How to deal with workplace discrimination

I’ve been reading Tough Choices, a memoir by Carly Fiorina, the former CEO of HP. She gives lots of good advice through the experiences she went through navigating the minefields of corporate politics and workplace prejudice. There’s one section which I found particularly instructional. It was a conversation she had during a dinner with a senior executive in AT&T, where she was a young manager who was about to make an important presentation for a multi-billion dollar contract with the US government:

“Carly…I was just wondering: maybe you shouldn’t be one of our presenters. I know some of you women can’t take the pressure. We don’t want you losing your cool in there. Why are you doing this anyway? Don’t you want to spend more time with your husband and have children?”

The executive wouldn’t get off it. He kept asking me about my husband, what he did for a living, how long we’d been married. He did not ask my male colleagues about their wives or their marriages. Finally, I excused myself from the table and walked outside. I found myself crying alone in the parking lot…I was demoralized that I was once again underestimated…

That night, after I’d cried long enough, I made a decision. I would not cry again over others’ prejudice…Life isn’t always fair, and it is different for women than for men. I decided to accept that reality and refuse to be diminished by it….

Since 1986, I have saved by tears for more important things: my family, the beauty of nature, Beethoven, a dear friend, the goodness of people, their wisdom, their tragedies or their triumphs.

I think this is good advice for anyone who is faced with discrimination. Although it is important to challenge the discrimination, what is more important is not to let that diminish oneself.

Author: Gerald Giam

Gerald Giam is the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC. He is a member of the Workers' Party of Singapore. The opinions expressed on this page are his alone.