After the blog by Susan Fowler and Indian Fowler, various articles came up about the lax laws against harassment in Indian startups, ‘bro-culture’ in startups or perhaps tech community in general. These things are not new, workplace harassment is still not tackled very well in Indian corporates, the tech community was never women-friendly, and these conditions won’t change overnight.
There are laws in place and implementing them with due diligence is definitely something which should be done. In the meantime, what we need is perhaps a small conversation and self-confidence.
I want to share a few experiences from my workplace, Elucidata, which gives me the independence to work freely in the tech space. Elucidata started in 2015 and I was among the first few employees. I have known our founder, Swetabh since my college days. I remember my first conversation with him during my interview revolved around women rights and harassment faced at workplaces. I know one thing for sure (and this comes with experience) if I am uncomfortable with something in the office I can talk to Swetabh without thinking twice. We encourage and make other new-joiners equally comfortable so that they can talk openly if they are not liking something.
In our company-wide meetings, we often discuss the importance of diversity. Having people from different culture, castes and religion help you become more open minded and think differently.
One of the reasons startups have what’s being referred to as ‘bro-culture’, is that there are only ‘bros’ in tech. They can’t probably relate to some of the issues that women might be facing and hence don’t realise what’s missing. It’s quite possible that four guys working out of their apartment never imagined they would need a dustbin in the washroom if they want to work with a female intern (this story is true :D). And if you don’t tell them that you need one, they might not even realise. Having a conversation in this situation helped me understand my opposite gender better. When we think about hiring someone now, we try to accommodate their possible needs were initially not so obvious to us.
We have grown up in a society where gender-conforming color biases like pink for girls and blue for boys have been ingrained and breaking those stereotypes is not easy for any of us.
What I see around, this company is discouraging such remarks, not snubbing someone but perhaps letting them think about it. This one time, I was late to office, I still walked in with a big grin on my face and a story about having been driven by a female Uber driver (the only time I was fortunate enough to be driven by a female driver in NCR). I told everyone the story, and one of my colleagues joked about a possibility of that being the reason for my lateness. In all seriousness, we asked why that was a possible reason. Such conversations help us think a teeny bit more about what we say every day, and the ramifications that such statements may have.
A few weeks back we had a company-wide discussion with Prof. Ravinder Kaur from IITD about gender biases at workplace. She pointed out how office spaces have been predominantly designed from a healthy male perspective. We realised it when some street lights near our office (we are an upcoming startup so no CyberCity :P) were not working and discussed with the people in the neighborhood about getting them fixed. Not only infrastructure, small things like asking for a day’s leave without hesitation during a particularly uncomfortable and painful period gives off the vibe of an emotionally comforting environment.
These are experiences of Raaisa Mahajan, Data Scientist at Elucidata, on par with guys. This is a personal experience and is hence mostly written from a female’s perspective. We can’t really relate to other kinds of discrimination faced by people, but I believe if all of us start having real conversations with our employers, a stroke of change is extremely likely to happen.