2 leading female executives of color describe incidents of sexism or racism in the workplace, and what they learned

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2 leading female executives of color describe incidents of sexism or racism in the workplace, and what they learned
Jaya Baloo, chief information security officer of Avast. Avast
  • Insider spoke with more than 20 female executives of color working at the top of corporate Europe.
  • Some shared experiences of racism or sexism in the workplace.
  • They describe what happened and what they learned from these experiences.

    When Insider spoke to more than 20 female CEOs and executives of color about the challenges they faced climbing the corporate ladder, some recounted confrontations with colleagues, and said there were times they wished they'd spoken out about the sexism and racism they faced at work.

    Mohanna Azarmandi, chief learning officer at Microsoft Germany, described a meeting in which she disagreed with a male peer who was blaming others on the team for mistakes. He responded, she said, by calling her "young lady" and suggested she "let the grown-ups talk."

    Read more: 21 powerful female CEOs and executives of color reflect on what they've learned from climbing Europe's corporate ladder

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    Azarmandi said she kept her cool and replied: "I don't appreciate being talked down to." She said she told her colleague that everyone was "eye-to-eye on this project, each of us has to represent our departments," and said she would "appreciate him being respectful with me and everyone else in the room."

    Azarmandi said: "This person never talked down to me ever again and kept asking for me and my team in future projects."

    Her experience is one of several recounted by the inspiring women Insider spoke with, from companies including Facebook, PwC, Tiktok, Unilever, and DeepMind.

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    Jaya Baloo, chief information security officer of Avast, described a meeting in which a colleague made a comment about "these brown people" while discussing operations in India.

    She said the eyes in the room fell on her but it took her "at least a minute" to realize.

    "It was hard to address the pity that was coming from the people in the room", she said. "I constantly forget that this is a challenge, that I am female and have this skin color, even that I'm short and that I won't be taken seriously or shown a different degree of empathy because of it."

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    She added: "I don't see the benefit of boxing myself in so there's absolutely no good reason to do that to anyone else."

    Dr. Navina Evans, CEO of Health Education England, said she was "quite timid" when she started out and wished she'd had the vocabulary to speak out about racist and sexist treatment.

    "I wish I'd had the confidence and ability to influence people to act and think differently without alienating them back then," she said. "But because I didn't know how, I was often silent.

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    "So, the lesson is to prepare others so that they will not be silent."

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