On Racism (I’m Anti)

The following exchange occurred between me and a fellow BIPOC woman earlier this week while discussing our careers:

Me: I stayed at my last place for far too long.  I learned a lot but hit that ceiling way too quickly while I watched others get ahead of me.  So frustrating

Her: The way women advanced in [AML] Investigations was relatively arbitrary

I’m the opposite once I see that wall I’m out – that’s why I moved to FinTech. You can get visibility here very easily b/c it’s so flat.

Me: I remember having some odd interviews where the interviewer stated flat out that he had an all-male team and was looking to add women. Which, great, but also kind of a weird thing to say in the interview?

Her: try inappropriate

“I am interviewing b/c I need to to check the box”

Awesome – sounds exactly like the place a woman would want to work!

Me: I’m fairly certain I was initially hired at my last place because I was Indian and they assumed I’d be able to communicate more easily with our analysts in India 🙄

But that was in 2008 and I really needed a job (the hedge fund where I was working at the time was going under)

Her: I think that’s fine like in AML Investigations they hire a lot of Russians b/c they are able to read documents and are more familiar with business structures. I know it’s not exactly the same but I don’t find that super offensive …

Me: I think all of Russia speaks Russian. There are like hundreds of languages in India and I don’t actually speak any of them

I mean, it’s fine, it all worked out. But it was a bit of a shock when I started there and I had to “break it to them” that I wasn’t going to be able to communicate better than anyone else who was already there.

Her: I wasn’t even thinking language so much as just like being Indian you’d communicate better with Indians.

Me: It wasn’t even mentioned in the interview process at all or in the job description

Her: I would assume all of the analysts spoke English.

Me: They seemed disappointed but I was able to find plenty of other work to do, so NBD in the end.  Let’s just say it was the first of many “interesting” things that happened there

Her: I mean like had formal English language training in school.

It got you a foot in the door so not a terrible thing! 🙂

Me: Absolutely! Especially at that time, I took whatever I could get

This is someone with whom I have met and spoken several times, so she knows that I do not have a hint of an Indian accent nor do I speak of my deep ties to Indian culture (as they don’t exist).  There is no reason to assume that I would be better equipped than any other American to commune with Indians in a professional setting.  Sure, if you want to hear about an Indian expat Thanksgiving hosted by vegetarians attempting to cook turkey, or how the best Indian food can be found in temple cafeterias, I’m your slightly better equipped American.

At the company to which I was referring, on days we ordered Indian food, colleagues would call me and ask me to translate the menu, which (aside from the names of the dishes) was in English; when the food would arrive, they would shove the container in my face and ask me to confirm that was what they had ordered.  I tried to be patient on the calls, but at that point I would get a little snarky and explain that:

  1. India has many different regional cuisines being a very large country THAT I AM NOT FROM
  2. The regional cuisine of my parents is not the same as the restaurant we ordered from and I have never eaten chicken tikka masala
  3. I am from New Jersey (NO, NOT EDISON)

This would not go over well as I was expected to be bland and accommodating. After all, this was pretty standard benign racism I had been experiencing my entire life. Why would I have a reaction to people making assumptions based on my name and the color of my skin when those assumptions are allegedly “positive”?

One of the most insidious consequences of the model minority myth is being penalized for straying outside the proscribed lane for Asians.  We’re meant to be personality-less workhorses, good at math and science with no aptitude for leadership, and, perhaps most importantly, silent.  Asian women are meant to be all of the above with the added bonus of submissively serving men. 

When my old company fired my boss, they thought they were replacing him with someone they could easily control and not compensate.  I work hard but I have a life and am anything but quiet.  I had already asked for a promotion a few months earlier and heard nothing back — I was now expected to take over an entire department with all the associated increased workload, responsibility and liability without any additional compensation or recognition?

My boss dodged calls with me and HR to discuss; he would not approve the promotion and raise for another 6 months, roughly 9 months after I initially asked him, and a company announcement (too loud?) was never disseminated.  A couple years later, fed up with with years of managerial abdication by this same very senior executive (VSE), I asked HR to assign me to a different manager.  After close to a decade of VSE refusing to meet with me, this finally elicited a response: VSE instructed HR not to pay my bonus until I came to see him.  VSE held my bonus hostage in an effort to force me to crawl into his office and agree to continue covering a role for which VSE alone was compensated despite his doing none of the work.  I was not meek (“<no knock> Hey, HR tells me I need to see you about getting paid?”) but I did not feel I was in a position to refuse him.

This humiliating tactic in addition to the absence of any recognition of my contributions in my 10-year tenure (company announcements regarding promotion, new responsibilities, change in reporting — common occurrences for others) were reminders: I was to know my place and keep my mouth shut like a good little Asian.  It didn’t take; I continued to advocate for myself and other underrepresented people. Two years later, asking to occupy just 1 of 4 vacant (pointing out, among other disparate treatment, that my male department head counterparts had their own offices) was the last straw and ultimately led to my departure.

Sure, I “got my foot in the door”…and immediately disappointed my hirers because they had expectations of me based on racial assumptions they made.  Behaving counter to stereotype — wanting to discuss leadership and career development; requesting meetings; pointing out discrepancies in how various people were treated or rewarded; speaking up in meetings; not jumping at the “opportunity” to fetch coffee/water/lunch, answer phones, be the note-taker in meetings while the men spoke — was met with hostility and professional penalties. 

Would I prefer to be stereotyped negatively instead?  Of course not: I would prefer you wait until you get to know me to make informed assumptions about me.  I recognize I live with a lot of privilege that B and I people do not, i.e., not routinely fearing essentially sanctioned violence inflicted upon me by the state or my neighbors thanks to qualified immunity (federal) and the castle doctrine (depending on the state).

I understand not being as concerned with Asian stereotyping especially given the recent horrific murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland. Had we been discussing racism in this context and I added, “People getting mowed down in the street and in their homes but let me tell you about how being Indian got me a job, isn’t that awful” I would have had the same reaction as my colleague. During the above exchange while I was in disbelief that she was casually OK with obvious racial assumptions, she was probably aghast that complaining about it. I don’t know how to bridge that because we’re both kind of right from our personal experiences. Can we not agree that while some racism is worse and more dangerous than others, all racism is bad?

On Anxiety and Depression (a follow-up)

It’s funny reading old posts, in this case a post from only 18 months ago (On Anxiety and Depression). In retrospect, I was probably already exhibiting symptoms I was attributing to external sources like the deaths of people I had never met before. In reality, I was just around a month away from an extremely rude awakening that rather upended my life.

My notes to myself on July 21, 2018 read:

Today I found out that 2 fucking junior analysts, one of whom was a college intern last summer received stock grants (sic)

Meanwhile, when I brought it up with my boss who already gets stock, he tried to brush it off saying “well, they got practically nothing” and I replied, “actually, I literally got nothing and they got something, so…” And that’s how he knew I was serious.

Spoke to HR. So far both men I’ve spoken to seem blithely unconcerned. They both already receive stock. I feel like I’m being gaslit.

That was the culmination of 10 years of just taking it, just going along to get along (10 years at one company, but really my whole life at that point as an Asian woman). It kicked off a series of happenings I technically cannot talk about since I signed an NDA upon separation from the company at which I had been employed since June 2008. Suffice to say I was there and now I’m not there and various stuff occurred in the interim.

One issue I am free to discuss is my mental health. I can literally view on my calendar from last year that between June and September, my workouts dropped from almost daily to once/week if I was lucky, and to essentially non-existent after September. I know this was because I had trouble going to sleep, staying asleep and waking up. I snoozed almost every day sometimes until 8am. I was drinking heavily and eating poorly. My nerves were taut and frayed — I recall looking at my hands and being shocked they weren’t trembling, that I wasn’t shaking, because it felt like my bones were vibrating at a high frequency.

The week before Thanksgiving 2018, I even spoke to my therapist about medication after experiencing a debilitating panic attack. I had been showered and dressed for work and was out walking my dog when I began hyperventilating and crying uncontrollably. As I told my therapist later, while outside waiting for my dog to pee, I recited a mantra: “Get inside, make tea, watch Gilmore Girls.” Once I was safely ensconced back in my home, I still had trouble breathing and had to stay home from work. It was the only time I was mentally unable to work since I began working at age 14. This panic attack was caused by a particular reason I am not currently at liberty to disclose but that I discussed with my doctor, who is unable to prescribe medication as a PhD and not an MD. We discussed options, including my asking my mother, a medical doctor, for help.

My mother has not always responded well to my seeking therapy. One of her earliest reactions was “Why do you need to go to therapy? You can just talk to me.” After that, it was “Is it because you’re talking about me in therapy?” (The answer is, of course, SOMETIMES.) Additionally, due to a variety of stressors in my parents’ lives, I hadn’t been keeping my mother apprised of the goings-on at work as well as the fact that talking about them often triggered more attacks for me, which I was sought to minimize. However, the weekend before Thanksgiving when she and my father were visiting from the west coast, I broached the topic of one-off meds to treat anxiety while trying to be as vague as possible as to the specific causes. Even she, a non-believer, could see that I was clearly unwell and advised me that if a situation arose that was mentally detrimental to me, I should take sick leave.

The effects of mental illness and even “slight” trauma are long-lasting. Fast forward a little over a year later: I am approximately 20 lbs overweight and still have occasional nightmares. My physical health has been impaired given that 20 lbs on my frame is a good 15-20%. The good news is that after several months of reflection, job searching, volunteering and travel, I have found a new role for the next step in my career. I no longer dread working, where an e-mail, instant message or answering the phone would spike my anxiety.

For my entire adult life, I have had one rule: no waking up earlier than 6am unless it’s for travel. I have recently broken that rule for this job even though the commute is much shorter than my previous one. However, it is necessary for my intended routine of working out and walking my dog before arriving at the office by 8:30am, and so far it is remarkably not difficult. What a difference a job makes.

p.s. I have not experienced a panic attack since that day prior to Thanksgiving last year.

On the Unintended consequences of #MeToo

If one person tells another person the same thing repeatedly, some of it will start to stick, like finding glitter in the most unusual places 9 months after Christmas. And if several people tell someone that same thing, it will start to slip in, maybe a bit painfully like splinters. And if, say, large segments of the populations exhale into the ether en masse for centuries or even millennia, we can imbibe it practically from the womb.

When mostly men asked, “Why is all this coming out only now?” there are many reasons, including most obviously fear of repercussions and of not being believed. But also fear of believing ourselves: it is so ingrained in us to second-guess ourselves because we are considered prone to overreactions and hysteria.

A backlash was inevitable, like the pendulum swinging so far as to include Aziz Ansari [new stand-up Right Now streaming on Netflix!]. People also predicted more men adopting the Pence Rule, which would protect men and further hamper women’s career development.

…in the #MeToo era, around six in 10 male managers say they’re uncomfortable mentoring, socializing with or working solo alongside female colleagues, a LeanIn.Org survey found.

They lack access to information about career trajectories that would pave their way to the executive suite and aren’t as aware of available career-advancement and mentorship programs.

What most of us naively did not expect was for HR to continue to play such an active role in protecting offenders and persecuting those who speak up.

HR creates more obstacles through a network of CYA compliance rather than actually supporting people (mostly women) subordinate to mostly men. These include mandatory firm-wide training and seminars emphasizing that harassment, discrimination and retaliation are illegal.

Even if a woman finds about about a leadership development program and asks HR directly to participate in it, she is at the mercy of her supervisor to recommend her. So if her supervisor is the main obstruction to her career advancement and refuses to recommend her for discriminatory reasons, she remains stuck somewhere that can purport to have merit-based programs in place for rewards and promotions. Knowing this, she can request a 360-degree assessment. However in many cases, because 360s are non-standard evaluations, they are granted only after acceptance into internal career or mentorship programs. HR maintains her supervisor’s control over her and her career by documenting that she is merely an average employee and therefore undeserving of even consideration for promotion, revenue-producing or leadership roles because one person has deemed it so.

Hypothetical best case scenario:

  • Employee experiences bias/discrimination in the workplace.
  • Employee brings up the most glaring issues with HR every few years, with little to no effect.
  • Employee experiences deleterious effects on professional and personal life; employee’s worsening mental health is an obstacle to seeking alternative employment.
  • Employee eventually speaks to HR about the several instances over the years creating a pattern of disparate treatment.

At solving the problem, HR is not great. At creating protocols of “compliance” to defend a company against lawsuits? By that criterion, it has been a smashing success.

(The Atlantic: The Problem with HR)
  • Company hires “independent” law firm to investigate.
  • Employee asks former colleagues to support claims by writing to “independent” law firm; while all former colleagues agree with claims, only one actually steps forward to formally support employee.
  • Employee compiles and organizes an accordion file of documention to support claims and gives entire file to “independent” law firm at the conclusion of interview.

The task force cited a study that found “no evidence that the training affected the frequency of sexual harassment experienced by the women in the workplace.” The task force also said that HR trainings and procedures are “too focused on protecting the employer from liability,” and not focused enough on ending the problem.

(The Atlantic: The Problem with HR)
  • Company parades members of “independent” law firm around office — as it turns out, one of the partners is being considered for a Company board seat
  • “Independent” law firm concludes the company paying the “independent” law firm is not at fault.
  • Head of HR is promoted.

85 percent of workers who are harassed never report it. It found that employees are much more likely to come up with their own solution—such as avoiding the harasser, downplaying the harassment, or simply enduring it—than to seek help from HR. They are far more likely to ask a family member or co-worker for advice than to file a complaint, because they fear that they will face repercussions if they do.

(The Atlantic: The Problem with HR)
  • Employee is the subject of retaliation, including an attempt by the main subject of the complaint, a very senior executive, to establish a paper trail of poor performance.
  • Employee is able to refute all but still experiences a further deterioration in mental and physical health including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stomach pain, digestive issues.
  • Company terminates employee without cause less than a year after employee approached HR with concerns.
  • Employee experiences immediate mental relief, is able to update résumé, set up meetings and interviews.
  • Employee’s lawyer, already on retainer, negotiates separation agreement.
  • Employee is overall calmer, healthier and happier but still experiences periodic insomnia from residual trauma of being bullied and controlled by the very senior executive, gaslit by HR to protect this person, and abandoned by colleagues to protect themselves.

In this scenario, the senior executive team will continue to be all men, vindicated and protected, with no incentive or need to change. Other employees who may have agreed with this lone employee witnessed what was done in retaliation, and the obvious mental and physical strain on the employee, and will likely be less inclined to even pursue their own advancement.

majorities of women in the Working Mother study who’d never held a P&L job cited a male-dominated culture (64%) and gender bias (54%) as obstacles to their advancement.

(MarketWatch: Do you want to be CEO? Women face these extra obstacles on their way to the C-suite)

The company has not actually addressed the root cause of bias/discrimination in the workplace and has instead virtually guaranteed its perpetuation.

18 years ago…

img_20190622_080106_4075869613827884300064.jpg

President George W. Bush had recently been inaugurated. My friends and I found ourselves interrogated by many French people, “How could we elect someone like that?” I think maybe they are now too stunned by our current President to even ask, or maybe they also see similar politicians rising in their own neighbors.

Amazon was a website for books.

Google hadn’t IPO’d yet.

Neither had Marvel.

It’s almost half the age I am now and I was still in university, doing a semester abroad in Paris. I met people I am still friends with today and through whom I met other great friends.

Service here is still slow, snotty, possibly a little racist.

Now there are “tacos”:

Why O’Tacos??

An abomination in all cases
1. Not a taco 2. Fries with tacos or burritos 3. What is the difference between nuggets and tenders??

And “bagels”:

At least a little racist
Also possibly racist

I met someone who visited me once a few months after I returned home, in September 2001 and was forced to extend his visits when all planes are grounded. We kept in touch with for close to 8 years after that and then gradually dropped since we were both seeing other people in our respective countries. And yet, Facebook Messenger enabled me to contact him despite not knowing his current phone number or e-mail address (though conversation quickly switched to WhatsApp, also owned by Facebook).

Facebook, let alone Instagram, was unheard of.

Ditto Netflix.

Mobile phones like were common but people barely had T9 texting capability. Nokia was huge.

Though I am not working now, I am more financially comfortable than I was then so I can actually eat and drink good food, wine and cider (cider to me back then was freshman baby alcohol, not the craft brew I recognize today). When buying a couple bottles of cider at the grocery store, I was asked my age. My comprehension has suffered over the years, so the checkout boy repeated himself in English, “How old are you?” My response, also in English: “Very old.”

Memories

On fighting the good fight

This past week or so since John McCain succumbed to brain cancer, I have been crying on and off as I knew I would ever since his diagnosis was made public last summer.  Somehow and contradictorily, the bipartisan outpouring of grief has been remarkable in this year 2018 in the year of our Dear Trump and also remarkably partisan in the condemnation from the right of McCain’t not being sufficiently Trumpian and from the left of his consistent hawkish record and not being sufficiently anti-Trump.

I had people ask me to elucidate why I am so sad about the passing of a person I have never met, as well as people express that they are sorry I am so sad, so diplomatically acknowledging my own sadness while also expressing their lack.

To all I say, watch the eulogy given by his long-time family friend and sometime adversary, Senator Joe Biden:

And that of his 2008 Presidential rival, #44 Barack Obama (whose family is also close friends with McCain’s 2000 Presidential primary rival, #43 George W. Bush and Laura Bush):

Of course McCain was not a perfect man as no human is.  But a consistent thread of those who spoke, particularly former opponents, was of his constantly striving to do better.

While I may have not taken direct or conscious inspiration from the late senator, I share his sentiments and I grieve its lack in our current political and social landscapes.

On Anxiety and Depression

If you are having thoughts of suicide, please know that you are not alone. If you are in danger of acting on suicidal thoughts, call 911. For support and resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line.

Yesterday was a rare beautiful summer day in the NYC area, just sunny and warm with very little humidity.  I was out walking my dog near my building when I came across a table set up by a security vendor my condo management company had hired.  I heard the sounds of “Funeral Pyre” from Phantogram’s 2016 album Three coming from the table and stopped to inquire who had chosen to put it on, since I thought it was a bit of an odd choice. Continue reading On Anxiety and Depression

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Friendships

The gripping conclusion to the “things you learn when you travel with others” saga (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

3 years later, I have scaled back my meetings with this half-shitty group of friends to roughly once/year, and have probably seen them only twice since that enlightening wedding weekend in the summer of 2015.

Continue reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Friendships

Girls don’t ask

I am not what most people would think of as stereotypically girly.  I think fashion is stupid.  I think designer shoes are especially stupid, as not only will they give you bunions and other foot ailments, everyone stuck walking behind you as you teeter along can’t help but think of ways to exterminate you and your kind (I’ve heard “these are actually really comfortable” and “just shove some gel soles in them and you can practically run” and it’s all lies). Continue reading Girls don’t ask