International Woman’s Day 2020

People always told my father that he should keep having children until he gets a boy. They were concerned that my father only had two girls. They believed that women will never look after their parents - she will get married and will belong to her husband's family.

As I grew up, I saw the lives of women around me get moulded and shaped; their choices buried to suit cultural norms. When it comes to gender equality, India has a long way to go!

And yet, I have been able to live a full life, where I made my own decisions and experience life to the fullest. I am 30 years old. I am a software engineer by trade; I earn $100k+ per year and I have a strong financial portfolio. I have also started on a path to a leadership role at Telstra Purple.

Why? Because of my amazing dad! He is a feminist in every sense of the word. He is my coach and helped me break through India's cultural norms, create a life of my own, and live it on my own terms.

But this growth and success did not come that easy. It was a long road to this day which started with my parents investing all their assets in my education - selling their only home in India so they could afford to send me to study engineering in Australia. To everyone else, my dad seemed crazy to have invested so much for a daughter's education. He ignored the naysayers and stood his ground.

Thanks, Dad, for believing in me and fighting the world for me :)

As we celebrate International Woman's Day, I would like to share how my dad taught me the true meaning of #EachForEqual. Here are some lessons that have anchored me throughout my journey:

1. "Always be financially independent"

One of the most amazing lessons he taught me was that woman should be financial independent!

He said:

Have an ability to earn, look after yourself and your loved ones so you never have to depend on someone else.. You can call the shots. Hire a financial planner, invest in stocks, property or other financial strategies. Have a plan and be fiercely independent. You walk and bear the burdens of family life together as partners. Equal in chores, equal in childcare and equal in finances!

2. "Be the best in the room"

He would say to me:

You are going to be disadvantaged in school or at work because it’s a man’s world. But, you know what? Be the best in the room, and no one can stop you!

Even though we have a long way to go with the true gender equality in our society, this trick always helped me. I always tried to be the best in the room – I even topped my class in every grade in school. That way, when an opportunity came up I was chosen by default.

Today, I work for one of the top companies in Australia and I worked hard to earn my place there.

When you let talent and hard work guide you, you become almost invincible!

My dad's words echo in my mind everyday,

Be passionate, be hardworking and be really good in what you do. Become a force to reckon with!

Not that I am all that, but I try to be ;)

3. "See yourself as an equal in your mind"

  • When I started computer science in the 11th grade, I was one of the five girls in school with 50 other boys.

  • When I continued computer science in my undergrad, I was one of ten girls in a class of 100 boys.

  • Now as a developer in Sydney, I’m one of four female developers in a squad of 55.

In this world, I had to quickly learn to not be afraid or intimidated to work with men - to stand up and speak my mind.

My dad would say to me:

He is a man and you are a woman! So what? When we know our subject, and have the skills, how does gender matter? We have to feel and be equal in our mind

I remind myself that I am no less or better than anyone in the room because of my gender.

I focus on what I have to say and the correctness of it, rather than who is in the room.

My father's resounding words of advice:

Accept no discrimination because of your gender, and expect no favors because of your gender! You walk as an equal and you talk as an equal.

4. "Find a partner who treats you as an equal"

Life is a long journey. Find a partner who treats you as an equal.

Love is a beautiful thing, we can metaphorically and literally cross the seven seas for it. While we are all trying to get it right, we should be sensitive to not confuse subtle sexism for love.

In India (and many countries around the world), people prefer a boy child because he can 'carry the family name forward'. Isn’t it a little sad that right from birth, girls are seen as something less because they ‘cannot continue the family name’?

Girl or boy, the decision to keep or give up their family name should be an individual's choice. My dad made me the person I am today, and I am proud to be his daughter. So I’ve decided to keep my family name after marriage. We’ll have to figure out how to keep both our family names going with our children later. ;)

All I know for sure is that I will continue to be Mouna Neelakanta; financially independent, focused on being the best in the room, and an equal! :)

What about you? Who are the people inspiring you every day? What advice and tips helped you in your journey? :)

On this day, I would like to thank everyone who has shaped me in many ways:

  • My father: For being my hero, my strength and my inspiration.

  • My mother: For being a very strong woman and for saying to me: ”I want you to do everything I couldn’t do”.

  • My sister: For showing me that life is not like a railway track. we don't need to walk the same path as everyone else, we should explore and live by our own rules.

  • Maddy: For being my best friend, my confidant and a woman who can kick ass!

  • Kamal Ma'am: For teaching me the power of dedication, commitment to success and training me in public speaking skills.

  • Andrew Harcourt: For seeing the potential in me and giving me a chance to prove myself at Readify.

  • Lenka Bednarikova: For showing me what it is to have a woman in the top position and the importance of role models.

  • Leah: My mentee who told me it gave her confidence when I challenged some of the male developers. It made her feel comfortable to speak up in a room full of men when she is presenting her facts.

  • Ryan Hayward: For challenging me on my thoughts and showing me other points of view.

  • Kiren Kodali: For being a force of nature and guiding me through some of the darkest days.

And most importantly my fiancé Will Ray: For treating me as his equal, for calling me out when I show bias, for being my strength and my cheer squad, for turning up to my talks, for supporting me in my career aspirations, for showing me that you don't always need to wait for heroes to make changes and for always standing for equality!


P.S Thanks to Maddy and Will for proof reading and editing this article. You two are the best! :)

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