How To Succeed At Work If You Are Not A Man? WION Anchor Palki Sharma Tells Us

It's a well known fact that women have to work harder to be even considered anywhere equal to men, they are paid less for the same work, and of course, they can never expect the same respect. Right?

Are women judged more harshly at work than men? Does a woman’s appearance and demeanor cause her more damage than good at the workplace? What exactly is the right way to be a woman at work?

You must have seen the recent interview video clip of journalist Palki Sharma, who has been a news reporter for the past two decades. In the interview, Palki talks about the sexism she has faced throughout her career.

Now, Palki comes from a visual, glamourous industry and and her challenges may be different from say someone like me who works in a corporate. Or not! If we pause and think, women in any profession are judged by their appearance, personality and character. From looks and attire to personal characteristics and choices, is there any right way of being a woman at work?

Bindi or Blazer? What should you wear?

I remember a corporate training at my first job where a female instructor was talking to us about dresscode. It was a multinational firm and very strict about wearing formals.  The instructor told us that men should not get creative with shirt colours unless they want to be the known as the Govinda of office. Women on the hand, could wear colorful tops and need not restrict themselves to the blues and the whites and the blacks. She encouraged us to put on makeup and added that we should touch up our makeup and hair during the day so that we don’t look end up like Monjulika by EOD! She said that bindi goes well with Indian wear, however it should be avoided with western wear. She warned us that the more skin we show, the lesser respect we get so we should measure the length of our skirts by standing straight with our arms to our sides, and if the skirt falls above our hands then the skirt is too short!

Phew! So many rules!  No wonder it is easy to go wrong.

“A lot of these rules apply only to women”, says Palki as she and journalist Smita Prakash discuss about how women’s attire is always a topic of discussion. They said that wearing jhumka with a jacket was ridiculed.

“Just focus on the content”, Smita adds.

But do people focus on women’s merit?

I remember a time in my previous workplace when a male person was hired for a senior executive role, for which an existing female employee was a much better fit (according to me and many others who were expecting her to get a promotion). The new hire came as a shock.  It became the gossip over tea and walks.

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I talked to few men, both at senior and relatively not so senior levels. One guy said that at that level “presentation” was more important and that lady was not fit to lead a multinational because she only wore salwar suits and didn’t pay much attention to her looks!

It reminded me of a previous job when a female HR employee told me that I should not wear a churidar kurta on the first day because they wanted a “formal look”! “Chudridar kurta is formal!” I said. “This is India!” I wanted to add but refrained. She got annoyed and repeated that for the first day they wanted a “proper formal” look. After that I could wear my churidars!!

But the problem is – when woman do dress up especially in westerns , then also they are thought to be too much into their looks and therefore dumb! If they do not dress up well, they are considered behenjis and non presentable.

Bitch or Docile – Which one are you?

There would be a 100 trainings on Youtube and Linkedin on how to be assertive without being aggressive. I have heard of male employees being applauded for sticking to their ground in meetings. However, women seniors are considered “rude” “arrogant” and “aggressive” by male employees at the drop of a hat! Of course, nobody should be rude, man or woman.  But are women really arrogant or are men automatically offended at the thought of taking instructions from a woman?

Another employee even went to the extent of saying that female bosses are very mean, and it is probably because they fought with their husbands and are “frustrated”. A female employee said matter-of-factly that women’s “mood swings” and temperament said it could be due to PMS!

Has so much analysis ever been done for men?

At the end of the spectrum are women who are rather soft-spoken. We must love them then at least?

Apparently not!  Such women are considered too weak and submissive to head a team. Incapable of managing a team, negotiating with clients and getting the work done!

Ever since I was a child, I have heard the term, “unassuming” as a compliment for men.  Initially I did not know the meaning.  But I distinctly remember the men for whom these compliments were used. In a nutshell, they were not loud, calm, gentle, and made a lot of money!

I later understood this was a way to describe men who were successful and non arrogant! Unfortunately, women are not described as unassuming.  It is easier to put them in those two fixed buckets – arrogant or useless!

Promoted? Are you pretty or slutty?

When there is a gossip around women missing a promotion, why shouldn’t there be gossip when they actually get a promotion! Every time a woman gets promoted, there are hushed talks about whether she actually deserved it or was it because the boss liked her too much. Women do not spare other women from the judgment either.

Moreover, Bollywood paints a very unrealistic picture of women in the corporate. While the average working woman slogs hard at work, Bollywood conveniently shows women having affairs and “sleeping” their way to the top.

Those who do “Carobar” get promoted faster – says Palki

Palki Sharma mentioned that people who do ‘Carobar” get promoted faster.  “Carobar” is a ritual where the journalists take their glasses to the roof of their cars and drink once their shift ends and talk and gossip. She said that she was not interested in it.

When I was an intern, I avoided drinking at office parties. But then there was always that question, “Why don’t you drink?”. This was followed by conversations that involved words of wisdom – “nothing will happen”, “try”, “just one drink” “networking” “socializing” “team event” etc.  Over time, it became easier to drink than to stand out by not drinking!

I remember another office party at my previous company when I had a drink and as per office rules a male colleague had to drop me home. It was many months later that I heard from a girl who was not even in the party that I was totally sloshed during that party!

I found it ridiculous as I had just one drink. But it was later that I realized that a glass in the hand is enough spark to make a hot story!

Interestingly, every time I have attended an office party, I have almost always heard stories of some woman being “totally sloshed”. Now, my recollection of the alleged drunk woman has been tipsy but still in her senses.  However , I have always heard male colleagues describe the state of women in a more entertaining and exaggerated way.

“Men still get the wrong message a lot of times.” Says Palki. “And if my choice is between appearing a little snobbish and reserved, and appearing too open and friendly then I’d take the first one.” .

Non-verbal sexual harrassment – “How do you even quantify that” – demands Palki

Palki spoke about “predators in the newsroom”.  She narrated this one incident wherein a politician did not respond when he was being asked for tea / coffee because he kept staring at her! How would she even raise a concern for that, she asked.

She talked another reporter who was told that “her lines have to be tighter than her jeans”. Palki also narrated a time when she announced her pregnancy and she was told her to get back to shape after her maternity break, even before she was congratulated!

How should you conduct yourself?

So ladies, how should we conduct ourselves at work? What is the right way?

Being a woman at work is a delicate balance of a lot of things and you need to be the right amount of everything, not less not more. Anything excessive is bad, remember?

So, hope you took notes while reading this article.

Moral of the story – The right way of being a woman at work is by being a man!

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About the Author


I like to write about the problems that have plagued the Indian society. I feel that the concept of gender equality is still alien , and that has been the focus of my articles and posts. read more...

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