Limitless: Rising Above Bias

Priyanka Nath

The year was 2003. The day was ‘Placement Day’ at my communications management school in Ahmedabad, India. I was interviewing for my first full-time job, incredibly eager to enter the corporate world and make my mark. 

At that time, Ogilvy & Mather was the most prestigious ad agency in the country. I wanted to work there so badly, I could taste it. The interview with the Country Head - Strategic Planning was going swimmingly well. We had a rhythm and it was palpable. 

I talked passionately about my ambitions, we discussed brand strategy and picked apart recent ad campaigns. 

And then he looked at me and said in a condescending tone, “You know, a lot of women in India say these things … but the data shows that ~70% of them just end up leaving the corporate world to start families.” 

That was a low blow. I was infuriated. Why should I be evaluated differently from the boys in my class? Why do I have to bend over backwards to prove my seriousness when they don’t? 

Today, he may be ‘cancelled’. Today, he might be asked about what he is doing as a male ally to retain women leaders. But 20 years ago, this commentary was par for the course. And women had to “rise above” - whatever that means. 

So I gritted my teeth and answered, “I don’t know about that … what I do know is that I am NOT a statistic.” I hoped he would judge me for me, judge me for this interview - not for some mythical and frankly offensive stereotype he had about women. 

So, I did finally get that job at Ogilvy. And two other job offers that day as well. Don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic - but that comment left a residue. 

As a woman entering the workforce, I believed I may not be enough. I didn’t want anyone to ever question my commitment or my work ethic. So I felt I had to keep proving myself ad infinitum.

I took sexist comments in my stride because that was the norm in the pre-DEI era. I’ve always despised the ‘damsel in distress’  trope from fairy tales (see my keychain below that I still use today). So I didn’t expect a ladder to help me rise up. Nope. I can claw my way up if I have to, thank you very much.


Looking back on my career in the run up to International Women’s Day, I can cite witty aphorisms about resilience. But that’s not the point. 

I over-indexed on certain traits. It took me many years and a diversity of experiences, managers and company cultures to unlearn habits that weren’t serving me (or anyone around me) well. When I first started to manage people 8+ years ago, I struggled to express empathy and vulnerability. I still don’t like asking for help, it makes me uncomfortable. 

At the end of the day, I think we all need to be honest with ourselves about past biases that shaped our current beliefs and recognise that we need to take deliberate action together to change the narrative going forward. 

This year's IWD theme is #InspireInclusion: a collective effort to forge a more inclusive world for women. To that end, I'd like to share the following messages:  

Men: Please ask the women in your life about their stories, about their formative experiences and the journey that got them to where they are today. Listen without judgment. And if you are in a position to do so, please advocate for women who aren’t ready to do so for themselves just yet.  


Women (and my 20-year old self): You are enough. You are more than enough. Your talent, success and potential are legitimately yours. You deserve to be included, to have a seat at the table, to be respectfully heard, to bask in the spotlight. Don’t let anyone (particularly those in positions of power) ever make you feel otherwise.  

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