Teaching Leadership, Post Election Day & The Caste System

My second semester teaching Leadership at UC Berkeley is coming to a close. This recent class is comprised of people from all around the world. Their ability to teach me how to be globally sensitive has been profound. I could not have asked for a greater blessing. Every class I teach is a learning experience for me as well as my students. This one has hands down been the most instrumental in opening my eyes in ways I didn’t dream possible.

From the New York Times

When I was young a friend told me that he had problems that I did not even know existed. His words haunted me from that day forward. Because of them I remained open to the idea that others had experienced things that I could not understand nor conceive of and that it is our own limitations that cause us to see the world through only our own experiences and perspectives.

I’ve been teaching at UC Berkeley for five years. I started in the International program teaching marketing as a side hustle while I built my outdoor clothing brand Ocean SF. Last winter, I was asked to teach Leadership and I spent six months preparing, however, nothing prepared me to be teaching leadership during this time in history in the midst of a global pandemic, the social revolution of Black Lives Matter, and the most polarized election year in post war history.

Because of this or in spite of it my classes are the highlight of my week. I login and spend time with people from many races and cultures. They are able to share their experiences as working adults in our country. We discuss every aspect of leadership and it is both inspiring and concerning. Each week covers a different aspect of leading and has its own mood and discoveries. Teaching and learning to be sensitive has been a major catalyst for my own growth.

A few weeks ago a student submitted a podcast on Caste for extra credit. I casually listen to it while I worked. It stunned me. I believed the Caste System had been dismantled long ago. This is untrue. It is alive and well and thrives in our modern era in the most progressive place in the world. Silicon Valley.

It is invisible to a by stander as it doesn’t fit the mold of race, age or gender discrimination that we are all sadly so familiar with. However, it effects over one billion people worldwide.

“Whenever Benjamin Kaila, a database administrator who immigrated from India to the United States in 1999, applies for a job at a U.S. tech company, he prays that there are no other Indians during the in-person interview. That’s because Kaila is a Dalit, or member of the lowest-ranked castes within India’s system of social hierarchy, formerly referred to as “untouchables.”

Currently there are discrimination lawsuits against Cisco, Facebook and so on. In 2019, Cisco was ranked #2 on Fortune’s 100 Best Workplaces for Diversity. The technology giant got away with ignoring the persistent caste discrimination because American laws don’t yet recognize Hindu caste discrimination as a valid form of exclusion.

As challenging as this period has been for all of us and especially those of color I do believe it is a time of great change in our culture. Regardless of the outcome of the presidential race we have as a country become more sensitive and aware, and for me this is especially true. With this comes change.

We have strong voices, are involved and have a platform. The outcome of the election can not change that, and the fact that no matter what happens we are all in this together.

Love and blessings to all.

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