A lot has been said about men & their power dynamics in the corporate world. Power is corrupting & it takes a man of great character & a higher moral threshold than most to not exploit people when you’re in a position to. But why do we obsess over the exploiter & forget to address the people on the receiving end? I know when it comes to sexual exploitation, men & women are almost equally at risk for becoming the object of some corporate psychopath’s unwanted affection but because I am a woman, I want to TALK TO THE WOMEN.
Let’s start with the word ‘compromise‘. I am not sure why is the seeking of & complying with demands for sexual favors termed as a compromise in most scenarios. Is it the man who is lowering his standards of taste in women when he chooses to share himself with a woman suffering with such low self – esteem or is it the woman who is ‘compromising’ by letting herself get abused in this way by a man who thinks nothing more of her than a sexual conquest? I believe, in popular culture, the word is used to describe a corporate version of prostitution. That’s right woman. You’re not compromising, you’re prostituting. Think about it. A prostitute sleeps with men in an arrangement devoid of mutual respect & affection in exchange for money. She sleeps with the occasional politician or policeman for no charge but in exchange for survival & continuing to function in her line of business. And lastly, sometimes, she sleeps with the pimps so they help her raise in the ranks. Now do me a favor & replace the words prostitute with ‘female employee’ & the words depicting men in positions of power with ‘boss’. That’s you. It’s the ONLY difference. A twist of words. I hope this makes you realize the FACT that this is no compromise. Do not make the folly of letting yourself off that easy.
Now, let’s explore the reasons for this kind of a dehumanizing arrangement. The reasons for the exploitative asshole are simple. He is a man who obviously suffers from deep rooted self-esteem issues, is egoistic, a tad bit sadistic & feels that the only way he can make himself feel powerful is by rendering others powerless. What about you? Well, you suffer from low self – esteem too & lack confidence in your capabilities & feel this is the only way you can rise the corporate ladder. Either that or you’re just plain lazy. You know it’s the easy way out. Some of you would say you have personal reasons for not wanting to leave the organization because you are very ‘majboor’ (destitute). ‘Majboor’ for what? Think. What’s the worst thing that you would probably have to do if you leave this job? Join another organization? Work from scratch in a new place? You can’t find another company that’s an equally good paymaster?
While I was working with Intelenet Global Services, one of my fist trysts with the corporate world, I did experience a situation like this first hand. The Operations Manager for the Healthcare process I was an associate in was notorious for his ‘deep interest in female employees’. He was a God in his own mind, at least that’s the feeling you got if you stole a glance across the busy operations floor over to the area divided by glass walls, the place where he seated himself, legs spread wide apart, a sly grin on his face. There was something about him that made your stomach churn. You do get awestruck with these people. I for one, was in awe of his sheer audacity. He had turned around a lot of careers thanks to his ‘feedback’ & ‘grooming sessions’. I was 22, fresh out of my first job, had heard a few corporate horror stories but never imagined something like this could be soon coming my way. My TL, walked up to me one day as I was busy chattering away to glory with one of my friends. I stashed away my bag of chips as we were not allowed to eat on the ops floor, but who cared about that! I only cared about the torturous monologue my TL would subject me to if caught. Usually, he would start his infamous monologue on floor hygiene as I would be wiping my hands but this time he had a grin on his face. A grin of amusement, almost. ‘A**r has called you. He wants to speak with you, just walk over to his bay”. I wasn’t sure what this was about. Did I process a claim incorrectly? Has he received a complaint? Have I screwed compliance? Why is my TL not talking to me about this? Why is he not accompanying me? I was very nervous as I approached the man I had previously only said ‘Hi’ to on occasion.
“You look nervous…relax, here, have a seat”
I parked myself in one of the chairs lying around his desk & thus began one of the most confusing conversations I had ever imagined to be a part of.
“Isha, I am not going to beat around the bush! I really like young talent & my vision for this process is to take it to another level altogether. I want to see everyone do well. Especially women under my wing. I feel women must be provided equal opportunities of growth as men are you with me on that?”
Who wouldn’t be? I nodded my head, grateful, that it’s not compliance, wanting very much to head back to my bag of chips.
“I see great potential in you in fact, I give your example in huddles because you come across as someone with great leadership potential”
Oh okay, I thought. Kept nodding. I also think very highly of myself, thank you.
“So what I have decided for you is, I am going to invest some time in you & groom you personally & believe me Isha, before you even realize what’s happening, you would be leading this team”
I had to intervene at this point to bring forth a crucial concern, “Sir I am not a graduate, I couldn’t complete my graduation for personal reasons but I am pursuing it, so I think that’s going to be a problem”
“Don’t be silly Isha! You think I can’t handle something as basic as this? It’s irrelevant. My only concern is , office hours are too busy. I can’t hamper business by pulling out people when they should be generating numbers, but at the same time, I do want to groom you, so tell me what can we do about this”
The ball was left in my court. “I can extend my shift for an hour sir, that’s not a problem”
Apparently, that’s not the answer he was looking for. “I am strictly against employees extending their working hours, I mean you have a family, you have a life too! Do you think we can meet outside of work at some point”
I thought about it, but it seemed too boring. I mean I was desperate for this to end right there, the mere thought of this conversation lingering on with this uninteresting man was too much for young me to bear. I thought about all the fun things I could do instead of spending time with him & said no.
“Sir I meet my parents every weekend, I make it a point to visit my family so that would not be possible”
He was quite for the longest two minutes of each of our lives.
Finally, he regained composure, “To build careers, you have to compromise your time. I have big dreams for you, but am disappointed to hear this lack of drive in your tone. Don’t you want to grow? Tell me, when are we meeting?”
“Sir, I will have to think about this, I mean I am really thankful to you for being so considerate however, I wasn’t prepared for this at all. I was under the impression that you are going to ask me to leave, TBH, because of something I did wrong from a processing perspective. Allow me some time please”
And so he did, with a deadline. My friend was shifting in her seat uncomfortably & my TL grinning stupidly when I waltzed back to my seat. “Glad that’s over” There’s always a ‘mummy friend’ in any team you’re a part of who wants to know about you’re day, you’re ups and downs and be there for you even if you don’t want it. But in this case I did, because I couldn’t wrap my head around why this chap was so interested in seeing me grow…“It’s not like he’s my dad” I joked.: Papa hi ban gaya tha yaar! Full on daddygiri! I want to see you grow ye hai vo hai kya hai bhai???
My mummy friend broke it down to me. And I was FURIOUS. “Aukaat dekhi hai apni?” Those were my first words. “He’s decided to play doll with the wrong person. Abhi HR main e-mail karti hun” Mummy friend asked me not to because he had not directly implied ANYTHING. We were assuming this conversation for what it was because we knew what kind of a man he is. There has never been a complaint against him in the past & he hasn’t said anything that can’t be twisted one way or the other. You will become the laughing stock or the troublemaker if you press it too much & will have to quit your job. So it was decided that I was going to ignore this guy completely. Not that I noticed him much or gave him much attention in the first place, but I was supposed to ignore his advances. He tried playing nice.He sent me a birthday wish which I ignored. And that pissed him off. By that time, it had been almost a month that he was trying to display how easy he could make my life at work by instructing my TL to give me special, unwarranted exceptions etc.Now, he wanted to demonstrate the opposite. When sweet dreams of a bright future weren’t working, he decided the threats of a nightmare would.
Suddenly I couldn’t be a minute late, I couldn’t extend my break by 5 minutes, I had to extend my shift even though I hate doing that, so on & so forth. So what, I thought, this is any day better than having to sleep with that clown. You have to weigh your choices & prioritize. Of course, this had to escalate because now his ego was bruised & his groin was bearing the brunt for it. Suddenly, I was summoned by my TL to tell me that there was a compliance issue in a claim I had processed. Now, I must admit, it was processed incorrectly. I mean, when you’re taking a hundred calls a day or processing hundreds of data file a day, just how difficult is it for somebody to pick out that bunch of calls that could potentially destroy your career in that company? Not very difficult. He did just that. I knew what this was. Now it was about survival & believe me, I was very ‘majboor’.
So what did I decide to do? Play right in his hands???
Remember I said, in a process where you’re taking a hundred calls a day, it’s not that difficult to find that ONE call that can destroy your career in that company? Isn’t that true if you turn the tables? I mean, I don’t know if you notice this, but your bosses DO NOT own the company. Your potential molester is probably a small pawn in the bigger game himself and just as vulnerable as you. A TL, Manager, Director is actually just a dog who wags his tail around the top honchos of the organization. And to them, business is very dear. And in a business where you’re managing 10 – 12 different teams comprising of 10 – 25 people each, how difficult is it to find that ONE malpractice, that can ruin HIS career in the company? How difficult is it to find that ONE person, who holds a grudge against him? Not very. That’s what I did. Cigna was a team that was very dear to his heart. Because Cigna drove numbers & we all knew how. It took just ONE E-mail with evidence of screenshots backed by 5 other people testifying against him to shatter his ambitions of playing God. Suddenly, there were quality checks run on Cigna. Suddenly there were scrutiny sessions with the team. Suddenly, he had to resign.
Ladies, God helps those who help themselves. It wouldn’t be a cliche if it weren’t true.
Weigh your options & prioritize. And believe in yourself. You are worth more than a thousand male egos put together. Be a WOMAN in a man’s world.