Two Female Managers Taught Me That Empathy Is Not Gender Specific At All

Posted: September 13, 2018

For women to be truly liberated, it will take a joint effort – where women have empathy for each others’ struggles and will genuinely root for each other to win. 

I was just 20 years old when I entered the glamorous corporate world. I remember how everyone I knew was so excited about my new assignment as an HR executive on a contract in one of the biggest FMCG companies in India.

I was happy that I had a female Manager to report into. Actually I had a severe problem with my periods. At that age, I used to have irregular periods and it never used to come on a fixed date, usually getting delayed by 5-10 days. My PMS used to start 10 days before my periods and I used to have a bloated abdomen, swelling on my face and hands, weight gain, fatigue, cramps in legs and back, irritability and indigestion. On period days, due to severe indigestion, I couldn’t even gulp a single drop of water. If I had eaten something, I used to get that food out by putting my fingers in my throat and purging, causing excessive pressure on my intestines. Gradually my BP used to go down to an extent that I would start feeling faint.

Sweating and howling for two days was a normal process for me after which I used to feel light as a feather. Now if we calculate and sum up, I had only 10-12 days in a month when I used to feel good about life. The rest of the month used to be frightful. But since it was hereditary and I was told that it would diminish with age, I had to choose to dare and move out for all important things which one needs to do. So I never compromised on my school work, college and work.

This was the reason that having a Female manager in my job was the only solace for me.

When my periods struck that day

It was Thursday and my manager was on a visit to office at a different location. Our VP HR who also was a woman, was there in office. I rarely used to talk to her as I was nervous about her no-nonsense demeanour.  However I had a lot of admiration for her.

It was afternoon and I got my periods that day. I could have taken a leave but couldn’t as my periods never came on fixed dates. It was 2 o’ clock when it started. I just had lunch and could feel my oesophagus pumping out the food out because of the indigestion.

I rushed to the wash room and put my fingers in my mouth to throw up. I was fainting, sweating and started cramping too. I took some pain killer and tried to manage with a cup of coffee. One of my colleagues was helping me out and advised me to seek a half day leave from our VP-HR. For the first time ever, I had to enter her cabin and speak to her. I had no other option so I did. I opened the door and the moment she looked at me, I couldn’t speak and tears rolled out of my eyes.

She was shocked to see me in that state and on her asking me the reason, I explained to her my problem. She immediately arranged a cab for me and asked me to leave for the day. It was really nice of her and my admiration for her grew even more.

Empathy is not automatic, with gender

My manager came to the office the next day. When I greeted her, she replied to me very curtly. I assumed that she was not in a good mood. However, since she was a very soft spoken and gentle lady in general, I asked her if she was ok. I had just completed the question when she very unsympathetically asked me as to why did I not divulge my periods problem in the interview. I was a little shocked by her question and really got confused whether I had to share this information in all interviews in the future. I simply asked her, whether she would have rejected me if I had told her about my pains. She admitted that she would have never ever taken such people on board who have such problems every month as that causes work to suffer. She also indicated that I had tried to violate protocol by getting a halfday leave from the VP – HR directly.

It was a state of cognitive dissonance. I understood that until then, I had believed empathy to be gender specific whereas the evidence in the situation was totally contradictory. I understood that empathy is related to an individual value system. My heart was broken that day when all my colleagues who had seen me suffering the last day came to see how I was while my Manager was looking at me disdainfully. I never understood how a woman could be so insensitive.

Luckily, my contract was over and I made a move outside that organisation but this incident has made me ponder now that while we talk so much about women’s problems, and their liberation, the one thing which would add a cherry on the cake would be empathy for a woman, from another woman. If that is not there, even if we touch the skies, it would be worthless and it would not last for long either.

I am happy that some such situations in my career have also taught me how I would not like to be.

Image via Canva

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