Ralph Waldo Emerson's assertion, "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment," finds a tangible embodiment in Swetha Harikrishnan. She channels this profound wisdom not merely through her distinctive fashion choices but also via her candid, open-minded approach to dialogue. In an illuminating conversation, Swetha delves into the potency of authenticity, emphasizing its significance over the superficial allure of the spotlight. From dissecting her fashion preferences to elucidating her role in crafting inclusive work environments, she guides us through a captivating journey within her mind – a charming, at times neurotic, ramble that leaves an indelible mark.

Breaking the Box

Swetha's odyssey towards fashion authenticity is a ceaseless expedition marked by a delicate interplay of unlearning and learning. From a tender age, she comfortably embraced a delightful amalgamation of tomboyish and feminine elements, shattering the shackles of traditional gendered fashion norms. Recollections abound of instances where observers commented on the seeming incongruity between her clothing choices and her appearance. One acquaintance, in particular, characterized her style as "queer" despite what they perceived as "straight" attire. Such encounters led Swetha to a profound realization about human tendencies – the obsessive inclination to slot individuals into predefined boxes based on appearance and clothing choices.

While acknowledging that categorization is an intrinsic cognitive process with evolutionary underpinnings, Swetha discerns the potential pitfalls when taken to extremes. Rigidity in categorizing individuals can foster unfair stereotypes, precluding opportunities to comprehend the multifaceted richness of individual lives. This realization propelled Swetha beyond mere acknowledgment; she actively embarked on a journey to challenge this societal status quo. Consciously discarding the habit of rigidly boxing people, she embraced a more open-minded perspective. Her own experiences served as a poignant lesson – authenticity transcends labels, and she endeavored to instill this liberating ethos in others.

I'm shedding, I'm shedding my hair. I feel like shedding clothes. I'm shedding a lot of, um, deep-rooted conditioning.

Today, Swetha's venture into the realm of fashion has assumed a more profound dimension. What commenced as an external manifestation of her individuality has evolved into a powerful instrument for internal self-discovery and reflection.

It is this evolution, from the external to the internal, that introduces us to a captivating facet of Swetha's journey – her perspective on visibility.

Spotlight Schmighlight

Swetha's stance on visibility is intriguing. She reflects on the experience of feeling invisible and the nuanced interplay between visibility and authenticity in her life. Recounting instances where her outward appearance, characterized by a feminine style, led observers to overlook her queerness, Swetha navigates the complex landscape of societal perceptions. The addition of tattoos seemed to alter people's impressions, amplifying her perceived queerness. However, both in straight and queer communities, she initially felt invisible until openly expressing her attraction to women, a revelation that often surprised those who held assumptions to the contrary.

Yet, invisibility is not a predicament for Swetha.

Her comfort with a certain degree of invisibility, especially beyond her close circle of friends, underscores the paramount importance she places on mental and emotional well-being. It is a perspective that resonates with individuals who, like Swetha, may experience anxiety or discomfort in the glaring spotlight. She readily acknowledges that her authenticity naturally garners some visibility, a phenomenon she finds more palatable to navigate than actively seeking the spotlight, which she deems stressful and demanding.

In a world that clamors for visibility and vocalization, Swetha's steadfast stance serves as a poignant reminder – self-expression is profoundly personal, whether one embraces the spotlight or seeks authenticity in quieter realms.

Family, Queerness, AND Food!

The intricate dynamics of visibility in Swetha's life find a parallel in her journey of acceptance within her family. Much like the evolution in the world's perception of her identity, her family's understanding transforms, weaving a tapestry of acceptance and self-discovery. Swetha's path of coming out to her family unfolds as a rollercoaster of acceptance and understanding, particularly from her mother's standpoint. While the road to acceptance witnesses its share of crests and troughs, there emerge heartwarming moments of progress.

A pivotal juncture surfaces when Swetha introduces her girlfriend to her parents. Her mother, in a significant gesture, decides to prepare an elaborate meal for the occasion. For those familiar with Indian culture, the profundity of this act is evident. In a culture where formal acceptance may not always be overtly expressed, the act of cooking becomes a nuanced expression of love – a narrative that resonates profoundly.

Swetha's mother, while evolving in her understanding, still grapples with certain facets. Acknowledging the fluidity of attraction, she finds it challenging to fully embrace the idea of Swetha pursuing a lifelong companionship with a woman. The family's acceptance is a work in progress, but as long as the mother continues to prepare elaborate meals for her daughter's significant other, there is a shared understanding regarding this ongoing evolution.

Business Blazer, Queer Behavior

While Swetha's family journey embodies evolving acceptance and self-discovery, her experiences in the corporate realm contribute another layer to her unique narrative. She recounts the toxicity prevalent in male-dominated industries, such as the retail sector where her career germinated. Her trajectory was further complicated by her status as a single woman, necessitating the development of resilience and the discovery of her own voice.

A salient takeaway from our conversation is Swetha's recognition that her involvement in diversity and gender issues equipped her with essential tools to navigate these challenges. She astutely observes the dominance of men in discussions and decision-making within mixed-gender environments. Swetha's ability to prioritize the quality of her work emerges as a valuable coping mechanism throughout her journey.

For assigned female at birth (afab) individuals, Swetha encourages moving beyond the instinct of merely doing what is perceived as the "right thing." Her perspective emanates from personal experience, serving as a reminder that advocating for change, though crucial, doesn't invariably necessitate confrontation. It is acceptable to acknowledge personal boundaries and limitations.

There are a lot of HR people who are probably in the wrong job today.

Swetha's HR philosophy revolves around three fundamental pillars: approachability, active listening, and decisive action. She contends that HR professionals must transcend the shackles of rule-bound bureaucracy, genuinely caring for the well-being of employees. Swetha emphasizes that merely adhering to processes without embodying these human elements relegates HR to the status of an obsolete automaton.

What distinguishes Swetha's approach to conflict resolution is her focus on the behaviors inhabiting individuals, refusing to reduce people to one detrimental trait. Even those exhibiting harmful tendencies are not summarily boxed; instead, she isolates the behaviors that often cause harm. This nuanced strategy, centering on behavior rather than reductionist labeling, creates avenues for accountability and the potential for transformative change.

Swetha Harikrishnan's journey unfolds as a tapestry woven with threads of authenticity, resilience, and a commitment to challenging societal norms. From her defiance of gendered fashion expectations to her role as a catalyst for change in the corporate landscape, Swetha emerges as a beacon of individuality and a proponent of embracing one's true self. Through her multifaceted experiences, she imparts valuable lessons on the importance of authenticity, acceptance, and the transformative power of focusing on behaviors rather than succumbing to the limitations of categorization.

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