Written by – Rasoja at OmeBiz
SheForShe forum was a forum dedicated to women empowerment where the core topic emphasized on ways and means of eliminating gender discrimination. This forum was organized by the Leo Club of Colombo Knights under the Leo District 306 C2. It was held at The Hive, MAS Innovation Center which successfully ended on the 5th of April, 2018. The setting was an open discussion where the speakers made it very welcoming for an interactive session.
The panel consisted of well-experienced and empowered women in various industries, namely:
The flow of the forum was based on questions prepared before-hand where each speaker in the panel was given the opportunity of attempting the questions put forward by Sheshadri. Later on, the audience too was given the chance to post questions anonymously on a website called slido.com.
- In today’s context, what are your thoughts on what women have to encounter/experience in the work environment?
Sharanya focused on two aspects when answering this question:
(i) Workplace Sexual Harassment
Having worked with well-renowned companies, Sharanya has understood that workplace sexual harassment has been normalized to a very great extent. She believes this is due to the lack of necessary policies. Such lack of clear boundaries have a repercussion effect; where increased stress-levels affects team work, which will then affect company productivity and in turn disrupt company profits and growth.
- What are some of the key aspects that your book, “Bully & Co.” focuses on about workplace sexual harassment?
Fiona went on to stating that sexual harassment can be classified into two: Physical and Mental Harassment. According to Fiona, when it comes to mental harassment it can be comparatively difficult to justify as there may be no real proof in many instances. Even when a victim is trying to figure out a way out when it comes to physical harassment, the whole process seems terrible. That is: when they try to abide by the company’s code of conduct to protect themselves, they are often neglected or forgotten by their superiors. Mental harassment too can have a very strong adverse effect on victims. It is found that anxiety levels are recorded to rise, which eventually leads to depression resulting in low levels of performance.
- “There are areas in Sri Lanka where victims go unheard in a company without a Human Resource department”. Is there a system put in place where all victims are ensured to be heard.
Kavindya had worked with many victims in areas like: Puttalam, Galle, and Dehiaththakandiya where she believes that such topics about women empowerment seems irrelevant as they don’t see a way out. She stated that ‘incest’ is one of the most frequent forms of sexual abuse that both, young boys and girls are subjected to in these areas.
- How did it feel to work in a male dominant industry/corporate?
Sharon who is a qualified mechanical engineer was often questioned about her qualifications, especially during interviews. She believed that it was a matter of proving herself all along. She stated that as a woman trying to thrive in a male dominant industry, it is important to prove yourself twice as much to get half the recognition of that of a man. Constantly having to prove herself is what enabled her to build the confidence to open up a business of her own.
Royal & Regal is now well-established which has helped them to open an in-house production where women from suburbs have gotten the opportunity to gain employment.
- Bully & Co. communicates to women of how to overcome workplace harassment. What motivated you to write this book?
Fiona explained that she too was not aware about workplace sexual harassment until three years ago. She stated that she was being bullied but everything was too normalized. However, once realization hit her, she started helping herself whilst helping others around her. This was the main reason that led to the publishing of Bully & Co. She had to carry out extensive research. She didn’t confine herself to the victims in Sri Lanka but took a step further in speaking to victims in other countries. Fiona gave out statistics where it was proven that 90% of the time workplace harassment is not reported which made it more difficult for her to compile her findings. She was compelled to dig deeper. However, she gave us some simple insights on how to realize if you are being subjected to workplace harassment. They were – to keep track of a journal as well as knowing the workplace policies.
- Besides Human Resources, is there a publicly available system that victims can get help from?
Sharanya advised about the following:
(i) International Labor Organization (ILO) – this could be a useful tool when trying to solve work-related problems.
(ii) Employer’s Federation of Ceylon – states the laws and regulations that covers workplace sexual harassment.
(iii) Bakamoono.lk – has a detailed breakdown of the laws against sexual harassment.
(iv) 1333 – A hotline that gives good references to people/organizations that could help out.
(v) Women in need – an organisation which helps victims subjected to physical sexual harassment.
- Increasing number of women and men in estate communities are no longer afraid to speak out. Do you see such changes?
Kavindya agreed to some extent, she believed that it differed from case to case. That is a woman/man in Puttalam may act differently compared to a person in Anatamulla At MAS, a leadership accelerator program for girls from communities at risk are carried out, Kavindya went on to describing how these little girls have a strong sense of empowerment – they are loud, bold, and fearless. However, not all aspects are fruitful. There are issues prevailing like: partner violence, and stereotyping. According to Kavindya, means of combating such issues are in-building age appropriate sex education into the school curriculum and communicating individual rights and boundaries for one’s safety.
- Why do you think that young women find it difficult to take entrepreneurial risk in Sri Lanka?
According to Sharon, the school education system hasn’t provided the basic foundation of how to start a business of your own. Unless, it is a person with any sort of secondary education, the rest may struggle in drawing up a business proposal or correctly analyzing the success of a start-up.
Sharon advised that it is important to take a step back to do your own research and educate yourself about what you’re going to get yourself into. She believes Sri Lanka is a great place to do business, where exponential growth could be anticipated if done in the right way. Sri Lanka is a land with great opportunities for business women and men, both.
- How do you see Sri Lanka changing when it comes to the way women are treated at a workplace, and how do you believe Sri Lankans can make it happen?
Sharanya emphasized on education repeatedly. She also stated that gender stereotyping has been socially conditioned throughout most of our lives. This has caused girls to fail in subjects like logic and construction, and boys in creativity and emotional energy.
Fiona too stated education to be a key factor that would lead to gender equality at a workplace. Moreover, mothers who play the role of a breadwinner by flying overseas to provide for the family results in their children being subjected to sexual and mental harassment. Perhaps, this is because there is no trusted person to take care of the children they leave behind. Fiona believes this should not happen. Hence, Sri Lanka needs to provide sufficient employment opportunities.
Sharon believes that it starts at home. It is important to treat both, a son and a daughter the same way. This could build confidence in girls, where they are empowered to achieve whatever they dream of. She emphasized, “education is a super power.”
Kavindya mentions, “If you see something, say something!”. Doing so enables you to stand up for yourself as well as people around you which will give rise to gender equality within Sri Lankan corporate’s.
- What do you think about homosexual harassment that males are subjected to at workplaces? As a victim, I find that many people find it to be funny.
According to Sharanya, the reason that many people laugh such incidents off is because of patriarchy, again. What corporate’s should do is to make sure that they have clear cut policies about workplace sexual harassment. It is necessary that corporate’s carry out sessions and workshops to communicate to all employees about workplace harassment and means of safeguarding themselves.
- What is the best way for men to combat patriarchy? What can men do to make a change in the workplace?
Kavindya emphasizes again on the phrase, “If you see something, say something.” It is important that men too should empathize rather than being blindly naive at a workplace. Moreover, all victims should be given the privilege to speak up and the people around him/her should be more than willing to listen to their stories related to workplace harassment.
- How can women work in male dominated industries, especially if the superiors are males and are normalizing it?
According to Sharon, it is important to stand your ground as a woman during times of discrimination. Portray yourself as an individual who maintains set of standards and professionalism. You can always speak up if you have been a victim of any sort of workplace discrimination/harassment. If the men working around you are reluctant to consider the problem, reach out to organizations that could help you. Doing so, you are forming a sound workplace for the next girl who would walk into male dominant industries.
- Do husbands get equal rights at home?
Sharanya and the rest of the panel openly stated that this was not ‘true’. Sharanya states that patriarchy has failed men as much as it has failed women. The fact that men are not given equal rights at home have deprived men of being ideal fathers, and gaining emotional intelligence. Instead, they are treated as money-making machines. Hence, it is important to encourage equal parent roles at home.
- Is it true that women mostly bad mouth and bully out of jealousy? Most women just ignore when another woman is being bullied.
Fiona gave some useful insights of how to combat such bad practices. Carry out a SWOT analysis of your own (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), where it will help you analyze your own strengths giving you a sense of contentment, and forgo your weaknesses by improving yourself.
Kavindya recommended to make friends with the people who threaten you at a workplace. This way you can thrive together to contribute to the corporate better.
To wrap things up:
All in all, attending the she for she forum gave us a clearer picture of the prevailing issues at a workplace, and how gender discrimination and workplace harassment has a repercussion on company productivity and in turn profits. The well-experienced panelists gave useful insights on how to combat such issues. If these issues are not rectified earlier on, this could not only affect company productivity but further branch into homes, schools, public settings, and even the society as whole. Overall, everyone present at the event had something positive to take away of how to actively engage in contributing to further better our country and its people.
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