I've learned that when I say I'm a South African people always say: “but you're not white and you're not black”. So I've learned to accept the part of me that is Indian, and I've visited India with my grandparents. It is important to feel like you belong somewhere, otherwise it creates anxiety.
In the younger years of my career, as a chartered surveyor, growing up and working in the real estate industry, I was often excluded, not only because I was a female working in a white male dominated industry, but also because of my skin colour. I was put in a box for being an Indian female, stereotypically seen as a submissive and not having a voice.
I was often excluded from team meetings, not given the opportunity to ask questions or provide comments. My opinions weren't heard, and at times people assumed I was making the teas and coffees in a meeting. There were other times that, if I'd attend meetings, everyone would get their hand shaken, but no one would shake my hand.
Starting my career in that environment really diminished my self-confidence. But in turn, I learned. I took classes on how to handshake, and paid for classes to give me confidence. I needed to have that confidence within myself.
That experience has made me the person that I am today, and I'm proud to work at Grant Thornton. Because I haven't experienced that same exclusion as in my earlier career.
Since I've started working here there are simple actions that make me feel included. Like someone asking me how to pronounce my name before they assume that they should abbreviate it, avoid it, or just completely say it incorrectly. This is a gift to have, to work in a company where inclusion is normality.
In terms of being included for my difference, I have been included on a previous employer’s graduate recruitment website, even though I wasn't a graduate. I realised it was because I was different. It was an element of tokenism. I'm still on that current website and I have left the firm six years ago. For me, I've had both situations of exclusion and inclusion, but in a way that is like a double-edged sword.
I think it's really hard to discuss differences openly. I think everyone has this inner voice inside of them that switches on when they're about to challenge someone else’s bias. For example, if you're in a room and someone is making a racial joke or being sexist, the inner voice tells you that you can’t challenge it.
And I think that goes alongside discussing difference. I don't think as a society we're at a place where everyone's comfortable discussing difference.
I think if you have initiatives as a company or even within your family, where you talk about these issues with people from a young age, or even discuss in conversation at the dinner table, you learn to normalise talking about difference in an open, safe and supportive way, which is part of the learning experience.
It's also important to accept that we all have biases. If you're reading this right now, and you think that you don't have any biases, then challenge yourself. Sit down and ask yourself: is that really true? And if you still think it’s true, then try something new. Put yourself in a situation that you've never been in, and then sit and reflect and think about your biases.
"Diversity is being asked to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance at the party."
The way I see inclusion and diversity is that diversity is being asked to the party and inclusion is being asked to dance at the party. I think diversity and inclusion is a concept that everyone has to learn about.
Really getting to know myself and accepting all the things that I didn't like about myself because I was different, made me in turn appreciate those things. I am now proud of my cultural traditions, that I was previously embarrassed about.
I have embraced them by speaking to my grandparents and my mother, which has made me feel really proud. Differences are beautiful, but it takes the individuals to go and seek and learn, and to push themselves beyond their comfort zones.