Interesting insights from PoSH Training

At the workplace, there should be no discrimination between men and women.

At the workplace, there should be no distinction between men and women.

A group of employees working for a multinational organisation were engaged in an exercise to explore what fair gender policies at workplace means for them.

The two statements above were amongst 10 statements that they had to take positions on. In the poll, 100% of the respondents agreed with the first statement on non discrimination. For the second statement, 70% of the people agreed with the statement, and 30% did not agree with it.

When asked, the 70% who believe that there should not be distinctions between people on the basis of their sex or gender felt that being a man or a woman should be irrelevant at the workplace, and a person must only be valued for her/his skills and competencies. People who disagreed with the statement stated that biological differences necessitate distinctive policies - such as maternity leave, washrooms, breastfeeding facilities for women which may be irrelevant for men.

The debate further intensified when the following was asked -

‘An diversity and inclusion audit reveals that the principal responsibility of ensuring the functionality of the household including child-care and caring for the old remains on the women. Compared to the earlier generations, men play a more active role in domestic work, parenting and fulfilling emotional needs of children and the ageing, but the role is still largely managed and held by women. Also because the women may be, in reality or perception, be perceived to be better at it. If this is true, should therefore late evening work at the office be fulfilled more by men than by women? Or should men be supported and trained to take more domestic and familial responsibilities at home to equalise role taking? Would the former solution therefore result in slower promotions for women and a reinforcing of their ‘housewife identities’ as opposed to professionals in their domain of expertise’?

‘The workshop is thought provoking’, says a participant. ‘Discrimination and distinctiveness are not the same, and while we must be cautious of not discriminating between women and men, we mustn’t be blind to issues of distinctiveness between women and men.’

ChangeMantras which facilitated the workshop reports:

’Organisations, both corporate and non profit organisations aspire to create gender-fair workplaces by recruiting more women to bring about balance in genders in the workforce. And implement anti sexual harassment policies to make the system redress to abuse of power through sexual abuse and exploitation. Following these strategies alone without examining how people in the organisation hold gender in their minds, reflecting on what would be fair-policies for people of different genders and sexualities, can lead to confusions, doubts and questions that make organisations vulnerable to conflict and a war-zone between men and women. It was fantastic to see how the team of these three organisations, all very different in their identities, one a new age tech-group, the other a global consulting firm and the third a grassroots non-profit organisation, came to three key realisations together:

Unless organisations engage with questions of distinctiveness, equality between genders will assume sameness of all people which will be adverse to women, or in some ways to men, or both.
Trainings on POSH policies and laws will be ineffective without a basic premise - that our values on body, sexuality and gender relations are strongly influenced by our social and cultural backgrounds, and in a diverse team, this needs engagement for common understanding.
Top down approaches won’t work when it comes to enabling healthier gender relations in organisations. Policy building processes ought to be inclusive and participatory and not developed by experts and thrust onto people. Such policies will only heighten anxieties in people and become dead documents in a short while.

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