Aparna Jain On The Inclusion Of Women In Workplaces And The #MeToo Conversation Parents Need To Have With Their Children
- IWB Post
- August 13, 2019
As we utter big words of women’s emancipation and empowerment, how much are we actually translating them into actions and working towards the creation of equal opportunities for women at the workplace?
Aparna Jain, the author of Own it: Leadership Lessons for Women Who Do and Like a Girl: Real Stories for Tough Kids, is a staunch advocate of equal rights for women. Shortlisted for the Tata Lit-Live Business Book of the Year (2016) and winner of a Jury Appreciation Certificate at the South Asia Laadli Media and Advertising Awards for Gender Sensitivity (2015-16), her book Own it: Leadership Lessons for Women Who Do is the gospel for the contemporary corporate woman.
Here are excerpts from a recent conversation with Aparna:
From Sood Family to Own It, to Like A Girl, when we look at your books we see a lot of diversity. So tell me about the journey and what’s next?
There is no journey yaar. I work and I write on the side when I get the time to do it. But definitely Own It was a big eye-opener for me, it was a very important, integral point of my journey because I am a diversity and inclusion advocate, I stand up for women’s rights, I hold diversity workshops, I teach women to speak up for themselves. I also think that we don’t have enough role models which are Indian women. Plus, there are a lot of women in history who the younger kids don’t know about and it was important for me to showcase these women for them. The biggest change and influence can happen at a young age. We need to start influencing them young. That’s why I wrote Like A Girl. The next project is a companion volume to Like a Girl. It is like a boy ’s volume to Like A Girl and after that, I am writing a book on millennials.
Like A Girl is an anthology of real-life stories of Inspiring women. Which among these stories is your personal favorite?
I have a couple of them. One of them is Vandana Gopikumar and Vaishnavi Jaikumar’s story. It’s about mental health. I enjoy all the stories but this one was particularly inspirational for me. I think Poorna’s story is super inspirational, Banjara girl, 13.5 years old, climbing Mount Everest, everything about this story is motivational.
Bhanvari Devi’s story also had a huge impact on me. The very fact that women like her fight for justice every day when we sit in our cocoons and little white palaces is inspirational enough.
How do you think your book Own It can give important answers in the times of #MeToo and actually teach women to own the movement, speak for themselves, and claim what’s rightfully theirs?
So the book actually is for the corporate workplace, that’s where a lot of harassment has happened over the years. People have been worried about their jobs, people have been worried about their families. The book tells you how to deal with all sort of issues in the corporate workplace, right from bias to bullying to harassment. It takes you through the lifecycle of being a woman in the corporate workplace.
I don’t think any book can teach you anything as to what you can do but it certainly provides you with some guidelines to how you can make some changes, not be willing to take any nonsense going in the workplace, and actually make it a more positive place.
While working on the book you interviewed over 200 women. What came out as the most common bias/challenge faced by them at the workplace?
That they can’t do something. Telling them “Tumse nahi hoga” and “you are not serious about your job, your job is actually a hobby.”
Taking our discussion on #MeToo forward, how do you think parents should be having a conversation about the #MeToo movement with their young boys right now?
These conversations are important. You have to explain it to your children, doesn’t matter what gender. I want to point out two things here. Parents in India have a very bad habit of not respecting the child’s body themselves. So what they do is they have a small baby and they have some uncle and they are like Chalo chalo baby kissie karo uncle ko, go sit with him, hug him and you know the child is not comfortable doing that but we are forcing him/her to do it. So from a very early age, we need to stop doing that to children. If they want to be affectionate, let them be affectionate, if they don’t want to be affectionate then don’t force them to do it.
Secondly, we have to stop saying things like boys will be boys. If a boy is behaving badly, you have to stop him and say sorry it doesn’t work. If you tell a girl to sit like a girl, walk like a girl, talk like a girl you are telling her to function in a certain realm, then how can you let the boys get away with any sort of behavior. We need to change all of this at a very young age and send away similar messages to all the genders.
While we talk big about women’s empowerment, we are certainly not able to create ample opportunities for our women in the workplace. Why do you think we are failing women here and what can we do about it?
It is very funny but I have heard from so many people that you know “now the only solution is that we stop hiring women,” and I am like “no you should just stop hiring men.” I think this attitude that the women are the ones who need to be secluded instead of saying we have to make our workplaces safer makes things worse. We have to include zero tolerance policies. Instead of that you are choosing a stupid way out which is detrimental to the environment and say we won’t hire women, what kind of an answer it that? Is this the way you want to change the world? If this is the way you are thinking then I am sorry you really don’t have any tools in which you can be with people from another gender.
When we talk about leadership, again there is a dearth of women leadership. How can we challenge these skewed dynamics?
There are systematic issues with the workplace. The leaders at the top need to make a change into that system, only then the women would want to be a part of that system. Right now the system is hostile, they don’t want to be in it or they tend to become very accommodating to all that is going around and you will find at senior levels also that women are not the best allies for women. It is strange, it is very strange.
So one, the system needs to change. Secondly, women also need to change their attitudes in the sense that they say, “hey you know what, we need to stick around.” They can’t run away from any small inconvenience that comes around. I think it is especially true of this generation which finds it very tough to deal with disappointment. So we need to stick around, to leave a mark, to do good deeds. If you are satisfied being mediocre then you never going to go ahead. I think excelling at things, being great, doing new things is integral. You have one life, you have to live it completely.
First published on Oct 22, 2018.