From Sexism To Working Conditions: All That Was Discussed At The #FutureOfWork Event

ILO logoEditor’s Note:With #FutureOfWork, the International Labour Organization India and Youth Ki Awaaz are coming together to explore the spectrum of issues that affect young people's careers and work lives. Join the conversation! 

With 51% of India’s population being under the age of 25, issues pertinent to the youth could not have been more important. This means more young people are entering the workforce than ever before, a crucial reason to speak up for equality, opportunities and the conditions we work in.

On January 21, 2017, the International Labour Organization India and Youth Ki Awaaz came together to do just that, with our event #FutureOfWork, a platform to discuss the rapidly changing workplace and what it means for the working Indian millennial. Hosted at Antisocial, Hauz Khas Village, the two and a half hour event covered a wide range of issues.

First Up: Women In The Workforce

Young Kashmiri journalist Ashwaq Masoodi, a Ramnath Goenka awardee and writer on gender issues for the Mint, moderated a diverse panel. Gayatri Boragohain, Founder of FAT (Feminist Approach to Technology), spoke about the perception of engineering being a man’s profession, with most women being considered only for a desk job.

This sentiment was complemented by Saloni Malhotra’s experience, as she climbed the entrepreneurial ladder, to found DesiCrew, an organisation that aims to create knowledge-based livelihood opportunities in rural India. Saloni revealed an intimate conversation with her father, about his change in attitude when she became Vice-President at PayTM. She wondered why he carried her visiting card as VP at PayTM, but never carried the card she had for CEO, DesiCrew. His logic: “You can start your own company and call yourself CEO, who cares? This is someone else who is calling you Vice-President.”

It has always been an uphill struggle for women to achieve their professional objectives; they must first defeat societal opinion, then gender bias and finally, they arrive at the starting line that men occupy. Geeta faced a similar roadblock, and resorted to training behind closed doors until she was ready to declare her choice of profession. Married age 17, Geeta wanted a better life and education for her children, and silently underwent training at the Azad Foundation. Once she was ready, she refused to consider permission and unabashedly began earning her living as a cab driver, with Sakha Consulting Wings. Whilst she often hears that she should ‘go home, and do normal work that women do’, Geeta is clear, “I will work to achieve my aims and goals, in a manner that I deem fit.” Sher Singh Verick, Deputy Director with ILO-India Office, brought in key components about youth mobility and traditional gender roles, emphasising that work must not be restricted to Tier 1 cities in India.

Catch the full conversation here:

Next: Entrepreneurship Aspirations & Challenges!

A fireside chat between Apurv Agarwal, Founder of SquadRun, and Anshul Tewari, Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Youth Ki Awaaz, highlighted the #FutureOfWork surrounding entrepreneurship and new business. Apurv talked of young people “wanting increased flexibility and the power of choice, not rigid hierarchies.” The premise of SquadRun can be derived to achieve this aim, as it allows an individual to work from home or any environment, without losing productivity. A mobile app, SquadRun offers businesses cost-efficient operational solutions by gamifying work. Anshul highlighted the dark side of entrepreneurship that often goes unnoticed, hidden in the shadows of extremely successful startup organisations such as PayTM. The boom in one, causes the rest to feel a surmounting pressure of matching profitability, scale and market penetration, leading to the risk of burning out and shutting down. During a rapid question-answer session, Anuja Bapat, Director, Ministry of Labor and Employment, stirred the pot further.

With conversations and opinions spilling onto the Twitter realm, #FutureOfWork began trending; the event receiving questions from young people across the country. Ironically, this marked the advent of the last session, focusing on an issue, which is possibly discussed the least.

And, Finally: Working Conditions For Young People

Participating in this conversation were individuals who could talk about things from a legal standpoint, as well as the value of internships and accessibility at work, with Anshul Tewari knitting the conversation together. Sarvesh Agarwal, Founder of Internshala, talked about the basic right of every intern to good working conditions and a stipend. “98% of our internships are paid, and the rest are for NGOs, which is explicitly mentioned.” Internshala is a game-changer in a highly disorganised Internship environment in India, providing support, training and authenticity for any individual that interns through them. Apart from basic expectations, interns are vulnerable to being exploited and discriminated against, especially along the lines of gender. Karuna Nundy, Supreme Court advocate, emphasised this by providing an insightful observation of her own conduct in court. She noticed that whilst in court, her voice would unconsciously deepen but otherwise, her natural voice would take on a higher pitch. “Why should feminine characteristics not be valued in the workplace? Why not more space for different people,” she added.

An accessibility and disability rights activist, Nipun Malhotra, felt strongly about similar concerns. Nipun is the Co-founder of the Nipman Foundation, which bestows an annual award for organisations that hire and nurture employability for people with disabilities. “Many people with disabilities have removed stating their disability, from their CV, for fear of being discriminated,” he said, whilst detailing examples where individuals with disabilities have actually proved advantageous to certain organisations.

With a flurry of questions coming from the audience after the discussion, a common theme emerged of respecting each individual at work and speaking up about malpractices. Anshul added that organisations must ensure a stable working environment at the workplace, along with policies that protect the individual, such as those around workplace harassment and mental health.

Representative of a young, driven, progressive workforce, the session found no chair unoccupied, with the audience hanging on to each word, despite no breaks in between sessions.

Sign language interpreters Priyanka and Soniya, who made the event accessible for attendees with a hearing impairment, were full of energy, revitalised by the conversation and participation, which saw 150 individuals come in unison. If the session is indicative of anything, it is that the #FutureOfWork seems to be a promising one, as long as the youth play an active component by speaking out!

Dear millennial, we want to hear your story. Tell us about YOUR career aspirations, the struggles, discriminatory practices you want changed, your expectations from your workplace, skills mismatch and wage gaps, and your unique experiences in starting your own business. Start writing here (and don’t forget to include #FutureOfWork!)