Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for August, 2021 is Digital Realities. We invite submissions on the many layers of experiences from the virtual world throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Divya Gonnabathula
This is an experience I had around the time the pandemic had set in and lockdowns had just about begun to make their way into our lives in India. I was working in an FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) firm, reporting to an Indian male manager who has managed other female team-members in the past. We were all still adapting to remote working.
I had spent significant time at this particular job profile in the said company, and was due for a promotion. I was mulling over having a conversation with my manager about my promotion. In an official zoom call, I opened a conversation with him about my probable promotion timeline.
I was very guilty and apologetic about this conversation to begin with and started the dialogue by seeking his feedback on my performance in the role. He went on to say that everything is fine, I’m performing well. Phew – with the first step ticked, I moved on to the next and onto the main question I had – my promotion and insights on the kind of roles I could look at, in the organisation.
That was when I witnessed metamorphosis right on my screen! My manager suddenly went from an all is good with you attitude to to “there is no spark”, “you still need to prove yourself”, “I am looking at 300% growth in the business” and other such remarks. While I was obviously aghast at his reaction, I maintained my composure and asked him what could be a few things he would want me to deliver in the next three months which would make me a contender for the promotion.
What he said next will be etched in my memory till the day I die, perhaps. He said, “Look, Divya, if tomorrow you tell me that you are pregnant, then you will have to let go of the promotion for the nine months of pregnancy and the six months of maternity leave. So then this conversation can happen after fifteen months maybe, potentially”. This was his answer to my to-the-point question of a three month professional, goal-based road map.
I took a deep breath, (a rather deep one) and said “But I never told you that I am pregnant. In fact, I am not pregnant”. He replied, “Yes fine, you are not pregnant…I am just saying!” I switched myself off after this statement. The conversation obviously went on for another ten or fifteen minutes where he spoke about how great and valued a talent I was, but how I needed to scale-up and prove myself to be ready for the next level. I came out of this conversation with no answers to my questions obviously.
So that was the whole incident – done, dusted, and locked in my memory. I switched companies later. I did not muster the courage (till date) to do anything about this incident. Neither did I speak about it to my skip manager ( manager’s manager) nor did I take it up with the HR officials.
The diversity council set up by the organisation was a distant memory in instances like these. I never brought it up with my manager as well, after this conversation – that I was hurt and humiliated by his statements. I am guessing that the manager himself perhaps does not even remember now that he had said those things to me.
I decided to write about this experience now, to bring forth that I did not have emotionally safe spaces or people in my previous workplace to talk to about this workplace aggression. I did not even protest then and there with my manager. I could not point out to him that his response was not acceptable and was against the policy of the company.
I kept second guessing myself, and felt that even if I complained to the HR or the skip, would I be able to prove his verbal discrimination, made in the passing in a zoom call? The manager’s tenure in the organisation was around four times mine and hence he would be able to come out of this easily, with more ground support. These were the thoughts running in my mind.
I am still figuring my way to find the right channels/forums to raise concerns in situations like this. I would like to believe that my experience is perhaps food for thought for D&I enthusiasts, HR folks and leaders alike to work towards creating emotionally safe spaces within the work place where both men and women can share instances of aggression and discomfort.
More so in the pandemic, with working-from-home being the new operating model, the need to communicate and create forums for employees to talk safely is all the more relevant.
Divya is a sales & marketing professional who has worked extensively in the Indian FMCG industry and has recently forayed into the consumer tech space. Apart from building winning teams and solving marketing problems, Divya is passionate about women and their workplace concerns, as well as managing the workspace with respect. You may find her on LinkedIn