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“We’re in the business of innovation,” she said, “yet we cling to outdated notions that long hours equal hard work. I refuse to accept that. And I believe we all deserve better.”
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Kanika sat, back straight, eyes fixed on her computer screen, fingers flying over the keyboard in a quiet cubicle in Bengaluru’s towering tech park. Around her, a sea of similar cubicles filled with men who seemed to wear their stubble as a badge of their overtime hours.
“Kanika,” Her supervisor Rajan’s voice sliced through her concentration, “we’re pushing for a major update by next Friday.”
She turned, offering a polite nod, “I’ll manage it within the regular work hours, sir.”
Rajan’s smile was thin, unconvincing, “Let’s aim to exceed expectations, shall we?”
The unsaid hung heavy between them as he walked away.
As dusk fell, Kanika’s colleagues began their nightly ritual of stretching, coffee refills, and settling back into their chairs. Kanika shut down her system, her tasks for the day complete.
“Leaving already?” A voice laced with mock surprise cut through the air.
“Day’s not over, Kanika. Dedication means burning the midnight oil,” said Rajan, his words a common refrain in this high-rise chamber of the city’s most prestigious tech firm.
“I’ve finished my part,” Kanika replied, her voice steady, “The project’s on schedule.”
A snicker traveled from the back, “Sure, but we stay. We show commitment.”
It wasn’t a policy, just an unspoken rule: the later you stayed, the more you cared.
Rajan held up his hand, “Family waiting?”
She nodded. Her little girl, Tanya, had an art competition at school. A moment not to miss.
“Work is also your family, Kanika,” Rajan said pointedly.
Kanika gathered her things, the weight of a hundred stares upon her. The whispers were feathers and stones, fleeting yet heavy.
Outside, the sky blushed as the sun dipped. Kanika’s heart raced. She wouldn’t miss Tanya’s art competition. Not this time.
“My work for today is done,” Kanika replied, her tone even.
At home, her world transformed. Her mother needed her care, hands trembling with Parkinson’s, and her daughter, Tanya, awaited her stories and her warmth. They were her reasons, her life beyond the code and workplace.
The next day brought more of the same, Rajan’s pointed looks, her colleagues’ whispers. “Kanika, the team often stays late; it reflects commitment,” Rajan remarked during a meeting.
“I am committed to my work here and at home,” she countered, voice steady despite the racing of her heart.
“Sometimes, commitment means extra hours,” he retorted.
“My commitment is to both my work and my family. Shouldn’t that be the norm?”
A murmur of agreement began to swell.
Rajan’s authority wavered, “But the extra hours—”
“Are extra,” Kanika finished, “Not a measure of my dedication.”
Kanika’s life was a balancing act, but the scales were tipped unfairly against her. She worked through lunches, her efficiency unmatched, yet it was the empty hours after sunset that seemed to measure dedication in her manager’s eyes.
Her resilience waned as the pattern continued, the comments growing sharper, the glares colder. Then came the day that broke her silence. “Kanika, this behavior might hinder your career,” Rajan warned after summoning her to his office.
“Sir, should I apologize for efficiently managing my tasks? For being there for my family?” Her voice, usually soft, grew firm.
“You know, Kanika,” chided Varun, one of the senior developers, during a team lunch, “clients don’t care about your ‘personal time’. They want commitment.”
“Commitment isn’t measured by overtime,” Kanika retorted, her fork paused mid-air. “It’s measured by the work done during the committed hours.”
Laughter erupted around the table, a harsh symphony that seemed to mock the very principles she stood for.
“Try telling that to the boss,” Varun smirked, his words an echo of the larger sentiment.
The turning point came when a prestigious project was announced. It was the kind of project that could accelerate careers, and Kanika’s expertise made her a natural choice. Yet, when the team was announced, her name was conspicuously absent.
Confusion furrowed her brow as she knocked on the door of Rajan, the Project Manager.
“You wanted to see me?” Kanika inquired, stepping into the office lined with accolades that felt as distant as her name from the project list.
“Yes, Kanika. Take a seat,” Rajan gestured, his hands clasped together as if holding the weight of his words. “See, you’re not on the project because it requires… how do I put it? More time than you’re willing to give.”
“My work has never suffered from my work-life balance,” Kanika defended.
“It’s not about suffering, it’s about sacrifice,” Mr. Rajan replied, his words striking like a gavel, sealing her fate.
Kanika’s eyes held a fire that hadn’t been there before. “Sacrifice? I work as hard as anyone here. But I won’t normalize a culture that equates exhaustion with excellence.”
Rajan’s face remained unmoved, as if cast from the very glass that adorned the building.
“This is the industry standard,” he said.
“This standard is unfair and outdated,” she replied. “I stand by my quality of work, not the quantity of hours spent in an office chair.”
The discussion ended with pleasantries as empty as the chair that should have held her place in the project room.
Word of the conversation spread like a monsoon storm, and whispers swirled around Kanika like leaves in the wind. She could sense the change in the air, the shift in glances, the hushed tones that fell silent as she passed.
But instead of bowing her head to the tempest, Kanika chose to face it. She called for a meeting, a gathering of minds and hearts in the conference room that smelled of instant coffee and unspoken truths.
“I’ve called you all here not to defend my work ethic, but to challenge a toxic idea,” Kanika began, her voice steady as the foundations of the building.
The room was still, her colleagues’ eyes locked onto hers, a silent audience to her soliloquy.
“We’re in the business of innovation,” she continued, “yet we cling to outdated notions that long hours equal hard work. I refuse to accept that. And I believe we all deserve better.”
Her words were met with silence, a contemplative hush that was soon broken by a lone clap from the back. It was Priya, the HR representative, her applause a lone ray of light that soon ignited others.
The meeting ended not with solutions, but with questions, the kind that lingered in the air long after the room had emptied.
Kanika’s stand didn’t dismantle the walls of gender norms overnight, nor did it change the mind of every colleague. But it planted seeds of change, little pockets of thought that grew with each passing day, each clocked-out hour.
Her stand made ripples that turned into waves, and though Kanika Sharma wasn’t on the prestigious project, her legacy was something far greater. She was the light that guided TechSavvy Solutions towards a harbor where the worth of work wasn’t measured by the clock, but by the integrity and passion infused into every line of code. And in that truth, Kanika found not just victory, but vindication.
Change was slow, like the seasons. But Kanika held her ground.
A year later, Rajan retired. The new supervisor, Mrs. Joshi, called her first meeting.
“Our policy is changing. Family is important. Your time is valuable. Work within work hours, live outside them,” Joshi announced.
Kanika felt the tide turn, a current of fresh thoughts washing over old mindsets.
The office clock struck six, and for the first time, it wasn’t a signal to stay but a reminder that there was life after work.
Tanya, Kanika’s little daughter’s drawings now had a figure who was always there — ‘Mommy’.
I am a photographer and an avid reader. I am not a writer but I like to give words to my emotions. I love to cook and hike. I believe in humor and its impact read more...
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