We have to change the culture of sexism in offices: An HR manager’s open letter | delhi | Hindustan Times
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We have to change the culture of sexism in offices: An HR manager’s open letter

In Part 7 our series, Let’s Talk About Rape, an HR professional writes to his colleagues on the need to eschew casual sexism within workplaces.

delhi Updated: Dec 21, 2016 15:57 IST
Lokesh Raj
Let's Talk About Rape
HR professional Lokesh Raj says that in this day and age, there should be no glass ceiling for women. (Pratham Gokhale/HT PHOTO)

Eight residents of Delhi write open letters discussing sexual abuse and rape. In Part 7, an HR professional writes to his colleagues.

Dear colleagues,

A few days ago while hosting a game of Tambola, as I announced – King’s corner: first and last numbers of top row and Queen’s corner: first and last numbers of the bottom row — something suddenly hit me.

We stopped and redefined the prizes – top row as the Queen’s corner and bottom one as the King’s corner. Maybe this was too much symbolism, but it stirred in us a stream of thought about the casual ways in which we perceive and propagate gender (in) equality norms.

Rape, as has been often repeated, is not about sex. It is about a gravely misplaced sense of power, superiority and control – over the other gender. Prima facie, people who commit such acts are particularly vicious. But, as a civilisation we need to analyse the roots of that sense of power, superiority, control and inequality and how they get reinforced in the workplace.

Read | It’s our duty to be on rape survivors’ side: A lawyer’s letter to his colleagues

Social norms get so deeply ingrained that we get accustomed to them as the normal way of life. This is nothing but culture – something which we as Human Resource professionals obsess with day in and out. In an organisation, we define culture as inherent values, practices and the way of doing things. Rape, a grave offence against humanity, may not be directly linked to such gestures. But this and other components of ‘culture’ are responsible for nurturing and breeding a mindset that manifests itself in rape. So, when we talk of rape and how to sensitise our society, we look at modifying, monitoring and developing a culture of equality everywhere – at home, in office and in our minds.

A casual glance at any aspect of society will yield clear observations – of how a subtle dominance of a gender and inherent biases have been hinted at. Workplaces are no exceptions as they are a simulation of the society we live in.

From the symbolism inherent in naming certain positions as male by default (eg. chairman), to designing work spaces and practices without taking consideration of the comfort of both the genders, it exists. In all those times, where a woman riding high on the corporate ladder is often doubted, or the success is attributed to her gender, bias exists.

As the architect of workplace policies and processes, it is on us to ensure the intent behind them is right, and more importantly, that they are not seen as a favour or benefit but a very natural part of an organic ecosystem.

Every time, while looking for a suitable candidate , we come across this line, ‘this work isn’t suitable for a woman’, we know the bias persists.

In society, the bias is right there when we tell young boys not to ‘cry like a girl’, or when we complement our daughters by calling them ‘son of the house’. It is right there when we associate courage with ‘having balls’, and it is glaringly and disgustingly out there when we define a victory or failure as ‘raped/got raped’. It is right there when our movies translate rape into ‘losing honour’ (izzat lootna), and propagate victim shaming without a thought. This casual sexism, is so deeply ingrained that it is mostly passed off as the norm and becomes acceptable in office parlance.

This affects most workplaces that are not as regulated or sophisticated the unorganised sector. But no, none of these are why rapes happen exactly.

Yes, we must talk about rape. But before that, we must wake up and shake away this delusion that we are not a part of this problem. We must, as professionals take a conscious call to redesign the culture of the society we live in. We must talk about equality and act on it – in our life decisions, of marriage, of children, of career and sharing responsibilities, credits and even blame. We must tell our young generations and people who work with us what equality is, how it should manifest itself in day-to-day behaviour– from sharing food to respecting each other’s choices, bodies and consent. We must convince ourselves that women (or men) don’t ‘have to’ be a certain way, they can be who and what they want for themselves. That there can be no glass ceiling — not in this day and age.

Lokesh Raj

The author is an HR partner in the hospitality sector.

Join the conversation about rape, tweet to @httweets with #LetsTalkAboutRape.

To read our previous coverage, visit http://bit.do/letstalkaboutrape.

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Next in the series: A school student writes on the issue of rape and sexual violence