A former CIA agent and now a successful entrepreneur and author, Rupal Patel recently delivered a keynote at TEDx Manchester 2023 at Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. Ahead of her speech, iGlobal caught up with the multi-talented female role model just in time to mark International Women’s Day 2023 this week.
Patel's book 'From CIA to CEO', based on her life experiences, has created quite a stir in the non-fiction genre since its launch last year for offering a unique perspective.
The book is aimed at empowering industry leaders, revealing the secretive techniques of the CIA, methods like Profiling and Situational Awareness, to uncover and amplify strengths and develop steel-core confidence.
Discrimination is not always tangible
Born and bred in the US to Gujarati immigrant parents, Patel now lives near London and frequently travels to her birth city New York.
"No one is actually going to tell you upfront that we're not going to give you this project or we're going to undermine you because you're a woman or you're a brown woman. Tangible instances when you can speak up might be few. I've made peace with condescending attitudes by Neanderthals, mostly by looking at the bigger picture.
“The reality is you can't change these prejudiced mindsets most of the time. But you have to carry on towards achieving your goals and look at the bigger picture," Patel shared her take on gender bias in the workplace.
Pick your battles wisely
However, she thinks there are times when it's worth pushing back through proper channels. But it is important to pick those battles wisely.
"If you feel gender biases are affecting your career, or you feel like you're being actively discriminated against, being treated unfairly – those things are 100 per cent worth fighting back. However, it is important to build a community of support system around you when you go for these battles. If you're attempting to report things to HR, or be a whistleblower for malpractices, never do it alone.
“Always have some community of legal advisers, friends, and co-workers, around you. It makes it much easier in some capacity, at least emotionally, if nothing else, to keep fighting," advised the leadership coach and author.
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International Women's Day
"The reality is that a lot of what happens around International Women's Day is often performative. Companies will say nice things, rely on some inspiring female speaker, and then, for the rest of the 364 days of the year, go back to business as usual. So, for me, it's about continuing that fight, continuing to keep the awareness," she said.
Even at home, Patel thinks, it is crucial that women set a boundary for themselves and foster an environment of equality and working cultures.
"Certain times you're just not going to be available, whether your child's knee got a scratch or dinner isn't ready, you're just not going to be available and make that culture normal at home," she recommends.
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'From CIA to CEO'
A staunch believer in equality and individuality, Patel wrote 'From CIA to CEO' to encourage people to lead a life on their terms and realise their full potential.
"Fundamentally, the message I want my readers to take from this book is that anything is possible by anyone, even though it's not easy. It's not straightforward. But whatever we want to achieve, and care about, of course, is possible. It's about doing the work and having the structure, support, and mindset to do those things. I am a huge believer in the power of human beings. I think readers should get that sense of 'I can do this! Even me!' is important," she said.
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It's all in the roots
Patel's parents moved from Gujarat to New York in the early 1970s. Physicians, by profession, they have hosted and supported many of their relatives to find a footing in a foreign land after making a place for themselves. Patel's childhood thus was filled with the excitement of getting new cousins every other day and, at the same time, having to sacrifice a lot of childhood dreams and time spent with her parents for that. She thinks all these have instilled in her a fundamental sense of duty towards others. Learning to contribute and support others from an early age might have a bearing on her present day.
"Looking back, it makes sense that there has always been an element in me of helping others using my expertise. I am developing, growing, improving, and using that personal growth to help others. I think that echoes with what my parents did all along," she said.
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After the grand success of her first book, Patel's upcoming book also is focused towards helping others with valuable insights.
"I'm in the throes of pulling together the ideas for my second book, so I don't have anything nicely packaged to share with you. But the direction I'm trying to take in this book is looking at this social problem in the US and the UK - we have legions of highly skilled, highly trained, and highly educated women. And yet, they are kept out of the workforce through sometimes active discrimination or sexism. And also through obvious things like the ridiculous cost of childcare and the lack of foresight regarding parental leave," Patel hinted.
*Info: Rupal Patel