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What will you do to #BreakTheBias?

What will you do to #BreakTheBias? by Sheetal Smith

By Sheetal Smith  @SmithSheetal

Martin Luther King once said: 'If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.' 

This year, for International Women's Day, women all over the globe are hoping to share, inspire and move towards a gender equal world, that is free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. I can't speak for every woman but I can share my views as a young, Asian leader who has been a victim of discrimination. However, every time I have been knocked down, I have come back stronger and 'like air, I will [continue] to rise.'

Inspired by Mary Angelou, I decided to #BreakTheBias by making my voice heard. She once said:

'You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn't do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it. You talk it. Never stop talking it.'

There is a lot that angers me and it starts with stereotypical views on the television that need to change. Why is it when portraying Asian people on television they are most likely to have an accent when this is not always the case? Why are they portrayed as not being able to speak English properly? Why are women always completing household chores whilst men are seen as superior leaders?

Whether the stereotype is; women are less competent, simple-minded and typically only good for the kitchen, or women of colour are incapable of being leaders because they are seen to be submissive or passive – it all needs to change.

Like many, I am tired. I am tired of constantly proving my worth to 'climb up the ladder!'

Yes I am an Asian women who has young children but I am also committed to my profession! We need people to use their intersectional lens and consider whether some women are having it harder than others?

Have you ever asked what is the experience of women, especially women of colour in your organisation?

Have you shifted the focus from the story that you may be thinking to the actual messages presented to you by them?

Not so long ago, I sat amongst friends and we shared similar experiences that have happened in educational establishments. Of course, there were common themes:

  • First, the black woman who had spent most of her career being an expert in the teaching of phonics and was also responsible for training others. When numerous opportunities to lead the area were advertised, she was not once considered for an interview. Surprisingly, she was actually asked to train the person who was appointed. 

  • Then there was another…the Asian women who had been teaching for over twenty years, who had a wealth of knowledge in her field but her voice was constantly dismissed because she 'should be adopting certain behaviours' to be accepted.

  • Then another…the young, Asian woman who showed dedication and despite saying and doing all the right things, her voice was quietened because she was too passionate?!

  • Then another…The natural born leader who inspires others but is hesitant to take the next step because her accent becomes a barrier.

  • Then another… it is endless! 

It does truly anger me that women, especially women of colour, are being held back due to their race or age or stereotypes that have been unchallenged time and time again.

For aeons, women have been fighting for equal rights and even today, women are still existing in an unequal world where they are continuously having to battle stereotypes and prove their worth. We want to be in an inclusive world free from gender bias and where diversity is truly celebrated. Inclusive cultures make people feel valued for who they are and what they bring to an establishment. There needs to be a shift in people's mindset so that people are recognised for their talents and achievements. We can empower people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different.

Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. It is still common for women to leave the profession to look after the children whilst the men have opportunities to gain more senior roles. We can begin by being responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, everyday.

We need to #BreakTheBias by actively calling out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping each and every time it is seen.

Every time you make your voice heard, you begin a ripple and you inspire others to do the same – then we will all begin to thrive.

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Thursday, 08 June 2023

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