This piece was written for an internal publication at work – it was published in May 2019.
I read an insightful article on LinkedIn about the importance of women having other strong women in their support network, to bounce ideas off, go to for advice and an honest opinion and pick you up when you’re down.
It got me thinking about my life, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women more generally and the backgrounds we’ve all come from. Of course we all have our own unique stories to tell, and I’d like to share my own experience with you.
I was the first child on both my mother’s and father’s side that attended an extremely prestigious university and became a lawyer. I was acutely aware of the cultural burden I was carrying on my shoulders to make something of myself and honour the sacrifices my parents had made to get me to this point and beyond; getting up at the crack of dawn to run a shop seven days a week so that we could all have an education without saddling ourselves with debt. My parents worked hard physically so that their children could have a future with more promise and opportunity. But it wasn’t all perfect.
As a BAME woman, there were lots of things I wasn’t taught and which didn’t come naturally. I didn’t know how to walk up to a senior partner and speak with confidence and aplomb about my achievements. I always batted away recognition with statements that underplayed my achievements. I didn’t know how to build a network, what was a network anyway? When you have these social do’s, what are you supposed to walk up to random people and say and why would they want to talk to me anyway? I kept my head down believing that hard work will pay its dividends later in life through promotions etc. I didn’t need to feign interest in what others did on a weekend or be a burden on anyone by asking too many questions.
waiting in the wings
Looking back, I now realise that the place this came from was a lack of acknowledgement of my own self-worth. I never allowed myself to enjoy the journey of learning or work; I was constantly trying to prove myself to my parents, my employers, everyone. I was always taught to strive – and I don’t disagree with ambition – but if you’re never taught to stop and take stock of everything you’ve achieved, your life will become a movie film directed by others; a film where you don’t have a voice.
As a BAME woman, I don’t think my traditional Gujarati culture and home life leant itself to promoting my inner greatness. It was all about academics and actual achievements; not about the nurturing of one’s inner self, promotion of contentedness and finding one’s purpose in life.
Like many BAME women, I had to balance caring responsibilities with my studies and other roles in the family and community. So what can we do to help each other? I’d say look around you. Are there skills you can see in others that you’d like to develop? Ask them for help; whether it’s mentoring you or a one off chat so you can start building a support system of empowered women around you.
The richness of their personal experiences and cultural heritage make BAME women such incredible and empathetic ambassadors and leaders. I’ve realised that I’m not defined by what I didn’t have growing up but by the paths I’ve chosen to take into the future.
I’m directing this movie. And it’s going to be amazing.