When I started my first “corporate job”, I had just graduated from high school and I started working as a summer student in a company. In our department, there were 3 South Asian female students and we were forever being called the other’s name. Being naive, I thought nothing of it, but was constantly confused as to why. Outside of being South Asian, we looked nothing a like. Our hair was different, our builds were different, our names were different, and yet..it seemed like we were interchangeable and for all intents and purposes, because we were students for the summer, there was no need for the regular staff to be able to distinguish us from each other. But we were young, and needed the job and experience and so, I just spent the summer correcting everyone, when an error was made about who I was. Because that is what your name is – an identifier for WHO YOU ARE!
Fast forward 20 plus years.
Now a partner at a mid size regional law firm, where at the end of my tenure, there were only 2 South Asian female lawyers, myself included. Again, the only thing we had in common was that we were South Asian and both of our names started with an “S”. I was at the firm for 13 years, and throughout my time there, I was provided the incorrect expense cheque for the other “S”, sent calendar invites meant for the other “S” and received calls for the other “S”. That was nothing compared to being called to my face, the other “S”‘s name, all of the time. At some point, after you try to laugh it off, you get angry. Yes angry is the word. Not annoyed or confused, but angry!
Can you really not tell us apart? It is 2017. Do all brown women look alike to you? Are we all interchangeable, even at the partnership level? Am I really making a big deal of a what is in your eyes, a minor mistake?
And that is why people are starting to push back right now on diversity, authenticity and feeling accepted, especially in the legal community. It means something, not to be seen. When you constantly confuse me for another South Asian woman, the message you are sending is that we are all the same. You do not need to take time know me. You do not need to identify who I am and what my worth is to your organization.
And thank goodness, I do not get my worth from you! At the end of the day, it was really only a pay cheque.
And although I believed that I would rise up and change the world, sometimes, it is just better to remove yourself from the situation and accept that the environment is not right for you. If after 13 years, you do not know me, then it is time to say good-bye.
But here’s a word of advice……better not make the same mistake with your South Asian clients. Because there are more and more “racialized” clients, who will respond by moving their business elsewhere, if they are thought to be “the same”. Perhaps that will make more of an impact than the loss of just another South Asian lawyer.
But that’s just one Diva’s view.