Gender & Identity, Life

My coworker told me to just quit and get married – on my first day of work

I was taken by surprise, and could barely utter a word in response.

Fresh out of college, I got a position at a popular architecture firm. I was beyond excited and couldn’t believe that I’d gotten it, as it had been a very competitive interview process.

I’d read online that it was gender-inclusive, and accepting of all cultures; the works, contrary to most firms I’d interned at before in the Middle East.

It was my first day. My nerves were on edge.

 I was introduced to all my colleagues and sat down at my workstation. While I was busy settings things up, my neighbor leaned over to me and said, “My advice is that you make the most of your two or three years here. After that, you may be too busy with your kids.”

My coworker said to me, 'Make the most of your time here, you'll be busy with kids later.' Click To Tweet

I was taken by surprise, and could barely utter a word in response. I was barely 21, just out of school, and here I was getting life advice from a coworker on my first day.

How could somebody who knew me for merely two minutes just assume that I would give up my job within two years to raise children? Would this mean that I wouldn’t be taken seriously enough when compared to my male coworkers? Would I be let off easy when I’m given a task I can’t finish?

Although I had the same skills as them, I would still be the second choice because of my capability to potentially conceive in the future.

Would this mean that I wouldn’t be taken seriously enough? Click To Tweet

I couldn’t believe it.

In my five years of college in the UAE, I’d never once been asked about my future marital life, or whether I had plans for raising kids. Both my male classmates and I were treated equally with the same amount of respect by our professors. We’d be encouraged and supported equally. We weren’t bogged down by traditional notions of life. We were compared on the basis of our ability to get tasks done, and not whether our bodily capabilities will hinder our creativity.

But the minute I graduate, does that make me a viable candidate for marriage? I think not.

Over the next few months, I noticed that my female co-workers were being asked about their “future” plans. (Come on, we all know what that really means.) If they were single, the question was whether they had plans of marriage. If they were married, the question was when the child was coming. If they intended to do either of those things, they would be given lower priority in the project. This further alienates me from having a child or getting married, for fear that it will compromise my career. The men were never asked such questions.

This is the 21st century, and we still haven’t taken a step further with gender equality. Where does it end?

This is the 21st century, and we still haven’t taken a step further with gender equality. Where does it end? Click To Tweet

Wherever you face discrimination, whether you’re a male hairdresser at a beauty salon, a female contractor at a construction site, the only way to change people’s perceptions is by standing up for yourself. Nobody has the right to tell you that you can’t do your job because of your race, gender or sexual orientation.

When I was berated like that on my first day, I wish I’d said, “What I do in the next three years shouldn’t be what my skills are based on. I am much more than my personal life choices, and that will not affect my work.”

But I didn’t, and that made all the difference.