Workplace issues and threshold

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The word “threshold” means brink or starting point for something or the level for a person. And generally associated with the onset of some stage.  Using this word to associate with sexual harassment at the workplace may seem a little out of place but nonetheless is very apt also.

Sexual harassment at workplace may not be very openly discussed but the thought of using threshold  to analyze our understanding of sexual harassment at workplace occurred to me after watching an episode from the legal drama series Boston Legal, where the  character  of Lori Colson nearly files a sexual harassment case against senior partner Denny Crane.  Denny had always been shown as pompous and over the top and a womanizer. Being a senior partner his behavior  was always accepted as normal and tolerated. But its not the case with Lori Colson.  But eventually Lori withdraws her complaint under pressure from another senior partner at the firm.

My analysis of reports on the  corporate world (http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2013/oct/23/sexual-harassment-workplace-endemic-women)  and discussions with friends who work with women based NGOs made me realize that there are many shades and levels of harassment that we are not able to feel the existence of. We take many aspects of behaviors for granted and tolerate them just because we have been doing so. It’s not about the male gaze as such. When we don’t have specific female role models or mentors we don’t instinctively realize many things that happen to us until after many years of maturity.

Especially now when we have developed an obsession with youth and looks and achievements and women have more opportunities open to them. There is no stigma attached to women delaying marriage and children. Nonetheless, there is still a subtle yet insidious way in which the harassment continues and somehow its all the more demeaning. The old demarcations have definitely faded away but in its place we have the liberated young woman who can be approached and taken to be a willing partner in exploring more than just the job.

When one of my friends approached a senior manager from another team in her organization for a role in his team she was met with a surprising answer. She was clearly told that she wasn’t “visible” to him as she wasn’t taking pains to message, call and “whatsapp” him and clearly there were many others who did that very often. He also implied that he wasn’t sure if he could go ahead and call her on weekends if he wanted to and hence the positions were getting closed with other people. There can be two sets to female responses to this experience. One, where the woman just ignores it because no comments were passed on her, he had not approached for any sexual favors in return for the job and because he was plainly trying to be funny and friendly. But then, there could be some like Lori, which in my case my friend was,  and could see the blatant way in which he was suggesting that he needed that something to consider her for the role whereas he could have just said that she didn’t fit the bill.

But are we as women always ready to take every situation head on and deal with it? In most cases there would be no reaction but feigning of ignorance. And also acceptance of the same “ sexual harassment is endemic” and we cant do much about it response.. The point to understand is that harassment has always been about exercising your power over the other and its mostly gender based (male over female) but the outcomes should not be allowed to pass. With IT companies being so gender sensitive nowadays, sexual harassment should never be tolerated and nor should there be accepted patterns of behavior which are blatantly sexual and vicious in nature but tolerated or normalized. Many of us as women unconsciously adopt the female pattern of growth in our organizations- accept the motherhood and  gender (inferior) effect consciously or unconsciously and hence don’t question our situation and corresponding growth prospects. The way out is to speak up and fight against the stereotypes that are bound to come our way. It should never be a case of- why didn’t she protest when it was happening with her”? Or as my friend quipped-“ it should never be a case of – she never told me that she didn’t want it””. So lets not let that excuse make people in positions of power get away. If just protesting or rather speaking out our feelings helps then so be it. We will start from there.  That may be my threshold of a complaint.

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Quiver full of arrows

Sometimes a very negative experience turns out to be the most rewarding in the long run. It opens up amazing inroads and shows us the great possibilities that we had in life and never knew how to recognize.  The challenges that women continue to face in the workplace similarly make them all the more adept at handling their multiple challenges and the day is not far off when women will be appreciated solely for their work without attention being stolen by their appearance.  My friend recently faced a very tough and cruel experience at her place of work. Being pregnant she was not keen on travelling as much she had been for the organization.  This made her appear as unproductive to her boss who kept finding fault with her performance throughout her term and finally submitted a formal memo to her. This memo came just before her 4 month paid maternity leave. Meant as a blow to make her resign, it instead made her take her organization to court. From being someone who had unquestioningly put in more hours than all her colleagues, she had taken on the entire senior management. So she had become a liability as she was in the process of taking up the most important assignment of her life as a woman.

The observation of the career path of women does present hiccups and meanderings a little more than their male counterparts. Though many of us who work in software MNCs would vouch for the complete equality we have in our professional space, there does remain the fact that women do face more challenges and are not considered competent enough for leadership roles. Being the deal maker, smarter, faster and better than their competitors is still not appreciated in women. They get labelled as “aggressive” go getters.

My work on researching reasons for women’s attrition in my previous organization made me explore the discourse about the evils of women careerists over homemakers. Professionally qualified women still gave it all up to relocate with their spouses. And I also learnt that we had very few women in leadership positions. Women specifically face challenges related to the stage of their personal life cycle, assertiveness/ aggressiveness and incredulous as it may sound to you, age. Often enough many of the work domains are dominated by men and hence women are given the short shrift even if they have proved themselves to be careerists. But most times these particular experiences turn out to be preparation for the women for their more senior and plum posts.. A probation of sorts. Its akin to a quiver full of arrows in terms of the skills and attitude each of these experiences develops in them and the various ways they arm themselves to face the roles they need to play successfully. It did develop a new skill and strength in my friend.

In some cases identity crises sets in for women who tend to prove to be “not just men in skirts”. Communication channels generally get blocked or disturbed and their contributions are less fully valued.

But nonetheless, all these challenges shape you. Someone as high profile as Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo) was not spared and called “robotic and stuck up”, “gender blind” and they clearly show the gender bias at work here in labelling her as such. But it didn’t stop her from taking many tough decisions as CEO. In fact, it helps to have these professional“jolts”early on as it makes one strong enough to handle people and top management issues later on.

Are there any specific mantras or experiences that churn out the best in people? We need to develop our own set of skills and strengths and not shy away from challenges or our specific weaknesses. We also need to maintain our originality as best we can and not forget that there is no fixed traditional pathway to the top. As more and more women join the professionals population there will be evolution in the way they are perceived. We need to decide what arrows we need in our case and how we can replenish the quiver as per the times.

In defense of defiance

Monotony, tedium and mundaneness are all terms that affect us very often. Sometimes the mundaneness of things makes us feel dry within; as if a slice of life has died and we don’t know what to do next. It is sometimes this tedium of things that we sometimes cherish after they are over.

Sometimes the only redeeming features in life are also those that are so routinized that we tend to ignore them.  We watch movies where life seems so interesting, romantic, on the move and we would like to see ourselves in such lives. Lead the same characters and wear the same clothes and have the same relationships….

And in all of this we allow life to become similar to that of a prisoner where we are constantly in an inquisition. We fail to see beyond the set rule, let alone breed defiance. And this defiance and disobedience most times brings out the most creative in us. The purpose here is not to belittle any particular aspect of life or any particular person. But to come up with ways and methods to overcome them and get on with life.

Have you ever imagined that the Monday blues that we feel are in response to the fear we have of tedium? Some practical ways of handling not just Monday blues but work day hues  could be the following:

  • Feeling dull and you should dress up in bright colors
  • An empty feeling and a deep color would provide the needed depth
  • You feel you are dealing with an invalid work environment- a very common phenomenon where there are team parity issues and you should just keep your cool always- no recommended colors L
  • If you feel that you are in an emotional jungle then please stick to blues and greys. They bring out the professional in you!
  • Capitalize on, make real and make the best of whatever work that is offered to you. Always ask for more or the kind of work that you want
  • If you feel you lack faith in your capacities- wear red. It brings out the fighter and negotiator…
  • If you are in a happy state and in no mood to work- please wear pink. It shows that you are innocent and happy.

We should also try and remember that there is no black and white world and that there is no complete honesty or integrity in the corporate world. There are many shades of grey and must be seen as it is. Requirements change and we must keep up or risk getting lost or relegated to the background as the ones who didn’t quite catch up and succeed.

A few more observations on the basis of my constant effort to understand leadership styles, people and work teams is that truth is a very strong medicine. It should only be administered very sparingly and caution and restraint should be exercised by any leader while giving feedback. I have been told umpteen times that being “on the face” doesn’t help and is not appreciated.  At the same time we should not let anyone smother our creativity and our singular thinking to make the environment dull and sterile.

The key to a satisfying, successful and enriching professional experience to a large extent lies in our approach to most things. Success is to be defined singularly and is to be experienced as per our definition. Career path has to be chosen carefully by each one of us and patiently followed without giving it up when organizational changes happen.

Finally, coming back to defiance; a pinch of it should be mixed up in everything that we do and say so that we can make our mark and be remembered for our singular style. A little bit of defiance can always be passed off as creativity J

Hospitable emergency

At some point in our lives we all have to make a visit to the hospital either for ourselves or our near and dear ones. But sometimes negligence on the part of the doctor or hospital staff leaves a lasting bad impression on our psyche and we tend to get paranoid.

A recent experience with my aunt reiterated my long held belief that hospital staff is not always a trustworthy lot. Hospitalized for a bout of nausea and acute body ache due to nerve entrapment; the nurse on duty administered a heavy dose of Insulin right in the morning before breakfast and even though my aunt protested the nurse had her way. The same dose was to be repeated again after breakfast and but somehow was stopped by my aunt. My aunt does not suffer from a severe case of type 2 diabetes and knowledge about her medication and health in general saved her that day. Sounds like a simple negligence but insulin overdose can result in life threatening coma and eventual death in some cases.

The state of hospitals, hospital administration and public service in general is not something that we in India can claim to be the best of our services. More so now, in the age of globalization and instant relief where the quality of public service to a large extent speaks about the level of urbanization of the nation.

But are there any specific factors that help us decide the right hospital? It is an open secret that doctors and nurses get better care than the average ordinary patient. They get the royal red carpet. This is partly due to professional affinity, but the more important reason is the knowledge and research that doctors do when they go for their personal treatment. They ask all the right questions and know how to get their way around hospitals.

There are a few basic things that we can keep in mind when we need to decide on medical intervention:

Do not neglect your symptoms till it is very late

Pay attention to details and ask for explanation of your medical report.

Develop a personal relationship with you family doc and nurses in your regular clinic. Ask them where they would treat themselves or their near and dear ones. This way one can find out about the right places.

India’s medical emergency:

Its common to find a gap between India’s claim of shining and the ground reality in health care systems. Even after 60 yrs of independence, the state of the healthcare system does not seem very bright. There is rampant corruption in the field. Only about 1% of GDP is allocated to health and the latest plan is to increase it further to 2.5%.At the outset we need to consider health a priority and atleast increase the allocation to 6%

In the age of availability of healthcare related websites, we tend to default to criteria like distance from our homes or whether the hospital staff is well behaved in choosing health care facilities. The best hospitals in India have huge queues, lack waiting rooms and are badly managed. They also sometimes do not have the necessary equipment to deal with simple and relatively cheap treatment. . They don’t have the capacity to deal with the population in our country and the poor waiting in queues for hours don’t get any attention at all. Only the well to do or the hospital fraternity get decent treatment

So we need a transparent system in place; a rating mechanism according to specialization. A database for hospitals in the country where people can search through according to the rating, price and specialization. The enhancement of public health expenditure as a part of GDP will bear fruit only when standardization/benchmarking is done for hospitals on a mandatory basis as in the western countries.

Urban landscape and movies

The Lunchbox, the first feature film by documentary & short film maker Ritesh Batra, is definitely one to sit up and look at the  kind of movies  about our mundane urban landscape. It does come as a breath of fresh air and portrays the relationship between two strangers of the opposite sex  with grace and respect.

There are so many thoughts and opinions that come to mind while analyzing it.  A couple years of sociology some of which  were spent watching socialists and rightists fight it out in campus along with a few feminists were enough to stimulate my sensitive and interrogative side. Working in the corporate exposed me to yet another set of views.  But there are certain things which cannot be ignored just because they are not over the top.

Let me begin by recounting  my conversation with one of my male colleagues about the recent  off beat movie –The lunch box. There was no comment from him let alone an appreciable one. Whereas I was telling all my friends and acquaintances about the need to watch such a simple and intelligent movie. It had a dream like quality about it and its most appealing quality was the pure and simple romance between the two protagonists. Nothing over the top or vulgar or unrealistic. Pure friendship which started with sharing daily updates and then graduated to the anxiousness of meeting the other person.

Well, what was it that my dear male friend missed to see? Was is the fact that the married housewife took a daring step of walking out on an unfaithful husband or was it that men generally prefer simple fun structured around fast paced romance or cars? It was unfathomable to me.  

This simple romantic friendship is peppered with the hero ‘s (Irrfan Khan’s character) doubt about his apparent  old age and his friend’s youth which has a lot of life and dreams yet to achieve and experience. He had begun to feel the forces of old age and the travails of city life which were too much sometimes. So the question was would our strange hero be able to survive the doubts about himself and the entire situation? This is where the character of Nawazuddin Siddiqqui comes into the picture. As Irrfan’s new replacement who is intense and irritating at the same time. His bouts of maturity are visible in quite a few places and finally equip our hero to take up the reins of his life and relationship and not run away from them.

The movie ends leaving the viewer to imagine the end as he/she prefers- the wife walking out with her child and moving on to a more happier place  possibly with her new lover and feeling liberated.

The simplicity and purity with which the characters have been explored belie the seriousness of the issue being discussed.  The conversation shared through lunchbox chits between two complete strangers explores a whole range of marital issues and changing social conditions which make one stop and think about all the mundane issues that we all face in an urban setting and tend to ignore.

This bracing new movie is an eye opener of sorts. We don’t need songs and dances in a movie and nor do we need over the top dialogues to make a successful movie. Ritesh Batra as director of this film can be compared with the likes of Basu Chatterjee’s Shaukeen & Rajnigandha of the 70S & 80s, where a similar simple narrative is accompanied with depiction of an interesting and intelligent story.

Well, coming back to my male counterpart, my overenthusiasm rubbed off on him finally. Men do have appreciation for simple movies with a strong message in it. Its just that they see less of  such movies than women  and it takes a while before they  accept the fact that slow paced movies are also watchable and likeable :). 

You are very beautiful…

Statistics shows that we, the youth, atleast in India are by far the most involved and proactive generation. This youth population, for which India is set to gain in terms of economic growth. So just as Barbra Streisand says in “The way we were”- “We are a very beautiful generation; the best, the brightest and the most committed”.

But it would not be very incorrect to say that our in children’s generation some kind of stasis has set in. Atleast in terms of developing social skills. A chance encounter with my nephew and his classmates (all kids between the age group of 5 to 7) made me realize where the stasis lay. “What are you playing”? Is all I had to ask to each of these kids and none of them bothered to glance my way. Opening doors of conversations with kids has never been difficult for me but it was definitely an eye opener. It made me realize that their behavior patterns were different from what it had been for us- the so called Gen X & Y.

Our urban lifestyle seems to be at the forefront of personality development. It is based on the premise of individualism and prioritizes “me” and “mine” over “we” and “us”. We seem to optimize our own interest only. Thus the kids who grow up in this lifestyle have very low attention span and time for  others- as in, grandparents, neighbors or cousins. Those significant groups in our growing up years. Gone are the days of spending summer afternoons with cousins on mango trees with Enid Blytons. Children now would rather play videogames right from morning through evening or be glued to their laptops and learn alphabets at readingeggs.com. The straight jacketed approach of us as parents- trying to develop skills in our kids to beat the ever increasing complexity of technology and do well in the rat race has resulted in nerdy kids who are unfriendly and impatient and seem like having stunted social skills.

Another casualty staring us in the face is the possible disruption of nuclear family. Has our urban lifestyle made us so self centred that we are completely missing out on inclusivism? “I think, therefore I am”- the dictum of Rene Descartes is eventually going to take permanent shape in our societies where till a few decades ago joint family was the norm. This seems like a scary thought…

We as parents need to run a check on ourselves and take a break from realizing our careers and ambitions. This may sound very unprogressive to many, but to subvert skewed or distorted changes in our families, we need to take the call. We do seem very lost sometimes in playing a fine balancing role between parent and careerist, but like all things tough, this has a simple solution. Let us not forget our basic responsibilities as parents and prioritize so that our forthcoming generations get to experience all the beautiful relationships that age offers. And we should not allow time to narrow itself in front of us and miss living. Let us remain the beautiful generation…

Internal affairs

Events that happened last week brought back old memories from my previous organization and also the precious employee grievance chapters learnt in HR.

My best friend had quit her highly coveted new job. A role that she had been following up on for four years and had finally landed.  But then all roles don’t turn out to be what they appear to be. And a role is not just that- its an amalgamation of the team, its vision and the general environment.  Her exposure had made her realize that we work for people and particular set ups more than for brands.  And it was precisely the reason that had made her quit her new job.  So when we pursue career options is it just on the basis of what we learn about the role on paper or do we do a thorough research about the team, the manager, the manager’s vision about the company and his team and also our growth vis-à-vis the organization?

These were moot points that were coming up in my mind. How often have we ignored our goals and aspirations? And obviously we also don’t attribute much importance to the love/belonging strata in the motivation theory of Maslow. And sometimes we simply don’t belong. Whatever that means. Sometimes both aspirations and acceptance are what we are looking for.

We so easily cross the divide between passion and duty as children. The ideas and rules set by parents for their children determine and guide their feelings and desires. Sometimes they don’t realize their passion and their true calling until a much later age. It is very comfortable and most times obligatory for  kids  to strive to achieve their parents’ dreams and never feel their own passion. Children are duty bound and cater to the most basic human need—belonging & acceptance. Differences and rebelliousness are not appreciated until one is old enough to realize or find himself. Until we stop bickering about the rat race and slowly start giving ourselves the chance we shall never achieve fulfillment. The paralysis set in by the rules needs to be corrected otherwise we shall all emerge as retarded.

Let us strive to live life to its fullest , mind and soul. Living life is about self-gratification, success and enjoying every moment. My friend eventually found a very fulfilling role in a startup where she is able to realize not only her potential but is also able to connect her passion to her work.

Coming back to motivation and purpose again, its something that shifts base with age and maturity. So being the belonging strata now and later on can be the self-actualization need.  Even though we may have achieved” metamotivation”- the motivation of people who go beyond the basic physiological need; and esteem had featured in our ambition/need, belonging can take dominance anytime.

We generally don’t accept differences and diversity of our “others” in our lives- it may be in our family or at our workplace. Being “fat”, “intellectual”, “silent” or may be from a different region  can be a detriment to first the acceptance and the resultant growth of that person in an organization. Regional bias can be an entire reason for growth or failure.But then this world has inherently been an unfair place and we need to constantly strive to better ourselves. The flip side is that this unfairness in some ways helps us achieve the maximum of our abilitiesJ.