New to Islamabad from Toronto and searching for employment, women’s unfair treatment in professional settings became the focus of several conversations in which I was introducing myself to new social circles and trying to get a sense of the city’s work culture. This was not a topic I myself raised, however, it was one which new and helpful friends brought to my attention, a markedly ‘westernized’ brown woman about to find herself in vastly unfamiliar territory.Their concern for me came out of an assumption: since I was from Canada, where it was ‘better,’ with respect to an array of social indexes, including women’s rights, I wouldn’t be prepared for the kind of sexism prevalent in Pakistani offices. I hadn’t learned the necessary survival skills, they implied, having had the fortune of growing up in a developed society. Perhaps they read me correctly. To some extent, it was true, I had not given much thought about the idea that a Pakistani workspace might test my experiences with sexism any differently. While it felt awkward to relay my previous messy experiences – intersectional with class and race – to people I barely knew, and into this neat binary, I considered myself equipped to meet the gendered challenges in a new professional context.My identity at the organization was never that of a bright junior intellectual of colour with a promising career ahead of her – it was never that of more than an assistant. In this way I came to recognize racialized gender discrimination that reeked of colonial violence, as processual abuse that took place behind the machinations of Canadian multicultural knowledge productionOne of my first experiences with institutionalized sexism was at the hands of an established white professor, who had built a career writing about liberal pluralism and tolerance in Canada. Yet, she deliberately refused to recognize my talents, while using them to further her reputation and success in academia. My cultural predisposition for humility in the face of hierarchical authority complied. Consequently, my identity at the organization was never that of a bright junior intellectual of colour with a promising career ahead of her – it was never that of more than an assistant. In this way I came to recognize racialized gender discrimination that reeked of colonial violence, as processual abuse that took place behind the machinations of Canadian multicultural knowledge production. The hidden hoarding of power masked as a benevolent dolling out of opportunity meant I had to teach myself what was happening. To experience such a confusing motley of sexism at my first ‘real job’ – to be silenced by it – but to go home to a social circle made up of left-leaning feminists and allies where I could deconstruct my day-to-day, was resistance in itself. But in Islamabad I was having far more direct conversations about, not feminist theory and praxis, but the problem of being a woman seeking work in, as it was framed, ‘Pakistani society.’One friend, attempting carefully to tread around my feminist ‘sensibilities’ suggested I opt for shalwar kameez in lieu of donning a business suit. He presumed I might make the latter error, failing to read my new cultural context correctly. The protective paternalism of his opinion notwithstanding, I received it graciously. Objecting would only lead to intellectual debate, which I would lose to ‘I agree with you. It should be different, but this is the reality.’ Read: Pakistan. Unsought, yet ultimately revealing advice included a woman at a party giving me this time- saving tip: decline interviews where prospective managers invite you to dine with them. Legible as an overture of corporate wooing (in a western context), it needed to be read (here) as a telltale sign that my professional time was about to be wasted. It took me a second to get her meaning: really, my meeting and I were being hijacked into an unsolicited date.In one of my first work experiences in Islamabad I was once again a diversity hire. This wasn’t the worst move on the part of the new CEO attempting to shake up an organization full of male middle management lifers. A new role had been created, and the idea was to hire a qualified (ever the disclaimer) woman to fill it. In a competitive local economy where women’s inclusion influenced by a nationalist development discourse had increasing currency his main interest, it fast became clear, was boosting the company’s public profile.This instrumentalized reduction of affirmative action allowed for the spread of a misogynistic will to suppress. The sexism I experienced had a calculated approach to it, meant to systematically break my spirit and cannibalize my efforts to build a department. Motivation, assertiveness, ideas, all had to be curbed, ridiculed, undermined, and competency questioned – repeatedly. Reminded over again that I didn’t possess the ‘hard’ skills to understand the ‘real’ work of the organization, I would first require the tutelage of my colleagues. Collaborative requests were subsequently interpreted as me needing “help.” Or, my specialized skills were feminized into assistive uses to complete administrative tasks considered an obligatory nuisance.With these disciplinary lashings, meted out by either gender, there was no solidarity to be found with my new female colleagues. Regrettably, they could only interpret my outreach as surreptitious competition in an environment in which they struggled daily to maintain legitimacy. The last thing they needed was a woman who might fail and bring them down with her, or worse yet, replace them in a hard-fought hierarchy.Checking off diversity on his to-do list, my new boss increased the number of women in the company and single handedly created an environment in which sexism could take root and blossom. The men weren’t to be provided with any direction on how to support the integration of a new department, nor the woman heading it. Certainly, no sophisticated understanding existed of the women’s corporate patriarchal bargain. This was to be a free market battleground. A woman was to be thrown into men’s midst. Could they and their masculinity handle it? Could the woman survive in a man’s world? May the odds ever be in your favour.Globally, the logic of corporatism appropriates the most equalizing of ideas, its agents, conscience-free capitalists invested in their own power and concealed in the mainstreaming of diversity. Starting anew my work life was punctuated with discrimination, analysis the only refuge in place of belonging.The writer is a freelance writerPublished in Daily Times, January 23rd 2019.