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After the spur of #MeToo Movement, there has been a question in the mind of every millennial on what is right and wrong in the workplace. Be it in terms of body language, speech or as simple as a joke, there has been a constant debate around a grey area which exists between what is legal and what is not legal.
ROAR 2019, witnessed a panel, which began a conversation which was very much the need of the hour. Considering the charged environment of the office spaces and to talk about the toxicity uprooting from misunderstanding the laws were three groundbreaking women; Aparna Jain, Author of Like a Girl, Nabomita Mazumdar, Ambassador of Ministry of Women and Child Development and Shalini Prakash, Venture Partner of 500 Startups.
The electric voraciousness of women started the panel on why these conversations serve a greater purpose to which Nabomita said, “If we don’t have these conversations, we’ll continue to face these silent chambers, day in and day out, and nothing would be done for that.”
According to Aparna, things are not changing because these conversations are not happening. “Conversations do not start at events, they start at home. It does not begin with telling your daughter what to do or what not to do, it begins with telling your sons how to behave.”
The panel briefly touched on the topics of Vishaka Guidelines and Sexual Harassment at the Workplace for Women Act 2013. According to this act, every company more than 10 employees has to have Sexual Harassment at the Workplace for Women Act 2013 in place.
Elaborating on the topic of body language at the workplace, people often wonder how much of touch is comfortable, beginning from a handshake to a hug.
“There is no touch. As per the law, there is no touch,” said Aparna Jain
According to Nabomita, even a sexual connotation is an offence, and touch is a physical part which crosses many boundaries. A sexual remark, a lewd joke, and somebody saying to somebody “You’re hot” are all a part of an offence.
Shalini Prakash, who is the venture partner of 500 Startups shares how venture capitalism and entrepreneurship has gone through its own share of conversations around #MeToo. There are different kinds of harassment, although going on, according to Shalini, and as a result of that not enough women are getting funded.
Of course, when more and women come and become VCs and investors in the future then gender would not be the criteria to judge people on their capability to take responsibility. However, the reality right now looks grim..
According to Shalini, “Now, when people make investment decisions, their mentality is like that women won’t be able to handle responsibilities when they become mothers or have more family work. But the fact is even men get burdened with families and these responsibilities are not just resorted to women.”
Talking about valley based companies, it is very casual to catch up for a drink. One incident in particular that Shalini threw light on is when a girl asked a guy to catch up for a drink, and the guy was baffled because if the tables were turned around, he would be in trouble right about now.
Often one is baffled by a grey area where we have to make a call on the right judgement. According to Aparna, there are no such grey lines, “There are things which are right, there are things which are wrong and right now because the atmosphere is so charged up, I think it’s better to err on the side of what’s right than to make a decision based on your judgement.”
To add on to this, Nabomita expanded on Vishakha Guidelines, explaining in two-fold, the first being that laws are always there and it requires sensitization, and it is something that men need to have on their fingertips and not women because men to need to be aware of what is the error, where is the mistake happening and what are the lines to be drawn.
Secondly, Nabomita talked about the power of consent, “As to the power of consent, if there is a yes and there is still a question of power involved, then it is not consent. The moment the power walks in, consent doesn’t work in both sexes.”
Aparna has herself conducted over 500 workshops over the past year and noticing the trends of the people who are actively involved in the conversation, she feels that the younger companies are doing it more, who take an initiative in conducting these sessions and starting conversations about what is wrong is wrong.
“There is a mindset issue in the stalwart companies. Whether it’s implemented and whether the leaders are actually making sure that their behaviour demonstrates the kind of behaviour that has to be applied in the workplace, I am not so sure.”
According to Nabomita, Government offices are more aware than the corporate offices in terms of the laws surrounding sexual harassment at the workplace.
However, in the world of venture capitalists and many more valley based companies, gender sensitization has been replaced by gender ignorance altogether. Shalini has observed a trend where men have stopped including women in meetings, breaks etc lest they are charged with ‘false allegations.’
Elaborating on this, she recalls an experience, “There were certain VC meetings if a male investor was assessing an opportunity with a female founder, they had another female sitting there who was just taking notes to provide testimony that nothing happened. Even when maternity laws came out, people stopped hiring women in key resources.”
According to Aparna, she strongly believes that people who make a call in not including women in the first place are cowards and in love with the toxic culture. That’s the cowards way out who are pushed to change the way they think.
“We are 50% of the population and you just gotta learn how to deal with it.”