Monday, December 4, 2017

Its in my hands!

Mahatma Gandhi was travelling in a train from Durban to Pretoria. He had a first-class ticket. When the train reached Morrisberg, an English man boarded the train. He was shocked to see a ‘coolie’ in the first-class compartment. He asked Gandhi to get out.
‘I have a first-class ticket, said Gandhi
The English man continued asking Gandhi to get out. Gandhi asked him to get an officer of law to intervene. The officer threw Gandhi’s luggage out and Gandhi too.
‘Get into the last compartment, the English man sneered.
Gandhi sat on the platform and watched the train go.
This was the beginning of a story that the world knows.

The sense of entitlement and privilege that certain people have over the other manifests in behavior that are superior. This sense of superiority comes from color, wealth, caste or gender. Societies have been trying for centuries to be egalitarian. Some have succeeded partially and some are struggling.
With industrialization came hope for economic freedom and thus equality. Corporates set up codes of conduct to ensure that all are treated well.  If colonization ended and the British and the rest of the plunderers left the shores of the country, a new colonization began.
The setting up of foreign companies in Indian shores!  While it employed many and added to the country’s prosperity the old deep rooted ugly face of racism reared. It is not strange to hear muffled voices in multinational corporations complain about discrimination. It is seldom addressed well

 You are singled out and systematically pushed to a corner to cut you to size. The reason being that you cannot be controlled, or managed. Or the victimization is because of who you are.  Processes that are laid down are violated to browbeat the victim. The victim often an Indian or Chinese seldom says anything. In the organization that I work for, we call it the EMI silence. EMI is Equated Monthly Instalment that has to be paid to the bank every month to repay the loan. The silence empowers the perpetrators. And then the corporate crawls with racist, bigots and supremacist.
Racial discrimination is also difficult to prove. It can be overt or covert.  But we can feel it. When somebody dislikes you for who you are and for something that you cannot change, that is racism.
When I was pushed to the corner, I howled murder. My dignity and self-respect is of utmost importance to me. I complained and wrote to everybody. I sought help from all who I know.  I was indignant to learn that grown up men violate processes, conspire to sate the bigot in them. The Swiss company that I work with had systems in place. But the system also failed to detect leaders with discriminatory behavior and their punishment was not swift and appropriate. The blanket of while silence was very heavy.
In the process, I also realized why an abused person is loath to file a complaint. Because somehow the whole narrative shifts to the complainant and not the perpetrator. The corporate tries to stick unrelated things to dilute the essence of the crime. There is a bro code! Of which lesser mortals are not part of.
Even in moments of despair, I thought of Gandhi sitting on the platform with a first-class ticket!
He began a story,
And so, should we!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Racism in Life.

The words racism, bigots and supremacists have entered our space and either we use it or we read about it or hear about it almost every day. Racists, bigots and supremacists are separated by thin lines and often the difference is not noticeable. 
Someone who believes that a particular race is superior to others and who makes negative judgements or assumptions or embraces negative stereotypes can be called a racist.
A bigot is someone similar to a racist, but operates on a wide angle targeting people of different nationalities, backgrounds, sexual orientation, gender, caste or religion.
A supremacist, generally, a white supremacist is like a member of the white boy network.  Anybody not similar to them them is a victim to their methods of pressure.
Racism has evolved, like everything else. It has grown and entered spaces like schools, universities, neighborhoods and offices. It started its journey from an innocuous bias to stereotype and then graduated to its current form.
In days of yore racism was very much like what was described in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and To kill a mocking bird.  A coarser form when the distinguishing specifics or the colloquial were hurled to show one one’s place.
I’ve always had a prejudice against Negroes and it’s a fact, I never could bear to have that child touch me; but, I didn’t think she knew it." (246)- 
Source: Stow, Harriet. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Hertfordshire, London: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 2002.
Who can forget the above line from Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  A racist is admitting his dislike toward Negroes. 
When the racist makes his belief known through language indicating the victim’s position it is a straightforward case and no arguments can save the racist. 
Once, I was travelling in the local train and I witnessed a fight between two women of different religions. The woman wearing the bindi (red vermillion mark on the forehead) called the other ‘bin tok’.  A colloquial slang to describe circumcision in Muslim men.  I did not stay back to see the end of the fight however, I could sense the bias hovering in the mind of the woman who called out the slang so spitefully. And it did not require me to do great math to understand where the 
Racism has become more polished in the corporate world. It lurks behind the ties and the tuxedo and in the meeting rooms where a corporate future is decided.  It moves sophisticatedly behind power points and is there like a fault line between hierarchies.  I, a brown woman having worked in organizations run from Europe and America, and still working in one have felt the spear of racism tear through me.  
Often, I am asked, how can you prove racism in such a, say refined place where everyone wants to be seem as a liberal. Such a valid question! No screaming names, no coarse language used. It’s covert and appears like discriminating lines in an email or violating a corporate process, in order to discriminate, and covering it up like a criminal when there are chances of being found out. 
In the Indian corporate world, racism is swept under the carpet. It can be dislike or harassment but not the R word. 
I know of a case in corporate India, where a white man accused Indians of being gossipmongers and he furthered on to single out the brown race.  The white man had no sense of remorse and he carried on business like usual. 
And I say when you know you are singled out for what you cannot change, for who you are, then its racism.
Women are the easiest victims. Not selected for a job, because they will get married and then have babies is an excuse as old as my grandfather. Or while being judged for further career growth, the woman’s scores are fudged for no reason. Or being excluded from meetings that are conducted late evening.  Of course, the above are gender discriminations, and the perpetrator of the crime is a bigot. 
Often, the perpetrator of the crime is not even aware of what he/she is doing. But that does not absolve the person.  It only means the racist thought is so deep seated that it becomes a matter –of-fact action.  It also means an, ‘I can get away with it attitude’. 
Every person and employee must invoke all the rules and laws to call out the racists, bigots and supremacists. If we remain silent, then we are fostering forces that are dangerous to society we live in.
It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” 
― Audre LordeOur Dead Behind Us: Poems

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Making a clerk out of a discoverer or corporate bullying!

                                                                - Monique Valcour, Harvard Business Review

We are familiar with school and university bullying. Because the students are a weaker lot and vulnerable, the society takes special care of them. What about people at work? In INDIA, sexual harassment is covered well with The Vishaka Act in INDIA and elsewhere in the world, corporates have zero tolerance to sexual harassment.
Corporate bullying, bigotry and ganging against an employee is a recognized crime by corporate and law. I have worked in world class companies like Gattefosse ACGworldwide and been part of projects with companies like Glatt  and Fette, and Mitsubishi. I have been mentored by the finest men and women in the industry like Nabil Farah, Ajit Singh and Leila Lal. These fine men and women taught me that more than work it is your character as a leader that will stay with you. We may not remember our boss for the EBIDTA he got for us that year but we will remember him for standing up with us, defending and mainly not bullying us.
This argument goes further when we talk of a global team. A global team has workers of different nationalities, religions and political voice.  The Hijab, bindi, fez, turban are who we are! A global team does not become a global team by often repeating that it’s a global team on all forums or by speaking inanely to each other every day.  The team stays glued with competent leadership, mature human understanding and wisdom. It is often presupposed that teams from certain countries can be bullied as the colonial mindset in corporate bypasses all limits of rational thinking.
Some thoughts!
  1. You are a part of the team and have helped build the business. Your sweat and tears are an integral part. Don’t take yourself lightly. YOUR DIGNITY IS PRIME.
  2. Be aware when a narrative is built against you. It could be you do not communicate, or you do not behave like a global team or you sleep or eat at work, or you are not structured. Blow at it like a pack of cards. A narrative is different from a feedback. The strong give feedback while the weak build narratives.
  3. Ensure that due processes are followed where you are concerned. If you follow processes, then the corporate better keep their side of the bargain.
  4. Keep your line manager in the loop, In INDIA his/her testimony holds water.
  5. The HR department is committed to your physical and mental safety and they have to first abide by the constitution of our land and then the code of the company. Make sure the HR knows what is going on with you.
  6. Every company has an integrity line, complaint line, redress line or whatever. Approach it with evidence.
  7. Write letters or emails right up to the top, CEO/ Chairman of the company. Describe what is happening. Like HomiMullah says if you think you do not have the authority to write a letter to the CEO, then you better resign.
  8. Make a support group at work place. And vent out.
  9. Always ask would this have been done to you if you were different skin toned. If your answer is NO, then it’s a color bullying. REPORT IT.
  10. Good industry practices support against all bullying. Your supplier and vendor will stand with you!
  11. Bullies are weaklings often in superior powers of position, insensitive and damaging. Often they have a team of disgruntled workers. Don’t fear to call them out! If they are brought down, then you may actually be doing a favor to the company!!!
And lastly, a corporate is made of people.  Good and Bad. Let’s try to make the good overtake the bad! Only then the bottom line will be healthy!
                                                                                                           -Mini Nair