This is my mom, breaking the bias back in 2003 as the only woman,
and woman of colour, in this group
Happy International Women’s Day!
On this global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, I want to share with all of you, some inspiration from my mom.
I came across this photo from back in 2003 of the Agincourt Chess Club. As you can see, my mom is the only woman in that room, and the only woman of colour. But her smile shines bright as she pops her head to the side, to pose for the group photo.
My mom has always been my first source of inspiration, teaching by example that as a woman, no boundaries, barriers or biases need to hold me back.
This photo is proof of how she has always lived by this motto.
She loves playing chess for example. So it didn’t matter that no one else in the room looked like her. She went to that club every weekend, got to know everyone there, and she always thoroughly enjoyed herself.
This year’s IWD theme is #BreakTheBias. Well, my mom has been breaking the bias around her for as long as I can remember.
Growing up, I watched her walk into every room she entered with a deeply-rooted belief that she BELONGED there because she wanted to be there, no matter what anyone else said.
Through her actions, I learned that I could empower myself in the same way, and that if I believed in myself right down to my core, others would pick up on my vibes and follow suit. To me, it’s just like when one person sees another yawning, they start to yawn as well.
And time and time again, I have discovered and re-discovered this principle to be true.
Take for instance, that time over a decade ago, when I traveled to Vancouver with my 5-month old son and my nanny, for a major public relations (PR) pitch to a mining company. I entered a room full of board members – all cowboy boots-wearing Caucasian men, with greying hair, all likely in their 60s in my eyes. As someone in my early 30s at the time – the only woman, and the only woman of colour, I had a “who am I to be here?” moment.
Have you ever experienced one of those?
Looking around the room, I was thinking: These guys must make multi-million dollar deals just at breakfast alone – forget the rest of the day! They are veterans of the mining industry, working with various levels of government on international projects. Who am I to tell them what to do? I’m just an Indian girl from Toronto who loves PR.
I had forgotten in that millisecond, that my employer, Canada’s most-awarded, hottest integrated advertising agency at the time (that is also part of a multinational network), had believed in me enough, to send me into this pitch. They trusted me to give a solo presentation on PR strategies that would benefit this mining company.
This agency was also so ahead of its time, that they agreed to cover the costs for my baby and my nanny to accompany me to Vancouver, because as a mom, I said didn’t want to spend several precious days away from my infant son for business travel.
My temporary lapse in this who-am-I-to-be-here? moment quickly dissipated when my mom’s way of being popped back into my head. I realize now that her influence allowed this empowerment to become my way of being too. It prompted me to recalibrate my thoughts:
Wait a minute…these men may know mining like the back of their hands. They may be miles ahead on their business journey, compared to where I am today. But they don’t know PR, the way I know PR. I’ve made it my business to know this discipline inside and out. I’ve put my heart and soul into this work, and I know what I am doing. Ergo: I BELONG in this room! What I have to say today will help this company in a big way. It will impact their future projects, and I get to be a part of that. Bring it on!
Those men in that boardroom welcomed me with open arms that day, and showed me great respect for the expertise that I brought to their table.
And we won the business from that presentation that day.
I’m proud to say our team produced some great award-winning work for that mining company in the years that followed.
Incidentally, that pivotal meeting was also the catalyst that led me to becoming that agency’s next vice-president in their PR division. But that is a story for another day.
This photo I’m sharing with you today reflects how my mom inspired me to break my own bias that day. It is a bias that our social constructs have built up around too many women, teaching them to put themselves last by default – to be humble at the sacrifice of confidence.
While we still have much work to do in this movement for equality, today, I’m celebrating my bias-breaking moment in reflection, all inspired by my mom. <3