Dr AL Sharada
Aug 07, 2017

Opinion: Let’s walk the talk

Is the new found engagement with gender just a cosmetic commercial strategy to sell media and products or is there a general culture change in organisations?

Opinion: Let’s walk the talk
There is greater visibility of gender issues in media and advertising in the last few years. Creative professionals from advertising are building brand identities keeping the rising aspirations of the young women of India. A wide range of issues are being addressed and new images of gender equations are being projected with panache  – single mothers, single women, women seeking careers, the transgender persons, women achievers and sports person’s, men as nurturers, men as vulnerable individuals and so on. 
Since we launched the Laadli Media Awards in 2007, we have observed a sea change in the topics covered, the investigative rigour and analytical depth of writing appearing in the media regarding gender issues. The emergence of social media and the voice it is providing to the marginalised and diverse groups is responsible to a great extent for the increasing engagement of media and advertising with gender issues.
But the question is, “is the new found engagement with gender just a cosmetic, commercial strategy to sell media and products or is there a general culture change in organizations towards more gender equal and inclusive work environment?
How reflective are organisations of the values that they are propounding? Are they walking the talk?
A small in-depth qualitative study, ‘Media: How gender sensitive? How inclusive?’ was conducted by Population First with the support of UNFPA and in collaboration with the Gender Issues Cell of KC College. 
The objectives of the study:
To understand gender policies within media houses (print, broadcast and advertising)
To map the distribution of gender across different levels and within different sections
To analyse how proactively involved were the media organisations and ad agencies in
providing a gender enabling and inclusive work environment 
The findings of the study, though expected, are seriously worth considering. Dalits, tribals, disabled and the marginalised genders are under-represented in media organisations and ad agencies. While there seem to be no systemic barriers to their entry, no efforts are being made to proactively include them in organisations.
* Existence of a glass ceiling: There are hardly 25 per cent women as compared to 75 per cent men at higher management and Board levels. 
* Gendered work roles are also quite obvious, with a low presence of women in technical fields across all media. Marketing and client services in the regional-language press have more women employees. However, the marketing section in English-language press is largely male oriented. Women are found in large numbers as HR personnel across print and advertising but are less in number in broadcast media.
* Gendered beats are common across media with softer beats being assigned to women and tougher beats - politics, conflict, business, sports  etc being assigned to men. This binary is often attributed to a woman's preference  for 'softer beats' and she being 'naturally' inclined to such beats. This is more pronounced in the regional media. 
* Sticking   to   the   mandate:  Most   organisations   do   not   go   beyond   the   mandated stipulation of maternity and paternity leave, which they consider as special leaves.
* Wage parity is also reported to be absent by 10.5 percent of the respondents who felt that there are gender disparities in pay. 
* Inadequate pro-active measures are being taken to promote gender enabling organisations.The lack of awareness among media personnel about their rights with respect to various policies is appalling, to say the least, and among those who are aware of institutional mechanisms and procedures, the reluctance to use them is disheartening. 
* The observance of The Sexual  Harassment (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal)
Act, 2013),  appears to have been more in letter than in spirit.. While many (79.06 percent) seemed to be aware of the Act, they were either unaware or vaguely aware of related provisions like constitution of Internal Complaints  Committee (ICC), role of ICC, procedure for filing a complaint or third party harassment. Around 39 percent did not know about the Internal Complaints Committee and 11.32 percent thought that the Internal Complaints Committee was just a cell for complaints of any kind and not a specific cell for complaints regarding sexual harassment. Regular orientation and communication   campaigns   were  conspicuous by their absence in many organisations. At least 26 per cent female respondents and 10 per cent male respondents said that they had no idea about the procedure for filing complaints.
* Normalization of sexism in organisations: There seems to be a general atmosphere of sexism that pervades the work culture of media houses and ad agencies which is often unacknowledged  and   not   spoken   about. It   is 'normalised'   and   in   some   ways legitimized by the same masculine culture that is dismissive of complaints of sexism.
One third  of the female  respondents mentioned  about being  sexually harassed. Of these only 20 percent  lodged  a   complaint. The fear of backlash, stigma, lack of support from  colleagues and absence  of supportive  institutional mechanisms deter most of them, from pressing charges against the accused.
The way forward
There is a lot that needs to be done and should be done particularly for making organizations more inclusive not just of various genders but also of people from different socio-economically disadvantaged sections of society to bring in varied perspectives and insights into communication. 
Special recruitment drives at the entry level to identify, train and mentor women, transgender persons, Dalits and minority communities could be one such strategy. Similarly, more in-house training programmes in technical fields would also help bring more women in as photographers, sound engineers, editors and so on.
There is a need to address the protective and paternalistic mindsets at work places which in the name of safety and concern relegate women to secondary positions. Good and safe work conditions should be ensured for all and it should be seen as a right of the employees and not as a concession for women.
Apart from creating enabling environment with facilities for child care, dormitories, flexible timings,  maternity leave,  safe transport etc.., it is also important to have mentoring programmes for women to help them come forward and demand credit and rewards that are theirs rightfully. It is also important to keep the women engaged  in obtaining new skills by providing on line training facilities to ensure their transition in the organisation is smooth on their return after a long break. Since women also do not have much time due to their work - home commitments to seek opportunities like participation in international conferences, exchange programmes, research, etc.., it is important that such information is collated and presented to all employees to create a level playing field.
A culture of zero tolerance to sexism and sexual harassment needs to be built. This requires looking beyond the tokenism of constituting the Internal Complaints Committees. There is a need for an ongoing conversation on gender stereotyping and sexism in organizations. Apart from regular online interventions to familiarise the employees about sexual harassment, as it is being done in some organizations,  it is also important to create opportunities to look into / introspect into the general culture of the organisation and factors that may be impacting the dignity and self respect of the women and other groups. Some innovative activities could be developed by HR teams to create a non judgemental space in the organisation to discuss the issues. It could be a weekly on line listing of gender insensitive / communal/ casteist comments heard in the organisation without naming the individuals and a member of the ICC elaborating on why such comments are not welcome...using humor, theatre  and interactive sessions could be a great way of creating organisations that have the capacity to introspect and build inclusive work cultures. 
Hope the corporate leaders are listening.
(Dr A L Sharada, is the director of Population First)
Campaign India