To the women I’ve been before

6 min read

We need more women in tech, women in management and women in leadership positions. At Xendit, I am proud to say we overindex on women in a variety of places, e.g. women in senior leadership.  A recent moment of reflections with a junior employee at Xendit struck a nerve. The way she viewed herself reminded me of my younger days, when I was starting out in the male dominated private equity world. I too was once doubtful, I too was once afraid of not delivering the work, not knowing enough, not being prepared enough, in general not being good enough. This internal battle with myself, the incessant questioning, the voice that prevents me from staking my claim and declaring that I am worth as much as my male counterparts, I thought would have faded for the next generation of women. Surprisingly, I see my younger selves mirrored in many of you.

Therefore, I have the obligation to smash some fallacies that women seem to hold onto.  

I want to take this chance to share observations from my lens, acknowledging that my life experience does not need to be yours and vice versa. This particular reflection was based on a recent situation where I believe someone was abusing the trust and goodwill of a junior woman in our org. I think this abuse was allowed to occur because of the junior person’s lack of confidence in her performance, and the extreme assuredness the senior person had on the value he thought he was bringing to the table. Sounds familiar? I want to say a few words to enable you girls, to know your worth and to know how to stand up for yourselves.

So this is a letter to you, to all the women I’ve been before.

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Our values include more than being nice

I want to start with talking about Xendit values, and how it can help you navigate what it means to know your worth in the workplace. In our world, the professional and personal often overlap. What I’ve learned from working at a start-up is that the line is blurred often. We live and breathe work, and afterwards, we often have fun with each other. This makes it hard to judge whether a person is a good colleague or not. The comment I heard regarding the incident where the junior person was being taken advantage of was along the lines of, “but they are so nice and such a great culture fit.”

We often assume that when someone is being nice or being likeable, that they must be good at their jobs, and are therefore a great colleague/manager/leader. Often there is a cognitive dissonance as to why likeable people get bad performance reviews, or get fired.

Culture fit in the workplace is more than being nice. Someone who is a culture fit, should exemplify ALL of our company’s values. We have five, and while being nice is indeed one of them (it’s being golden actually, which is a huge distinction – more on that later), there are four others that are equally important. Let us recap the Xendit values we hold so dear:

  • Solve for your customers – build something people want
  • Family of honey badgers – we work harder than anyone else and just don’t die
  • Be trustworthy – we lead with actions, not words
  • Be golden – do to others as you would have them do to you
  • Always be growing – company, team, personal (in that order)

Two of these values are especially relevant for our discussion today.

Be trustworthy: output is everything

Being nice does not equal being trustworthy. I think this applies both in life and work. In a work setting, the nicest person in the world, with the most glowing resume e.g. Ivy League, track record at some of Southeast Asia’s biggest names, could still end up being untrustworthy. 

Glowing resumes or otherwise, if you notice that a person

  • comes to meetings with founders empty handed, no prep or documentation
  • delivers unfinished output with ample lead time for a deadline
  • delivers output that is primarily a copy and paste job

then they’re not being trustworthy. 

In a work setting, knowing stuff does not make you trustworthy. Being trustworthy means delivering the work to ensure that we succeed as a company. Being nice doesn’t get us to the finish line, being trustworthy by being more prepared than anyone else in the room, by working harder than everyone else in the room, that will get us to our goals. A lot of you have this high standard for yourselves. I am surprised that you let others get away with much less when you hardly give yourselves a break. It is time you recognise that you have put in the right effort, and to acknowledge that you have a right to sit at the table. 

Be golden: actions speak louder than words

Seemingly nice people, often do not so nice things. I want to remind you that actions speak louder than words. Part of being strong is knowing when to stand up for yourself. 

In this case, they told you he didn’t work after 6 pm and let you work day and night to cover for them. They justified this as ok because they were the knowledgeable one. They did not force you to do this. They were nice when they told you, they were nice when they left at 6 pm on the dot even when the work was not done. In the meantime, you had to trudge on solo to the early hours of the morning to hit the deadlines meant for both of you. They were being nice. You were being golden. I hope you can see the difference.

I’ve seen this before. When I was in high school, I worked part time in a bakery. During night shifts, I was often paired with another girl who had been there longer, therefore more senior. She was trusted to do the accounting. Every night shift, I had a head start at cleaning while she did the books. She was meant to do that, then help me with the cleaning. Every time though, she took her sweet time. I often ended up doing all the cleaning myself from start to finish. She thought I would not notice and could be fooled. I didn’t call her out then, but I will call out this person now.

This is called taking advantage. Neither a friend nor a colleague should do this and get away with it. This is not being golden.  

I contrast this with my experience during a recent crisis. Both Moses, our CEO, and I were in San Francisco for meetings. We were informed that there was a significant issue at our Indonesian office that required us to get involved. Because we were in opposite time zones, this meant that we had to stay up far past midnight to deal with this. 

It was 2 am, both Moses and I had been up for 22 hours since 4 am the morning prior, when the first call came through. At this point I needed to do some coordination with Jakarta. There was no action required from Moses. He could have gone to sleep. He knew how exhausted I was by then, much as I’m sure he was. We were getting delirious and talking nonsense just to keep ourselves awake. Even though Moses was exhausted, he sat with me for the next few hours until I was done, just for moral support. 

This is what being a great colleague and friend is all about. This is being golden.

Know your worth, especially when you’re worth a lot

This is not a Xendit value, but one that I often observe is missing, especially in young women I see in the workplace.  When these treatments were brought up, you came to the senior person’s defence.  You are honourable and well intentioned for doing this, but he was not, and you ought to know the difference.

Often women undervalue themselves, and don’t realise when someone is treating them badly. Men are much more confident of their self worth and capability, even when the results continue to show otherwise. I’ve seen this many times during my professional career, and in my mind, this case really reflects both of those instances. 

“I’m a noob who does not know anything about finance, [senior person] knows much more stuff,” you would say. This became the reasoning behind the split of work. It often meant that much of the grunt work was for you to do, and the “thinking” was for [senior person] to do. This senior person was in a position of power, being both older and more experienced, with the right credentials. In this case, he clearly misused his position. 

What’s hard here is that it’s hard in your situation to acknowledge you’re being taken advantage of.  I get it.  I’ve been there and said the same things to myself.  But I care for you too much to let this go unabated.  Most of all, I want you to know how much you’re worth, how smart you are.  You’re hard working, strong and kind.  And all of this is worth a lot more than a degree on paper and some sweet talking.  

Finally, in a startup environment, where the personal and the professional are often blurred, where a new way of working, where you can call your manager out when she is wrong without a flinch, where the company belongs to all of us, and where your colleagues are often your friends, it is often easy to forget why we are all here. We are here to build a company that will take the market and change the way people do things. We believe we can do this nicely, in a safe space and in a non cutthroat corporate environment. Our culture is to work hard and to treat people with respect. We must always strive for this.  

Yours,

Tessa

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