Here’s How I Dealt With Sexism At Work, You Can Too!

Posted by Neha Agarwal in Sexism And Patriarchy
March 20, 2017
Editor’s note: This story is in response to Youth Ki Awaaz’s topic for this week – #SexismAtWork to start conversations on how we can tackle sexual harassment at work. If you have a story to share, would like to share your opinion on recently reported incidents or policy reforms that can be put in place, write to us here.

I was in class XI when I was newly admitted into a boarding school, away from home. That day, in chemistry class, I was sitting in the aisle seat of the second row. The middle-aged chemistry teacher put his hand on my shoulder while answering my question. It was a bad touch. And I nervously said, “Sir, please remove your hand from my shoulder.”

He said, “What?”

I said, “Sir, dur se baat kijiye (Please talk from a distance),” loud enough to be heard by everyone in the class.

He immediately left the class. Some of my classmates (boys and girls alike) came to me and told me that I was going to get a zero in the chemistry practical examination. It was a normal thing for him to touch girls while teaching. Those who had been studying under him from the beginning were aware of this and scared of him. I was new and I wasn’t scared. I thought, “Who cares? I will score in written exam.”

Two teachers supervise a class of students in a school near Bodh Gaya, India. (Photo credits: Flickr/José Morcillo Valenciano)

Today when I look back at my childhood days, this incident is a reminder of the courage and boldness in me. Besides this incident, if I recall how I used to be, all I can remember is a nervous and a studious teenager who was in her own world.

Especially in the boarding school, I had an image of a homesick crybaby. He probably knew this and thought I was an easy target.

But when he touched me, I had the courage to raise my voice. At home, I was always told that I shouldn’t fear such people ever.
School got over. College got over too. I moved to Delhi for my career.

This incident, however, was not the last one I faced. Nonetheless, I was always clear that I was not going to tolerate any such behaviour. Kisi ne kuch socha bhi to band baja deni hai (If someone even thought about something like this, I would screw their life)!

As a young girl at work, I was slowly learning to survive but deep within I wanted to thrive. Initially I made certain rules at work to avoid mess.

  • I made my family visit me in the office so that people knew that I wasn’t fighting all odds alone for my ambitions.
  • I ensured that I didn’t remain alone in the office at odd hours. I was bold enough to say “No”.
  • At work, I always had at least one very good friend.
  • I consciously decided which office party I would attend.
  • I preferred quitting over tolerating certain things.

Don’t judge me for the lame rules I used to follow at work. Everyone needs to set priorities and choose battles in life. That was just my way of preventing people from thinking of me as a soft target, as vulnerable. That was my way of avoiding unwanted battles.

Well, sexual harassment is highly demeaning and depressing. In an “ideal scenario”, employers have zero-tolerance policies for sexual harassment. There are laws and a clear message from the Government that sexual harassment needs to be stopped. NGOs are there to back up the survivor.

Unfortunately, the scenario isn’t as ideal and let’s face the truth. We come across cases of sexual harassment at work very often.

From my journey, I want to share few thoughts with all the young girls chasing goals.

1. Career Or Self-Respect

Good marks in exams, a rocking job, astounding career, all that matters. The question is, at what cost? This cost could be anything but self-respect.

A zero in practical, resignations with immediate effects, salary losses, won’t matter in the bigger scheme of things. But compromising your dignity & self-respect because you were scared to raise your voice will haunt you forever.

Make a choice, raise your voice, loud enough to be heard by the perpetrator and the others around.

2. They Need Us More Than We Need Them

Sometimes we mistakenly chase something because we think this is the only thing that can give us happiness.

You are smart. You are talented. You work hard. You learn fast. Any industry needs you more than you need to be a part of that industry.

So, next time when they shout that your career will be ruined, don’t become vulnerable. Be fearless.

3. You Are Not Alone

It is normal to not share such incidences with family because of the fear of being asked to leave the job. We don’t share it with friends because of the fear of not being taken seriously. And we keep feeling alone all the time. Consider speaking to a parent, friends or may be a mentor or a counsellor.

4. It’s Your Choice

After Jyoti Singh succumbed to her injuries from rape, the Verma commission brought about various progressive measures when women took to the streets.
After Jyoti Singh succumbed to her injuries from rape, the Verma commission brought about various progressive measures when women took to the streets.

This is important. People tend to blackmail us for the choices we make in our lives. Don’t let them do that. Our personal choices and decisions, right or wrong are ours. No one, especially not an outsider, can dictate us or the terms of our life for any reason.

Today, as a team leader, I try to ensure that my teammates (male or female) know that they can come to me and discuss their issues without hesitation, without fear of being judged. I try to understand their issues, be empathetic and suggest solutions. I know that the least that I can do is refrain from saying, “Duniya hai, chalta hai (It’s the world, it’s fine).”

Final Words

Workplace is a space where it’s good to be friendly with each other, but if you find someone’s behaviour inappropriate, tell them right away. This will avoid a lot of future escalations.

Many a times, we suffer because we didn’t clearly ask them to stop after sensing initial signs of trouble. As women, we can sense someone’s offensive behaviour. We don’t raise our voice at first because we think it’s our mistake, something we did that came across as a hint.

You should stop them there and then by asking them to not behave that way again. Learn to listen to your guts. And instantly respond if someone’s behaviour sets off your spidey senses.

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