The alphabet for those who do not know what sexual harassment at the workplace is and how to avoid it
When Arunabh Kumar, CEO & Founder, The Viral Fever, was accused of sexual harassment by almost 50 colleagues, some of whom wrote posts on social media, this is what he had to say, “The kind of insinuations the FB post makes are untrue. I am a heterosexual, single man and when I find a woman sexy, I tell her she’s sexy. I compliment women. Is that wrong? Having said that, I am very particular about my behaviour – I will approach a woman, but never force myself.” His tasteless response in the face of allegations makes one thing clear, that Kumar clearly lacks gender sensitivity and has heaps of male privilege. In order to throw some light, sbcltr has re-imagined the alphabet with vocabulary that explains what sexual harassment at the workplace is and how to avoid it.
A lot of Indian Industries, especially the media has been accused of being androcentric, which means male centric or male dominated. So, it is imperative that the fight for equality start with making work-places more inclusive and women friendly. This boys club can only be broken when you treat your office as a gender neutral space, where only professionalism quantifies success, not your gender.
Treat your colleagues at work with professionalism, respect their time and work-ethic, understand that they are not here to make friends and stop trying to be over-friendly. Even if you are at an offsite, it doesn’t mean you flirt or engage in pushy personal banter, enquire about their marital status and get details on their life. If they choose to open up to you, fine. If they don’t, it is their prerogative. Respect their boundaries and back off. Also stop with the compliments, they are unnecessary.
Don’t push someone to do anything for you. Coercion is never a good idea, neither is gentle persuasion. It always translates into bullying.
Almost all companies have broad instructions on how to dress for work, so unless you are the HR and someone is breaking the rule, you have no reason to pin point or remark on anyone’s choice of clothing. The way somebody dresses is none of your business.
There cannot be enough stress on the E word. Just because you are a male, doesn’t mean you are better than anyone. In some cases you might be in a superior position too, but if you aren’t going to treat your subordinates with integrity and equal respect, you are going to be in trouble.
Stop throwing the F word around and by the F word we mean Feminazi. When you call someone out on their ideology just to insult them, the joke is never on them, but always on you. This is also a way to isolate somebody by ridiculing them for standing up for themselves and reeks of insecure sexism.
To keep bringing up gender at the workplace reflects on your inability to see someone for their work. It also insinuates that a person is limited to a certain set of skills because of you regularly perpetuating gender stereotypes. Refer to alphabet A again for reference.
H—Humour (Have a sense of)
When somebody doesn’t agree with what you have to say and your jokes reek of ignorant/hurtful stereotypes or in some cases are personal, you cannot nudge them politely to have a sense of humour. Stop passing off sexual, vulgar, demeaning observations as humour. It is not funny at all and absolutely counts as harassment.
I—Intimidation and Isolation
When someone does not agree to your friendly propositions and you start to isolate and intimidate them, it is called bullying and harassment. It is not teaching a lesson and it is not going to make them relent, you’ll just be digging a deeper hole for yourself.
When the jokes are about someone’s race, personality, personal appearance, gender, physicality—they cease to be funny.
You need to understand that power-dynamics and structures are constantly evolving, depending on who is enjoying the privilege in a particular situation. At all times, you must be sensitive enough to understand this precarious balance of power.
Do not label your colleagues and give them tags based on your personal prejudices with them.
You have got to stop with this. Stop infantilising your colleagues by calling them names such as, “honey,” “baby,” “love,” etc. Also stop explaining things to them by taking away their voice. Understand that they are thinking individuals like you, capable of arriving at their own conclusions and grasping things from the environment around them. They do not need you to spell out everything for them. And please give them a chance to speak without cutting them short and overriding their statements.
Understand that No means No. There is no gentle persuasion after this point, it all translates into harassment and stalking.
Your colleagues are not pieces of meat or objects of desire. Treat them with the professional respect that they deserve.
When you send rude messages with a smiley at the end, it means you are being passive aggressive. Just because your overtures or plans didn’t work out, it doesn’t mean you will resort to these immature methods of intimidation.
Some people think that their eccentricity is a legitimate reason to abuse. A lot of people, Johnny Depp included, have played into this stereotype. By hiding behind a well-crafted persona of being a wok bae and actually preying on women, the perpetrator often ends up creating a safe space for himself. But this façade almost always falls off.
Not giving somebody their work dues. Holding promotions, making life in office hard for them after your physical overtures fall through are some of the most common signs that women employees report of, after they call out abuse.
Calling somebody a slut is just not on.
Touching your colleagues is not a good idea, whether it is a friendly back-rub, a thigh touch, a pat on the shoulder, or a hair-tousle, refrain yourself. Assuming they are well defined, touch is only okay based on your personal boundaries with that person.
Refer to NO.
Having a personal vendetta against somebody and going out of your way to cause harm to their professional career is a sign of abuse. Whether you do it via rumour mongering, bad references or power influence, if you have personal reasons behind it, it is harassment.
Stopping wages because a person filed a complaint against you is one of the oldest abuser tactics in the world and unfortunately very common.
Yes, xo means hugs and kisses, but it doesn’t mean the person who signed off like that will sleep with you. This is a generally acceptable form of communication, do not read too much into it.
When you pressurise someone in the hope that they will yield, it is called harassment and by pressurising we mean, incessant phone calls, flirtatious texts, unwarranted attention and gifts. The pressure to yield is one of the hardest things to deal with for a victim of abuse because the abuser is deluded enough to feel that he/she is one step closer to consent because of the pressure tactics deployed.
What you imply and call somebody when you ridicule them for having strong beliefs that are not inclined with your opinion. By doing so, you isolate them.