Meet Shakti. She is the new face of an enlightened lot of Indian women. She is a well-educated woman in her late twenties. Comes from a middle-class Indian family. She works for an MNC in a metro, taking home a decent pay-package. People respect her for the way she has carved a niche for herself in the corporate industry. She is social, open-minded, bold, with a mindset that swings between traditional values to evolving thought patterns in sync with the current generation. You will be seeing Shakti on and off on this blog in various thought-provoking situations that women these days encounter and how she deals with them.
It was a regular day at work. Shakti breezed into the office with her usual dazzling smile. She had worked hard over a presentation all night that she needed to present to some important clients today. She was sure that she would be able to crack the deal. To top it, she was wearing her favorite black pencil skirt with a well-fitted formal pin-stripped white shirt. The hemline of the skirt ended neatly over her knees, with a slit on the side defining her long slender legs. It was her feel-good attire. She felt confident and smart in these clothes. It was going to be her day after all.
As she walked down the aisle with the pointed heels of her shiny stilettos clicking on the floor she noticed a lot of people staring at her from behind their workstations. She smiled to herself. Some perks of dressing up! She quickly settled in her cubicle, fished out her laptop and walked towards her boss, Ashish’s cabin. Ashish Tiwari, the vice-president of operations, was middle-aged, balding and had a bulging belly that spoke about his erratic lifestyle. Shakti knocked softly on his door and walked in wishing him a good morning. He nodded without looking up from the screen of his monitor. The cabin reeked of stale cigarette stench. She noted that he had skipped shaving this morning. Grey stubble dotted his double chin.
She fidgeted for a while before mumbling hesitantly to break the uncomfortable silence, ” Ashish, would you like to see the presentation before I present it?”
He now looks up, first at her face and then down to the length of her attire, scanning her briefly before he quickly averts his gaze back to what he was working on pretending to be engrossed in some excel sheet. She smoothens her shirt a tad self-consciously. “Mail the presentation to me, Shakti. I’ll have a look when I can,” he says, dismissing her hastily.
What’s wrong with him today? She wonders. Why is he acting awkward? She checks her reflection in the glass of the cabin as she walks out. Was there something amiss? Had one of her shirt buttons popped open by mistake? No. Everything seemed okay. She looked decent and ready for the presentation which was due to start in an hour.
The phone on her desk rang. It was Snigdha, the HR manager on the line. “Hey, Shakti! Morning. Can I see you for a minute?” Shakti walked into Snighda’s cabin. Two mugs of steaming coffees awaited her. Snighda flashed her the warmest of smiles. “I called for your coffee, just the way you like it,” she gushed as though she was expecting an old friend. After a friendly inquiry on how her weekend was, Snighda cleared her throat. “Look Shakti, there’s been a feedback from Ashish. Although I understand both the perspectives, I thought it would be better if I brought it to your notice.”
Shakti’s eyes widen. What was it? Had it been a blunder that she had made in her recent projects? No, couldn’t be. She was meticulous to the point of perfection. Was it the leave that she had requested for? But that was her long overdue leave and she had to take it since it was her cousin’s wedding. As she tried to guess, Snighda went on to say, “Hey, relax. He has no issues with your work. Rather he considers you an invaluable resource. But it is actually with regards to what you’re wearing today.” Shakti goes blank for a moment hoping that she heard it wrong. “What I’m wearing? These are a pair of decent formal clothes that are specifically meant for office-wear. What’s wrong with them?” Shakti looks down at her clothes, puzzled. “Well, you knew you had a presentation today and the clients you are presenting to are old school in their thinking,” remarked Snighda. “Showing skin might just distract the clients from the presentation. Ashish has expressed his disapproval to this kind of dressing. It would help if you could keep this in mind in future.”
Shakti eyed Snighda’s exposed midriff from under the modest sari she was draped in. “But Snighda, we are a progressive company. On one hand, we say we do not believe in hierarchies, encourage freedom of thought and open-mindedness. And, on the other hand, this. What double standards! Ridiculous,” fumed Shakti. Snighda was nodding away as her stylish short hair shook dramatically. “I know where you’re coming from, Shakti. But at times you need to be an adaptable team player, being open to feedback. It would just make working together so much easier for everyone.” Shakti shakes her head. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. As long as I am decently dressed in a manner that I wish to present myself in and my work is up to mark, how is it anybody’s business to tell me what to wear? The presentation is of my work and not of me. The HR policy says that four days a week the dress code is formal wear and smart casuals on Fridays. Today is Tuesday and I am in formal wear which is not offensive in any way. So, where am I wrong?” Snighda opens her mouth to say something but Shakti has stood up. “There’s only so much I can change for a company, Snighda. Thank you very much,” On that note, she walks out.
The presentation begins. Shakti double-checks her clothes in the ladies room to reaffirm her belief that what she was wearing was perfect. The Guptas walk into the conference room. They are old valued clients of the company. Ashish greets them with handshakes and ushers them to their seats. Ashish does not bother to give time for Shakti to greet them properly and commands her to start the presentation. However, Anuraag Gupta and Abhishek Gupta smile politely at Shakti as she begins her presentation. They have briefly met in the past while working on other projects.
The presentation goes well. Shakti is sharp and to the point. She answers all the queries with professional tact. She notices Ashish checking her out from top to bottom from the corner of her eyes. After a moment of disgusted discomfort, she shifts her attention to her impressed audience of clients. They were all praises for her. “Ashish, you sure have a bright young woman here! I mean, look at her ideas. So innovative yet so well researched on,” remarked Anuraag Gupta, the senior-most member of the Gupta clan. “Well done, young lady!” Ashish squirmed a bit in his chair as he quickly added, “Shakti sure takes inputs and feedback well. I also have a couple of other ideas that she will present at our next meeting.” Shakti raised an eyebrow and looked away. Bloody credit hogger! Not one idea in the presentation was his. He had not even bothered to check the presentation that she had mailed him. After all, he was more concerned about her clothes than her work. And thankfully, despite being old school the Guptas did not once bother a glance at what she wore. They were genuinely interested in what she was presenting.
As she stepped out of the conference room, the younger one of the Guptas, Abhishek Gupta paced up to her. “Hey, Shakti,” he called out as she stopped to let him join her. “I want to ask you something. This is slightly unethical and wrongly timed at the wrong place too, but well, after this superb presentation I cannot resist asking you if you would be interested in joining our company?” he tossed the question at her throwing her off-guard. Sure, it was unethical to be poached by a client but not as unethical as forbidding someone to live by their choices. Shakti smiled at him. “Sure, I would love to. But before this goes anywhere I have a question.” Abhishek nodded indicating her to continue. What she asked him left him baffled.
“Does your company have a dress code?”
hehe.. loved the build up and the final drop. It is sad though, isn’t it that this is exactly what 1000s of women go through today even in the modern workplace. I am not talking mindsets of villagers in rural India but young educated Indians in metros today… they still see women like this at the workplace. Change of scene but mindset is still the same.
Roshan Radhakrishnan recently posted…A Single Candle in the Darkness #DearZindagi
Thanks, Roshan. Yes, this is very real. It happens in our so-called educated society all the times. I prefer to call the offenders as educated illiterates. Wonder when women will stop being judged basis their appearance and choices.
It’s amazing, isn’t it, how more than a woman’s work ethic it’s her clothing that’s under scrutiny – especially if it’s western wear. While a man can get away with dirty stubble and an unkempt look. Very well written piece!
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Absolutely, men can get away with anything. A shabby appearance can cover up for his seniority and powers. But for a woman it is a constant struggle even being at top positions to prove herself in many ways besides her achievements at work, by confirming to the so-called social standards set by a bunch of closed minded people.
Superb. I’m glad she asked that question. More power to her! 😀
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Yes, Shantala, a lot of us need to be assertive in such situations to empower ourselves with the freedom of choice.
Very nicely said Vinodini. I dont know what to say but this is a stark reality in the corporate world.
Thanks, Ramya. This series of blog posts is based on real life issues that women face in today’s world.
The problem is in one’s perspective, not in lifestyle choices. Even Shakti has flaws, she judged Ashish for his stubble, double chin and bald patch, but he must be good in his work that’s why he is her boss. He did not lectured Shakti on her clothing choice straightaway, instead he went through a formal procedure. I can’t comment why he is checking out her during presentation, but he might be worried how clients will react or he is really checking her out.
Dress code is great and at same time, they are not. It depends on your work and company culture as dress code brings equality among the co-workers and sense of non-competitiveness and in some case, it crash all excitment work offers.
Hemu recently posted…Stop Being Politically Correct
The problem definitely is in the perspective of men like you who keep covering up the faults of men like Ashish. While I admit that not everyone is flawless, including Shakti, the flaws that you have pointed out in her are baseless. Noticing someone’s shabbiness is in no way a flaw. If Shakti would have reacted to his shabbiness in a humiliating manner then it would have been a flaw. In today’s world someone’s seniority does not always indicate that he is good at his work. People also climb ladders by various other unscrupulous means. By hogging someone’s else’s share of credit, for example, exactly the way Ashish did at the end of Shakti’s presentation.
Ashish’s following the company’s formal procedure of routing his feedback through HR can also been seen as cowardice on his part. Ideally, he should have been a part of the meeting with HR had he been justified in his feedback. These are signs of an escapist.
A dress code surely is to create a sense of equality, but I feel that equality makes sense in front-end profiles to create equality and an ease in identifying the staff. A back-end profile sure needs some basic outlines for dressing to maintain decorum which also includes basic grooming like shaving (which Ashish was excused of) but when it is defined as formal wear, who decides that a sari is a modest way to dress formally than a skirt. Both attires show some amount of skin, which really should not matter. What matters is what your work is all about. I fail to understand why a sense of competitiveness, as you put it, should be curbed by dictating people on what to wear. After all healthy competition is a requisite for a challenging work environment.
And last but not the least, Ashish did not need to check out Shakti from top to bottom if he was really concerned on what his clients were thinking. If his intentions were straight he would have handled the clients regarding those “concerns.”
I hope I’ve been able to gauge the correct context of your words inspite of the faulty grammar that you’ve used here. I urge you to change your outlook towards women else tomorrow it could be your daughter or sister facing the trauma of living in a society that refuses to look beyond a woman’s body and hold her responsible for their sick perspective.
Thanks for pointing out my faulty grammar. And I am working on it.
Let me clear few things that I have said, and I believe you got it all wrong. As I said, the problem is in the perspective, so by this, you need to understand that I am not talking about my perspective but an anonymous perspective or society’s perspective. Moreover, I also said, the problem is not in the lifestyle choices, so by this, you can understand I have no problem with anyone’s clothing.
Ashish is not an out of worldly character that you cannot find one like him in your office. My manager is somewhat like Ashish in his early 40s with a bald patch. He was a proofreader and worked his way up through the company to become the manager. Though he is also a credit hog, but he hold the expertise in his field. The problem with these men that they resist change and new ideas. They only work in a traditional environment. They also have faced such bedevilments when they first started but they don’t know when they become devil (credit hog) from unfortunate workers.
Yes, you are right about his escapist nature but one cannot blame him for that. It is our mentality to ditch uncomfortable talk because one doesn’t want to hurt his/her ego. So they opt for an alternative medium.
I already said it in my earlier comment that I am not clear why Ashish is looking at Shakti in such odd way. May be it is the first time, he has seen her in western outfit, and it left him in shock or he is simply perverted person. The thing was not clear to me. Maybe because I have not read about Shakti or it is my lack of understanding.
Let me come to the point of non-competiveness through dress code, as I said dress code depends on the work culture of the company, so with non-competiveness, I meant with pros of dress code. In addition, not every company imposes a dress code, while some have lenient dress code and others have strict.
Now come to the point of skin. Unfortunately I don’t have a sister and daughter but I have mother. Mother used to wear Punjabi suits before the marriage but after marriage my grandmother and her mother-in-law instructed her to wear sari. So, to avoid any conflict with her, my mother started wearing sari. Interestingly, Punjabi suits don’t show much skin, but my grandmother instructed her to wear sari. So it is all about perspective not sari, suits or skirt. My grandmother used to think, it is absurd to wear to suits, even when they don’t show any skin. Now, it is all cool, even my grandmother wears Patiala suits. We cannot change one’s perspective until we get rid of the absurdity behind one’s choices. And that’s it.
Hemu recently posted…Stop Being Politically Correct
Great to know that you’re working on your grammar. It would help you put your point across effectively. If you’re talking about perspective it is something everyone needs to work on if they call themselves progressive no matter where they have come from or what their experiences have been. Respecting somebody’s choices is a perspective everyone needs to cultivate to be in sync with the developing world. You can’t have double standards there.Instead of pointing out superfluous flaws in a woman and find reasoning in a the man’s faulty attitude you could have read it from a neutral perspective without being gender biased. Your mother’s generation is much different from the current one. In those times women preferred to keep peace rather than express their need for freedom of choice. The current generation like Shakti needs to change that with changing times. And, if the right kind of men support them without finding irrational flaws in them the world would be a much better place.
The mindset is what makes the difference. Judging people, mainly women, by what they wear, instead of what they are capable of, is sick. These are the same people who commit crimes against women and justify it by attributing it to their clothes. Why just men, even women do it against fellow women!
Shubhangi @ Ground Coffee Bean
I agree, Shubhangi. The HR manager is a perfect example of a woman trying to suppress another woman.
By the way, did I tell you I loved your “many moods” banner? it’s awesome!!
SHUBHANGI SRIKANTH recently posted…Taming the Monkey Mind -Being Aware
Hey,thanks Shubhangi. Glad you like it. ?
Sad reality of the corporate world. Have seen it coming from so called well educated people in progressive companies. Wonder what would be the situation in babu companies!
Yes, I wonder about the babu companies too, Shilpa. But I guess, the question of double standards doesn’t come up there, since you know what to expect. It’s the progressive lot of corporates who astonish you with their narrow-minded attitudes in such situations.
Beautifully written and it’s true not only in a corporate workplace, but more so in the Government. Most female colleagues complain that they are stifled by unofficial dress codes.
Thank you, Santosh. The dress code somehow gets heavy on women as opposed to men. I see so many men at good positions in government and other organizations who turn up to work in a unkempt condition chewing gutka or stinking of cigarettes. These things are often ignored conveniently, whereas what a woman wears becomes more of a concern.
That was a powerful post! We need more women like her. Sadly even in metros, some workplaces are better suited for the dark ages.
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Thanks, Preethi. Unfortunately, yes, the metros in India are no better. And, worse still most women do get submissive to such closed mindedness just to fit in.
Very well written story which speaks the heart of modern girl of today who works for MNC .
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Thank you, Dipika. Glad you like it.
Ooh, love that unexpected and climactic ending! Though I wish I ‘heard’ the ending! 😉 I have been looked up and down by a female superior at work upon initial connection each day that she would see me. It is frustrating and intimidating at times to be judged by one’s style of dress, and in particular by men. I find there is usually a double standard as you alluded to in your story. By the way, what does MNC stand for? 😉 <3
Thanks, Elly. Aren’t we women judged at some point or the other for our dressing? I hope you could tackle your superior to discourage her judgemental scanning of your clothes. Sometimes, women are the ones who do it to women. It’s ridiculous, really! An MNC is a short form for a multi national company.
Am sure he was perplexed, I can imagine his facial expression I would love to read the end of the story, nice post thanks for sharing
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