What are the biases I’ve faced as a result of my gender? I’ve thought about this at different stages of my life. While I’ve been fortunate to have a supportive and progressive family, very often I’ve pushed against the biases of the external world. When I was in college, it was about not being told what to wear. And to independently (and safely) travel anywhere, at any time of the day or night. To have the ability to make choices that seemed natural for men but seemed special for women.
Moving into the workplace gave me a different perspective. It was about having a voice. In the early parts of my career, I jostled for that. As my career progressed, I realized that neutralizing inherent biases wasn’t as simple or straightforward as just pushing women ahead blindly. It was about creating a space for equal opportunity. And giving them a platform to succeed.
Breaking the bias
As a founding member of Crayon, I had the platform – and an incredibly supportive co-founder in Suresh Shankar – to build a company that was gender neutral. And that meant working even harder to overcome biases that sometimes pulled women back.
For most women, life events are very often the inflection point of their careers. When you’re offered a promotion, that’s when you’re getting married. Or you’re ready to take on more responsibility, and you find out you’re going to have a baby. Or you’re looking after aged parents. How do we work through these to ensure that women still get equal opportunities?
When Crayon came into existence in 2012, I was a mother of young children myself and understood some of these challenges firsthand. When women have gone on breaks, we actively bring them back at Crayon. We ensure that they have the opportunity for growth in the areas they want to focus on. That’s what many women are looking for: the freedom to choose how they work and what they work on, and still be recognized for it. We now have women leaders like Pooja, Sujee, Devaki and Shobana, who we have supported through life events and who are now leading the growth at Crayon. And inspiring the next generation of young talent.
Every day is ‘bring your child to work’ day. One of our youngest Crayons was Bryan – aged 2. He would accompany his mother, Bella, a former Crayon, to work, whenever she had babysitting challenges. He stashed some of his toys in a cupboard and had some favorite uncles and aunties that he would visit at their desks! Even now, you will often find our lead data scientist Kanimozhi U’s daughter reading or drawing in one of the workspaces.
I strongly believe that removing biases doesn’t end with just supporting women.
It’s also about reaching out through the men of Crayon and impacting the women in their lives. We have many young men getting married and raising families. They deal with the same situations: should their wife quit and take care of the home, how do they handle childcare, etc. We actively encourage them to support their wife’s careers and do what we can from our end to help.
Our former HR lead, Johnson and his wife were at a crossroads. She got the opportunity to do a Ph.D. in Australia. Till then, she had put her career on hold for him, as he worked in Chennai. He really wanted to support her, but they had a small child and couldn’t figure out how they could make it work. This was well before Covid and the era of WFH. But we told him to go ahead and work remotely for us. And he did, for several years before he moved on from Crayon. We hope that actions like this have a ripple effect, changing attitudes.
Creating diversity in every function is also essential. When we were searching for a new head of HR, we were leaning towards male candidates. We already have an all-women team, and we wanted to bring in another perspective. A big part of removing biases is also including men who are empathetic and proactive about things that affect half the population!
Going beyond ingrained behaviors and expectations
Women are often raised/conditioned to behave a certain way. We often hold back in meetings, think twice before speaking up. And so, we need to take conscious steps to ensure that our women employees feel heard and seen. In a recent anonymous survey, a Crayon had shared her challenges about visibility on par with male colleagues and getting due credit for her work.
At the last Women@Crayon meeting, we took this as a real-life case study. Splitting into groups, each of us came up with practical solutions. We approached it from her perspective and what she could do. The issue resonated with many of us, who had faced similar issues over the course of our career in various organizations. We also discussed ways in which the company could systematically provide stronger support for women in such situations.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day asks us to, “Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.”
Have we got there yet? Possibly not. But I do believe we have made some progress down that road – at least in this community. Since its inception, Crayon has believed in a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. It’s part of our subconscious, a way of life. And it definitely goes well beyond March 8, every single year. And if each of us can be encouraged to break the bias in our spheres of influence, we can look forward to an equal world for our children, across all genders.
Read about Crayon’s culture and values journey for more insights from co-founder and COO Aarti Ramakrishnan.