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A Woman Who Escaped An Arranged Marriage Explains Why Financial Independence Is The Key To Freedom.
Shivani Gopal has been sexually assaulted at work and fought to be recognised professionally, but it ultimately culminated in something remarkable.
When Shivani Gopal was working as a financial planner, she was licked in the face by a client. An independent, smart woman experienced a gut-churning affront at work, but ultimately she was the one who was punished.
"Not working with him again meant I lost a large chunk of business," Shivani said. "A woman shouldn't have to make those kinds of choices in the workforce."
The worst part of Shivani's story is that, for most women, the thought of a colleague or client doing the same thing isn't all that shocking, and neither is being forced to sacrifice career progression as a result.
"Because of the way we're socialised, the thought of 'balancing' sexual assault with needing money is actually considered an option," Shivani explained. "Women should just 'put up with it'."
"We're always told 'these things just happen', but they shouldn't and we especially shouldn't have to endure it. As long as we think sexual harassment is normal we won't achieve absolute social equality."
Having said that, Shivani is greatly emboldened by the post-#MeToo world—she thinks women feel far safer to call out sexual harassment than we ever have before.
"I'm a big believer in mentors but there have been so many male mentors who had nasty intentions with young girls they offer to help," Shivani admitted.
IMAGINE BEING TOLD YOU'RE "TOO PRETTY" TO BE HELPED
When Shivani was starting her career, she asked a senior peer to be her mentor and he refused because she was "too young and too pretty". Since the Weinstein reckoning, some men have voiced their concerns over being accused of similar behaviour—will the hesitation to mentor young women only become more prominent?
"Men saying they're scared of not knowing how to act around women are ridiculous," Shivani scoffed. "Let's hope 2018 is the year common sense prevails."
"Looks or gender should have no impact on whether a woman is mentored. If they see potential and the ability to navigate whatever career it is, they should take them on. End of story."
CRUSHING CULTURAL CEILINGS AS WELL AS GLASS ONES
What about female mentors? Well in Shivani's field she saw very few females in top positions, but when she did they were always middle-aged, white women.
"Don't get me wrong, I was really happy seeing those women succeed, but I think seeing is believing, and not seeing any women at the top who were Indian or Asian was really disheartening," Shivani confessed.
The cultural glass ceiling—or bamboo ceiling—means women of colour are often forced to fight even harder than their white counterparts. There's a pervasive typecast that Indian and Asian women are submissive, sweet servers which makes contending for leadership positions especially difficult.
"I think meritocracy is an absolute myth," she asserts. "If positions were truly acquired on merit, companies would look far more visually diverse."
ESCAPING AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE IN A CULTURE OF TABOO
When Shivani was a teen she had a secret boyfriend. Their parents found out and agreed they needed to get married, right then. It wasn't forced and she knew and loved him, but cultural pressures meant she didn't have a choice in when she married him.
A few years in, she was desperately unhappy. She resented their marriage but divorce is still very much a taboo in Indian culture and she was terrified of how her family and community would react if she did it.
The only thing that made the transition easier was her financial independence thanks to her career—something many women in similar situations don't have.
Women leaving abusive marriages especially often walk away from their entitlements because the process of divorce is long and expensive—as well as taxing emotionally and mentally—so we asked Shivani her top tips for budgeting to help women have financial independence.
- Get really clear on your budget.
- Really challenge yourself on earning your worth.
"So many women say to me, 'Oh you know my salary is typical of the market' or 'I’ll work for a couple of months and prove my worth and then I’ll ask for a raise'.
"So I reframe that as 'Go in high, and then say in the next few months I’ll reprove my worth'. If you go in low, you’ll always be two steps behind. I’ve honestly helped women add up to 80k to their salary just by acknowledging their worth before negotiating.
3. Look at your bonuses.
COMMON MISTAKES WITH CREDIT CARDS
Where many of us come unstuck is credit cards. For a lot of young women, it's our first time borrowing money from a bank and we don't make the best choices when it comes to paying them off.
"Something I see all the time which is so, so strange is people with credit card debt but also with a savings account," Shivani said.
"If you have a debt, you don't have savings. Look at it this way: on average, you make 0.06 per cent in interest, but that's compared to you paying 15 per cent interest on your credit card.
"Also, any interest you make in savings account you have to declare at tax time, so I find it's beneficial to think of paying off your credit card as a tax free return."
When it comes to home or personal loans, Shivani also has some sage advice.
"When paying off the loan, you don't have to increase payment amount but you should increase payment frequency," she explains.
"What I mean by that is if you're paying $400/month currently, instead pay $100/week.
"That means there's less interest and you an actually save hundreds of thousands of dollars – it makes a massive difference!"
THE REMARKABLE WOMAN
The culmination of these life experiences—overt sexism, cultural barriers, leaving an arranged marriage—led to Shivani establishing The Remarkable Woman.
It's a platform which aims to empower women personally, professionally and financially. It pairs women with mentors who have extensive leadership experience: "Not only do they have the knowledge and experience you want, they're also able to point out our blind spots."
Addressing the gender wage gap, one of Shivani's main goals is teaching women to know their worth and how to position themselves for leadership roles—to have the same bravado as most old, white men.
"Our mantra is to shatter every glass ceiling in our way and to do it one woman at a time," Shivani revealed with a wry smile in her voice.