June 06, 2018

“It has to be led by a man”

Of course, it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position, said Mr. Akbar Al Baker, referring to his own role as the CEO of Qatar Airways.

The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life,” ruled Justice Bradley in 1872 in Bradwell v. State of Illinois.

Not very different views though 150 years apart – right?

Women are timid, you say? Women can’t handle challenges, you say? Have you ever considered that the challenges that you put in front of girls – through your attitudes, through social, cultural and religious restrictions, through every little and big thing that you say and do from the time she is born – are infinitely more than what you put in front of your boys?

I urge Mr. Al Baker (yes, I know he apologized) and the others who hold similar views (I know there are quite a few, both men and sadly women too) to spend some time reflecting how you, and the society, treat your sons and your daughters, and how it shapes their lives.

I am the only girl among four children and made my family proud with my academic achievements in school. Despite this, I was married off when I was nineteen. Unsure about who I should ask money for my continuing education (whether it ought to be my father or my husband), I chose to self-study for the rest of my education. That is how I completed my undergrad (with first rank in the University, I must add) and ACCA (and becoming a world-wide topper in couple of papers).

And then I joined PwC and went on to become an Assurance director.

And then, a couple of years ago, I left PwC to set up my own accounting practice.

All the while struggling to balance my work and my life.

All the while trying to suppress the inner guilt that continuously gnawed within me about not spending enough time with my little girl (still quite little) and my little boy (who has now grown up to be an 18-year old feminist I am truly proud of! He helped me write this piece, by the way.)

All the while trying hard to learn to stop condemning my audacity to be ambitious; trying hard to unlearn, in its stead, a lot of other things – ideas and notions conditioned into my subconscious from infancy on, as Justice Bradley very eloquently put it, “the natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex”.

All the while addressing the disapproving external voices (coming from both men and women) about how a woman’s place is in the kitchen and home, constantly making me question the propriety of my choice to work. And listening to compliments about my husband’s greatness and openness of mind for not standing in my way (I mean, I am tremendously proud of him for it, but shouldn’t it be the norm?).

Have you ever considered that the women who actually are able to make it typically have to work much harder than men have to?

At one of the PwC annual trainings in Abu Dhabi a few years ago, I had to put my baby daughter in the hotel room with her nanny while I spent the days in training sessions – so I could check on her from time to time. At the same annual training a couple of years later, one of my colleagues from Saudi Arabia confessed to me that her sister was in the hotel room taking care of her little baby while my colleague was attending the training sessions.

How many men have to go through things like this? (And let’s not forget the sacrifices of the nanny and the sister who have had to sit in the hotel room the entire day so that my colleague and I could attend training).

Things have improved a lot for women in the recent years – from the time of Justice Bradley, from my younger days – but not enough.

My son, my nephew and my two nieces are completing high school this year and are in that critical stage of their lives when they are considering higher studies.

My son is already finalizing the paperwork to join a prestigious university for higher studies in the subject of his choice – political science.

My nephew has been training from the time he grew out of his diapers to become a doctor.

My nieces – just as capable and ambitious as the boys I just mentioned, if not more – are, at a point where they should be well into the university applications, still stuck in limbo in regards to even the most basic details of the next few years of their lives.

Because, while their male counterparts – the traditional breadwinners – are readily encouraged and supported in pursuing their ambitions, my nieces have to balance their ambitions with the patriarchal, paternalistic and patronizing confines that encircle them, like the many generations of women before them.

Women can’t handle challenges – really? It has to be a man – really?

How about trying to level the playing field, perhaps?


Note: My blogs are also published on my Linkedin Page.

Nishe is an accounting and consulting firm focussed on hiring and nurturing female professionals. For more details about us and our purpose, visit here.

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