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What I Wish I Could Have Told My Younger Self

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Don’t Listen To Me, But Please, Hear Me Out. #10

I’m so proud, because this is my 10th blog since the lockdown in April.  To commemorate this happy milestone, I thought I’d write something personal instead of stocks and graphs.

A witty friend recently tweeted about Superpowers.

What Are Your Superpowers?

I replied that I’d wipe out all inequality in the world.

Thank you, I’ll take my “Ms. World” crown now please.

However, if I could have one more superpower, I’d go back in time and hug my younger self. I’d give her all the love I have and tell her she is a hero and she did her very best.

I am the first woman in my family to have a complete education and a career. I have faced an uphill battle since I was 12 years old; first to get an education and later on to be accepted as a professional woman who loves her job. 

I was taunted often and sniggered at: “Who do you think you are? You think you will be an engineer?”

Or, “What is the point of you getting an education?  You have to get married and take care of your husband and kids. It’s so wasteful to take a job from a deserving man.” 

I put so much pressure on myself. Working much harder than my cohorts on everything. I would not let the naysayers in my community win and say my education and my dreams were not deserving. My parents are amazing, for they supported me at great odds.

Instead of 1 undergraduate degree in 4 years, I got 2 degrees, a BA in Math and a BSc in Computer Science, in 3.5 years. I graduated with honors. I would not fail, I’d prove that women are not just equal, but perhaps even more capable. My heart literally aches for this young woman, because she was so alone; she had no one to mentor her. She didn’t have a guide who could relate to her circumstances; she had to chart her own course with no precedence. 

After my MBA, I started out as a Management Consultant in the USA. Over the past 25 years, I have enjoyed great success and learned from crushing defeats. There are many things I wish I had spoken up about during my career, here is one of them. I hope it will help you in your careers.

How to “Period” at Work

There is absolutely nothing pleasant about getting your period. I don’t understand why we haven’t evolved out of it. Why can’t we have an on/off switch to turn on when we want to have babies and closed for business when we don’t want to?

Unfortunately, menstrual cycles are a fact of life. It is not an illness, or a disease. Oh, and by the way it is critical to the survival of our species.

Let me repeat that.

Periods are critical to the survival of our species.

So, Fudge You to all who say women will be treated differently at work if they are “allowed” to take time off during debilitating period cramps or messy, heavy flow days. 

Fudge You to all who refuse to hire women, because they may need a day or two off from work every month to manage their periods. 

I had terrible cramps and messy periods. On many occasions, I had to sneak out of the office, mortified that a colleague would see my suit that got accidental blood stains. Have you seen those sitcoms where someone in a hospital gown walk sideways against a wall so no one can see their posterior? Well, I’m a pro at the “dance like an Egyptian” walk. I’d pretend I was getting lunch and would drive all the way home, change and return hoping no one would notice that my outfit had changed. They probably thought, “Oh, What a Fashionista. I wonder if she has a date later.”

The worst thing is, I did not give myself a break even when I was a “Boss” running my own company. On one occasion, I returned to the office at 6 am in the morning so I could scrub my chair clean. How could I not show up to work, be the first one in the office? What example would I set for my employees? All the time I could hear the naysayers in my head, “See, a woman cannot be CEO. She needs repair services every month.”

This was even more stressful while working as a traveling consultant. We mostly worked at the client site. I’d fly early Monday morning, and return home very late on Thursdays.

Many client staff regarded us as overpaid contractors. You could not make any mistake lest you get fired. Moreover, the Big 5 consulting companies were highly competitive and always waiting to pounce at any opportunity your incompetence left open.

Working in a semi-hostile pressure cooker environment, I could not run out and go back to my hotel to change. Additionally, I didn’t have a car on site and there was no Uber back then.  I dreaded every time I got up from my seat petrified that I may have stained my clothes as well as the client’s furniture. Don’t even ask me about the long flights. I used to sit uncomfortably on my side, with my legs twisted underneath my hips like a pretzel. 

I wish I had the freedom to just say, “I will work from home today”, without worrying I would lose my job or that my actions would impact the future growth and prosperity of all women. But this is exactly what I believed. If I took a day off to manage my period in a safe environment, I might lose my job, lose the opportunity for a promotion or I might prove all those naysayers right, “women can’t hack it.” “See, I told you, she is smart, but she is a woman, we cannot rely on her to be available for critical meetings.”

Critical Policy Shifts

Today, I know better. So, when I started my own companies, I made a policy that everyone could work from home if and when they needed to. They did not need my permission to do this. All I asked in return was that they be available on the phone and/or that they were on top of their deliverables. I did not distinguish this between men or women. I do not need to micromanage all employees. Most of us want to be recognized, appreciated and treated as adult professionals. 

All the debate (see “Resources” at the bottom of the blog) about paid leave for period is just “hand-waving” to undermine women.

“The reason the concept of ‘menstrual leave’ is controversial is the broader context of the society we live in — a society characterized by huge gender inequalities, where women earn less, are perceived as less capable and, in particular when menstruating, are seen as ‘hysterical,’ not trustworthy and unfit for decision-making,” Winkler said.


“The bottom line is that productivity and loyalty and respect in a workplace is going to come from both employees and employers trying to do the right thing by one another,” she said. “I don’t accept the premise that this is a backwards step for women. I don’t accept the premise that it will mitigate negatively against women.”

Employer’s paid period leave policy in Australia stirs world debate

Today, no one needs to be 100% at work all the time. If you demand that of your employees, then you run an inefficient organization. Even manufacturing companies or retailers who need physical presence of employees can build slack into their operations model, to allow for a day or two off per month for each employee. Guess what else? If you provide a happy, respectful work environment, in general, your employees will not abuse the policy.

Our policy should be about the well-being of all humans, regardless of gender. For example, my brother suffers from terrible migraines. It’s a blinding pain accompanied by vomiting. Nothing but complete rest in a dark room helps him recover. Some suffer from mental illness or depression. If they need a day off to recoup, this should not be a major hindrance to a well-run organization.

Periods are not illnesses, however, the pain and mess some of us suffer is very real and can be just as debilitating as a migraine. Company policy does not need to specifically pick out women, just allow all employees a day off a month without question when they need it.  Problem solved. 

What I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self

I would tell all girls and women the following:

Fear Not. As women, our bodies are different and the needs for our wellbeing are different. Different does not mean weak, or inferior. Asking for what we need from our organizations, to manage our different needs while contributing to the success of our organizations should not put us at risk of losing the things we love and enjoy.

Be confident in your abilities and know that you bring great value to the organizations you support. You are not easily replaced. You deserve to take care of yourself. You most certainly should expect the organizations you work with to make your wellbeing a priority.

Speak Up. Asking for help does not make you a traitor to feminism or women’s progress. In fact, you would be a hero for elevating issues that are critical for 50% of the world and therefore by default, important for all. 

Take the time to be kind to yourself and do not put yourself under a lot of pressure to fulfill someone else’s antiquated ideas of your place in life or society. 

As I’ve grown older and more confident, I fearlessly ask for what I want and often get exactly what I need. You can too.

As always you can reach me on Twitter @saq3 or LinkedIn @Shaheeda Abdul Kader, or leave a message here.

Resources:

If you would like to learn more about how to support women’s health issues, may I suggest reviewing the resources listed here?

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Shaheeda Abdul Kader

After 25 years of working for corporations, being an entrepreneur and managing investments for my family, I now want to help others find their financial freedom