Tanushree Dutta, Me Or You; We All Have No Choice But To Fight Workplace Harassment

After actress Tanushree Dutta opened up, this author pens down her own workplace harassment experiences in 11 years of being a woman in the corporate world. 

Tanushree Dutta, an actress from some years ago and an ex-Miss India has spoken up about how she was allegedly harassed on a film set almost 10 years ago at the hands of the veteran actor Nana Patekar and other crew members.

In 2008, when this incident took place, she had raised her voice. But instead of getting any support she had suffered a backlash from the industry and the media. She was not believed, simply because she was a newcomer, and that too a woman. She was obviously lying to get the limelight, maligning a good man’s name. She seemed that ‘type’. So the gossip went. Hence, her career died a premature death and she left for foreign shores.

This is about the same time that I had joined the corporate industry. A fresh MBA, starry-eyed about my future and believing that my hard work was all I needed to be appreciated and recognised for my work. I believed that gender inequality was a thing of the past and that in the new world; your gender did not matter.

Unfortunately, I would be proven wrong time and again and faced harassment only cloaked under different names.

Authority? No, that’s not for girls

In my first job, I was a PR assistant. My job was to ensure that one voice went out from the company’s end on any day, and there would be no opposing views in the media. It was not an easy task; at times the journalist would call the spokespeople (all in higher management positions), without informing us.

Time and again polite requests had been sent by me to them, that all media-related issues and talks be filtered through me first. However, one of the spokespersons went ahead, gave an interview and I got to know about it only when it was out in a newspaper, clashing with another note that had been sent by us.

My polite request to the concerned person to keep me informed was met with a curt ‘it’s not my job.’ Then an extremely tactful mail was sent by my senior, reiterating why it was important to keep a minion like me in the loop. But this man took it as an offense and launched a personal attack against me.

He would either be rude or outright ignore me if we ever met. He would crack jokes at my expense with my colleagues (who were forced to laugh), insult me and refuse to respond to any email, hence making my job difficult. When I requested my boss to intervene, he told me to let it go and it would die down.

I had hurt the overinflated ego of a senior official by questioning him. Not only was I a lowly assistant manager, but also a girl. How dare I show any sort of authority, even though as per my job description, I had this authority.

Ladki mat lo yaar!

I went on to work in an international bank where the person I was reporting to had worked in Europe, spoke in impeccable English, was extremely sophisticated and polished. I believed that at least here, all would be treated equally and given opportunities based on their merit, but I was proved wrong.

We were to hire an assistant in my department and had shortlisted a young woman and man. Both had similar profiles, but I was keen on the woman as she had brilliant writing skills, a must for this job.

When I said as much to my boss, his response was (exact words) – ‘Ladki mat lo yaar, kal ko bolegi shaadi hai bachcha hai’ (don’t take a girl, tomorrow she would come and say it’s her wedding or it’s a child). I was shocked into silence.

I asked, “Wouldn’t a man have these issues?” to which he responded, “Yes, but he does not have to run a household or take care of the kid.” I am still not sure if he ever realized he was speaking to a married woman who played dual roles as well and never gave him any cause to complain.

Too headstrong, no wonder she was divorced

Incident three happened in my next job. We had hired an agency, the vivacious girl representing the firm and me hit it off from day one. After a few months, we noticed a lag in their delivery and when I called her she told me she had a personal crisis. She was going through a divorce. Since their’s was a small firm with only she and her partner, they were falling behind.

Though distraught, she promised to ensure that the said creative deliveries would be made on time. I had to report this to my boss who was the company CFO. I told him that due to a personal crisis they were delayed and when he insisted I told him about what had happened. His response – “I am not surprised, I have always felt she is too hot-headed and outspoken.” This man has two daughters and I pity them.

How can showing a woman down be a joke?

In my last company, I had the worst experience of all. This was a traumatic time for me. My mother was suffering from cancer, my work used to eat up 12 hours of my day and I seem to be on a treadmill with no ‘stop’ button. And then I had to deal with sexual harassment.

What started as small jokes, soon took an ugly turn when two men from my team started sending me personal and revolting texts. I requested them to stop once nicely and after that harshly but they wouldn’t. They had not grown up from being school bullies and since I was the only girl in the team, they would gang up against me. Making fun of me, passing comments, or trying to put me down in front of seniors became an everyday ritual.

Once while having lunch with our boss, one of these men started talking loudly about how a junior refused to listen to me or laugh at me when I gave him any instructions because I was not aggressive enough. Needless to say, he was rude and obnoxious and the said junior refused to listen to him. My boss in front of whom not only this incident but countless such humiliating episodes had happened, laughed with them.

I finally spoke up after a few months and his response to me was, ‘But I thought it was all in good humour. They are only joking.” How could sexually coloured remarks, comments on my dress or deliberately showing a woman down be considered a joke? This is beyond me.

I left the corporate world a year ago. Somewhere I have made peace with all that I underwent. It taught me, made me stronger, realistic and wiser. No, I do not think that all men in the corporate world are bad, and no, not all men take advantage of their powerful position. But most of them do.

It is worse because they are all educated, urban, and supposedly open-minded males, but they still have the cave mentality. If she is a woman, she needs to be shown her place. And even if she does go ahead and complain, who will believe her? She has no authority or power. Hence, it continues, till one woman speaks up, till one has the courage to say ‘enough is enough until one refuses to bow down to pressure.

Tanushree Dutta is one such woman and she has my full support.

Image Source – Pixabay

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