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Patriarchy is a System, not a Gender: LinkedIn Top Voice, 2019, Mubeena Azeez

Born in Coimbatore, Mubeena Azeez comes across as a head strong woman, emitting positivity and a strong desire to constantly learn and grow. She describes herself as passionate and motivated about her work, with a keen inclination to constantly challenge the status quo of things.

She believes that the right attitude is unparalleled to any other skill in the workplace, and thus endorses the same to all her new hires.

For the ones just entering the workforce, she conveys that one must be prepared to deal with uncertainty and be at peace with accepting that you will not have all the answers, but as long as you have the hunger to discover them through learning, you will be okay.

She rightfully puts a large emphasis on soft skills and values such as respect and integrity.

Mubeena is someone who dances to her own tunes. Quite literally since she is a dancer and model by passion and continues to pursue these passions even today. As with everything, she has even been able to link these to a larger purpose. For instance, she modelled for a campaign called ‘It’s not fair’ to advocate that not all models should be light skinned and spread the message that all colours are beautiful. She does tell us that she compartmentalizes both these facets to her career as she is cautious of the stereotypes that may adversely affect her if she allowed their paths to cross. It’s unfortunate to think that having more feathers to your hat can penalise you with respect to moving ahead in the corporate ladder.

Degree over experience?

Mubeena comes from a family of doctors and engineers at one end and politicians at the other, she however chose to carve her own path and followed her passion for arts. She started her career with IBM in Bangalore and continued to work for over three overs until she took a break to pursue higher education. A break is not what she had in mind, but her father was insistent that she first focused on securing herself by getting her MBA. Since she had already started earning, she was fairly reluctant to take this step as she was enjoying her work and was already on the career path of her choice. She was also of the opinion that on-field learning was more important than a degree because networking and the practical hands on experience was so much more valuable than theoretical lectures that didn’t always offer much. She wanted to pursue HR as her career of choice because she identified as a people’s person but she herself was often asked about her degree in interviews, and thus she eventually gave in to doing an MBA to be able to be seen as a leader in the industry.

In the decade that she has now spent in the industry, she confesses that she hasn’t seen one job description in the white-collar industry that doesn’t ask for a degree. However, she shares that there has been a shift wherein at least corporates have started citing an MBA as a desired qualification as opposed to a required one.

She personally believes that a degree doesn’t really matter, and it is about how one carries themselves, how skilled they are, how they network, how they learn, how they speak.

She rightly explains that what one learns in a management course is drastically different from the real world. While you learn of theoretical ideologies in class, the expectations at the workplace differ widely. For example, she talks about how a book gives you insights on conflict management but when you really have to manage it with your peer or team, none of that really helps. It is only practical advice, guidance and hands on experience that guides you in these situations.

The real fear behind hiring mothers after a break:

Mubeena throws light on the fact that although companies are waving the flag high of ‘Restart her career’, among other such initiatives to bring mothers back to the workforce, the harsh reality still stands at it being a difficult process for women, often involving a lot of rejection, which leads to a large percentage of these women giving up or losing hope. It thus isn’t surprising that around 65-70% of the women who quit never return to work at all.

We tried to dive deeper to understand why these break years are seen as such a liability. And Mubeena explained that at the end of the day, recruiting is about ‘finding the right person for the right job’ and there cannot be any compromise or bias on that front. She confesses that there is thus a fear while recruiting that these women could possibly have outdated skills (which is often the case) and also a bias that you may be uncertain if they would be able to balance their home and their career since inequality in the household is a common phenomena in our country. Mubeena goes on to clarify that there are indeed exceptions to this, in the form of women who stay attuned with the workplace by upskilling, freelancing during their break. This calls for an interesting discussion to understand that is the onus to upskill during a period where a woman already has her hands full a fair expectation? Simultaneously, it isn’t really fair to ask a company to hire an employee that doesn’t fit the required skill set either. We are thus forced to consider yet again that true change needs to begin at home where a mother needs the help of her husband to equally distribute the household work so she has the required time to upskill and not lose face in the corporate world during her gap period. This of course must start with a mindset change in our homes but can be promoted by companies in the form of paternity leaves, among other such initiatives to help bridge the gap.

Women can be part of the patriarchal culture too:

Something ‘The Pink Thread’ acknowledges is the idea that the enemy is patriarchy and not men.

Women can as much be a part of a patriarchal culture, as can men. Just like, men can often be a part of women empowerment too. In fact, we don’t think women empowerment as a whole is even possible without the participation of both genders. Mubeena goes on to share how she has suffered from gender bias at the hands of women too. She narrates her experience on when she when to interview for a job, wearing a skirt, and she had a female co-worker comment on how she wouldn’t be right for the job given her attire since there were many men in the workplace. And then when she bagged the job, the same woman accused her of being selected only because it was an all-male panel. She thus thinks that while we are doing a good job to make men understand how they must function with empowered women; it is also critical to extend this effort towards other women too. We of course agree that it is extremely critical to our mission to ensure that we as women collaborate and not compete.

Remote work: the two-sided coin:

As most of us would agree, Mubeena mentions that we have been beating this drum of work from home for a long time now and it finally took a crisis to make it a reality. Being an influencer in the HR space, we wanted to understand her take on the pros and cons of this new process. She owns a rather diplomatic opinion on the subject, as is the case with most people, weary of both sides of the coin. On one hand, she thinks it would give women the comfort and convenience to work from home and avoid traffic and utilise that time for her home and herself. But on the other side, she realises that the distance from company culture would strip them of the chance to meet new people, interact and learn practically. And this is especially hard for the ones who are at the beginning of their careers.

Mubeena leaves us on a promising note that companies all across the board are placing a keen focus on gender diversity in recruitment today. And so, we must recognize that a lot is changing but of course we still have a long way to go. Something she would personally like to see disappear is positional bias wherein for example receptionists or secretaries are only seen as jobs for women. With women like Mubeena leading the way, we are extremely optimistic that we will live to watch these changes unfold.

More power!

Mubeena is a LinkedIn Top Voice, India, has been awarded the 'Outstanding Young Acheiver 2019' by Asscoham and is an Influential Voice in the field of HR. Her sharings are typically aimed at assisting jobseekers and she regularly doles out market intelligence on jobs, communication tips for suggestions on cracking job interviews. 

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