An UPFRONT conversation with Gurpreet Sehmi
She’s passionate about fairness and inclusion in the tech and design industry, and in her free time, loves playing the sitar.
We spoke to Gurpreet about her challenges with confidence as someone who has a quiet demeanour and the value of having a supportive network. Here’s her confidence story.
What does confidence mean to you?
I think confidence is people believing what you say and respecting your presence. Authority, poise, and just the right level of assertion.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered?
Having a quiet demeanour means I don’t get taken seriously, or in most cases heard. I’ve had to battle for a seat at the table through most of my career, and it still continues on a lot of levels. I’m lucky to be working for a company that respects and values my word, my opinion and my experience.
I’ve previously been in senior meetings, where directors or managers won’t value what I say, or ask me/talk towards me, as they see me as the ‘quiet brown girl’ who doesn’t have a seat at the table.
There have been times when they’ll talk to my colleagues and not me. Or where male colleagues introduce themselves as my senior colleagues, when in fact it’s a flat level organisation.
Other challenges I have found is through people using bullying tactics and thinking they can get away with it as they’re male, and I’m female and from a minority background.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I think having a real supportive network helps massively. I have a few people I can rely on to moan to/pull me out of the shrubs when I’m down, and that massively helps. It only needs to be one or two people you know that can make you feel better and help you look at a problem through a different lens.
What are some things you have on the horizon for building or challenging your confidence?
Getting up on the stage more, facilitating more meetings, and making my voice heard through other mediums, such as blog writing.
What would your advice be to people reading who want to be more UPFRONT?
Taking that first huge step seems like a massive leap into a black hole. When in fact, it’s a tiny step onto a stage, or to the front of a meeting room, and realising: “I’ve got this”. No one knows what you do, and no one human has the exact same life/work experience as you, so don’t feel that someone will turn around and question your expertise.
The 37.2 trillion cells that belong to you, don’t belong to anyone else. That’s kinda special.
Why do you think organisations like UPFRONT are important?
I heard about UPFRONT a couple of years ago, and it really intrigued me; the idea of sitting on a stage and not saying a thing. I wasn’t too sure how to go about being part of it, and then I heard that Lauren was speaking at one of the service design talks at London Design Week, and thought it would be a really good opportunity to jump in for a chance to partake.
It was a really interesting experience. It made me think about the unspoken language, the positioning of my hands, my arms, my posture, and the look on my face when I’m not speaking.
It made me realise that all these small things build up a persona as a speaker, and they all matter. UPFRONT and organizations like it are important because they give people a platform; a path into learning, experimenting and creating in a safe environment, and within a safe network. That’s really special.