family over to live with him in this part of the world.”
In that one sweeping statement, my sex, my life choices, my race all being thrown back in my face as a liability. As a reason to get less than I deserve. As a reason to give the white man more than me, even though he wasn’t generating as much business as me.
Of course I didn’t let him get away with it. Of course I said, firm and gently, “I don’t see how that that matters. I think people who have the same title and responsibility should get the same allocation.” I cannot say that I received the exact same amount, my single Australian male colleague whose client was less than half the size of mine had a house twice the size of mine. It woud be reasonable to assume that the size of one’s house is directly correlated to size of one’s housing allowance.
It took me years to finally extricate myself from that job and the sexism that prevailed not just in the industry, but specifically when the most senior management in Asia Pacific was exclusively Caucasian males living it up in the boomingest part of the world.
Living a New Dream
I no longer work for that company.
More importantly, I no longer tolerate behavior like that in my work life. I no longer have to.
I am living a different dream, a much better one that is fair and open and exciting. It is all mine. And this is the true mark of my success.