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Irnin Khan: A Few Biases to Break

Being a woman in advertising can be hard. Being a woman of colour in advertising takes all kinds of tolls that I haven’t properly stopped to take stock of before. It's constant, ubiquitous, and I know my experiences are not unique.

We have so much work to do to break the biases and change the systems that don’t serve womanhood or otherhood. When can we stop living like the women in fairy tales, with their problematic, tragic origin stories?

She did her job, as well as the additional, unpaid and invisible jobs associated with being “office mum” – like remembering the birthdays, soothing the egos, organising the morning teas.

She put on a smile to put everyone else at ease, continuing the ongoing, lifelong performance of being a cool girl who’s not “too” anything. Now she tortures herself wondering if that makes her a “pick me” woman.

She was told to stop being so giving and to act like a leader. Then she was told to stop being so bossy and be a better collaborator. When she asked who was defining the Goldilocks method on this, she was told to stop being so difficult and emotional. She can’t win.

She kept her strong, divisive opinions and any feelings of annoyance, anger or discontent to herself. She needs to avoid being seen as an angry brown woman. Meanwhile, she kept watching aggressive (not assertive, aggressive) behaviour from white men and white women in the workplace being excused as “blunt” and was told she needed to put up with the aggression because “that’s just their personality”.

She judged other women so much more harshly than men for their cruelty stemming from systemic privilege and internalised misogyny. And then she proceeded to beat herself up for expecting more from women.

As a junior, she said nothing about casually racist, sexist, or classist comments (and other microaggressions) from coworkers and people in leadership positions. She would have done just about anything to avoid being noticed and marked as “other”.

She was constantly interrupted, spoken over and disempowered from making decisions. When she stopped contributing to the echo chambers – realising she’d need to perform the same behaviours she despised to break through – her level of contribution was questioned.

She received a lot of unprompted compliments on how good her grasp of English was. Because of the power structures in place, sometimes she needed to thank people for these “compliments”.

She was put down by women in power who constantly criticised her more feminine workplace traits. She didn’t realise they were doing this in an effort to be seen and get ahead with senior males in leadership positions.

She wants to push for equality for all women and be a driver of systemic change, but fuck, it’s exhausting to simply exist as a woman of colour in a system that’s designed to keep you down.

About Irnin Khan

Irnin Khan heads up social and content at Leo Burnett Australia. She dabbled in photography, design and even jewellery-making, before deciding to combine her love of pictures and words through a strategic and creative career in advertising. She’s an internet fiend who loves building ideas that live in and influence culture, and importantly, have real people at the centre of the thinking. Her toxic trait is starting meetings by verbally explaining a meme or a Tok. Follow Irnin on LinkedIn here, or on Instagram for the memes.


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