Posted in Life, Quick Thoughts

That guy with the book

I met him in the elevator. I don’t remember much about his appearance. I think he was short. I can’t be sure but he must have been about five foot five inches. He was wearing jeans I think. Or something else. I don’t remember his clothes. I don’t know if he was wearing shoes or slippers. Nothing striking. His face was fairly common. Small eyes if I remember correctly. He was bald or balding or somewhere in between. In one hand, he carried something that appeared to be junk food and an umbrella. In the other, he was carrying a book. That was the only thing I noticed and remembered.

I had finished reading the same book a day before and that was still on my mind. None of my friends or acquaintances seemed to be interested in the subject of human history. When I tried to share my excitement, I received a very dull or annoyed response from everyone. To see that book in someone’s hand was like a special gift. I was excited to share my thoughts with him. So was he. It was such a pleasant change to find someone interested in talking about the subject I find fascinating, which everyone else around me find boring. He missed his stop while talking and added another five seconds to our conversation.

We may have a more detailed conversation on the book someday. Or we may never meet again. The human connections can be made within ten seconds or take years. They may be small encounters or last a lifetime. But if we just drop the social layers, it’s easy to reach out. All you need to do is smile and say, ‘Hey, I just finished reading that book’.

There’s something very simple about a connection shared by book readers. It doesn’t demand friendship or emotions. It doesn’t demand awkward social meetings. It doesn’t follow the rules of society. It just exists.

Book readers mostly don’t recognize the definitions of social relationships. They meet, smile or talk for the love of books. They enjoy sharing new ideas or thought paradigms from their readings or the love for their favorite characters.

That guy in the elevator was reading a book I finished a day before and loved. That’s all I noticed and remembered; and that’s all that matters.

 

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Posted in Life, Quick Thoughts

Cooking

I don’t cook much. But every once in a while, I get excited about cooking and spend almost two hours in kitchen. I don’t cook a lavish meal; I just cook really slow and with lot of care. My favourite part of cooking is cutting vegetables.

There is something very human and real about cutting vegetables. In the current world of virtual everything including relationships, sometimes I feel unreal and disconnected. In our civilized settled society, we give overwhelming significance to multiple versions of unreal realities – culture, religion, caste, race, economic status and social status. Everything is more important than the air we breathe in. The sensory experience of the physical world around us seems to have little value in our existence. The superior technology of the modern world has created an additional layer of reality on our physical world that was already hidden behind artificial layers created by society and culture. We seem to derive more pleasure from the number of friends on social media or instant messaging on our phones. The physical experience of the world and a breathing living human being is getting taken over by a virtual existence. It’s easy to forget self. It’s easy to float in clouds. It’s easy to ignore messages from within and from the environment.

In this world, I sometimes crave a real human experience. Cutting vegetables brings me back to the reality. The sensory experience of feeling its texture, soaking in the colors and smell builds a special connection with food cooked and consumed afterwards. It brings me back from the virtual worlds to the reality of being a human – just a simple human that needs food, water and some fresh air to breathe in.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Rewards and incentives for women at workplace

Rewards only for Men

I don’t want to outperform ever.

I am sure that’s not the response organizations expect from their top performers. But if a top performer happens to be woman, it might not be that surprising.

I was rewarded for my performance once with a trip to Thailand. I had a horrible time.

She said in a tone of absolute disappointment and disgust. Even though the location was selected and schedule was designed with a clear intent to ‘reward employees’, it didn’t feel like a reward to her. The trip included a series of events designed for high testosterone misogynistic men – strip clubs, massages with happy ending and ‘special’ shows. She was the only woman in a group of almost 70 men, mainly sales and marketing teams including her seniors. Even they were uncomfortable with her presence. They would have been happier if she wasn’t invited.

Every single one of them came back happy from the trip, high on their holiday and motivated to fight again in the market and perform. One employee came back unhappy, angry and demotivated.

“It was a hypocritical reward.” 

It was not a reward for her. Even for men, it was an unacceptable reward.

  1. It was an embarrassing series of 4 days with her colleagues with no escape.
  2. Not one event or a tangible gift was designed for her. (I wonder if HR organizing team tried to include strip tease by male dancers.)
  3. She is expected to come back and work with these men somehow hoping that they would treat women better in their workplace.

Why should I get that as a good performer? And what are you telling me with this? Are you expecting me to ask for men as rewards because I performed well?

Why should this be a reward? If you have done something nice, let’s go and get some women for you; let’s go to strip clubs for your pleasure. Women are the gifts for everyone who performed well. Why is the company HR paying to tell men to enjoy women? How can you objectify women as a prize?” She expressed her anger and frustration to everyone including HR. There were no answers and no resolutions.

At the core of it was a very simple question. ‘How do I expect them to come back and treat me and other women in office better after they have just been told that women are objects and gifts for good performance?’

“Why should this be a part of company event?

It isn’t about sex. It isn’t about denying that men or women have sexual desires. It’s not about imposing her values on everyone else around her. We need to look beyond this obvious layer. She did not say at any point that sex is a problem or shameful.

There are two fundamental issues with the process of these rewards.

  1. A Woman being treated as ‘rewards’ and ‘gifts’ is a problem. The very premise kills the foundations of civilized society. It encourages violent behaviour towards women. It makes it acceptable to treat women as pleasure objects. Women are stripped away of their humanity with encouragement of this practice. There are valid options for fulfilling sexual desires that include consent, willingness or equal desire by both members.
  2. A company paying for events encouraging men to act on their pre-civilization primitive instincts with complete disregard to humanity of women makes it ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’. It legitimizes the objectification of women. “My male colleagues could have done what they wanted in their own time with their money. Why should this be a part of company event?

“Yes, I complained to HR. No, they didn’t do anything.”

She complained to HR when she came back. They did the same thing next year. It was then the turn of another female colleague to be the only woman amongst a set of 70 men high on free alcohol in a company party where scantly clad young girls performed for their pleasure. “I had nowhere to go. I had to deal with it”. She was in a foreign country for a company event. And why should she split and be on her own in the hotel room or in the city? It was supposed to be a holiday, not a punishment. Locations for these events changed but the schedule remained the same.

“We weren’t rewarded with something that feels like a reward.”

Are women simply ignored when rewards are planned? Is there an expectation of low or average performance from women? Did organizations not expect women to perform better or they just ignored the evolution of workforce dynamics over the years? Do organizations care enough about welcoming women to workplace and investing in their growth similar to their male counterparts?

It appears that most versions of rewards and incentives are designed keeping men in mind. But even small gifts aimed to build teams and positive communities within a workplace seem to ignore female gender. Most employee gifts are commonly sourced. “All t-shirts at company events given to us and that we were forced to wear were men’s size, cut and designs. We had to deal with it. How difficult is it to get that right?

How are we talking about creating inclusive workplaces even if small things connecting employees to their organizations are designed only for men?

The Other story

I wondered if this is a common story across organizations or an isolated case of lapse in judgment by one company or one organizing team. I had to question if there is another side to this story that I don’t have access to.

I spoke to a few acquaintances from the corporate world and the ones who exist on the fringes like events and advertising.

I heard a different language. They vehemently disagreed with this. “Most of our clients are very strict about it. It’s not even entertained as a topic of discussion.

One employee of a large sales organization pointed out that Thailand has recently been banned as a destination for all internal employee events. As a recipient of a couple of reward holidays during his time in sales and marketing, he had a different story to share. While it’s true that most reward events have very few women employees, the official itinerary or events don’t include anything offensive to women. However, the sales incentive programs for business partners or distributors sometimes include events that could be objectionable.

Shouldn’t the same rules or standards apply for these events also?

Rewards and incentives for external partners and internal employees are intertwined in sales organizations. The incentive events or dealers’ meets also include employees from sales and marketing teams.

After listening to other stories, it appeared that many organizations have strict code of conduct with respect to internal employee events but not necessarily for external partners. It was a grey area. In one discussion, a female sales employee mentioned, “the ‘shady’ dealers meet are a thing of past; it doesn’t happen anymore.” Most were ambiguous or doubtful about the sales events for external partners and even the sales process.

This raises a parallel debate on the process of sales, business development and partner incentives.

We cannot look at rewards in isolation. The sales process itself packages the ‘special benefits’ with commercial success. In case of B2B scenario, it’s an incentive to influence purchase decisions. In case of B2C products, it’s a part of the incentive program for dealers and other significant supply chain partners.

During a couple of conversations, objectionable sales practices were pointed out. In a few organizations, sales representatives are expected to entertain their clients with facilitating sexual favours or accompany them to strip clubs. Company is not only paying for this but also encouraging the practice by forcing employees to actively participate. It was unclear if it was coerced by just a handful of senior employees or it was a widespread sales practice across the organization or industry. During my conversations, I heard this story about two different organizations.

I had to ask if this was raised as an issue because of cultural context of few individual’s life story and perspective. Could there be exaggeration of events in the mind of these individuals? When I heard a couple of more stories about global organizations, I didn’t find anything different.

It’s a multi-layer widespread practice and seeped deep into the system. But at the heart of it remains the fundamental question of respect for women at workplace and hence the efforts made to welcome or include women. If the messaging is that women can be bought and sold as pleasure objects for men, then how do we expect men in these organisations to treat their women colleagues with respect and work with them as equals? If the external partner incentive program includes strip tease and more, how do we expect them to respectfully work with women sales teams of the company? On a side note, it’s another layer of discouragement for women to aspire for career in sales.

Where do we go from here?

I have no way of knowing if these stories are true to reality or if they are exaggerated versions triggered by heightened emotions. But the conversations with various members of the environment were layered with tones of anger or apology or resignation. The problem is real. Some organizations seem to have addressed it head on; some have taken initial tiny steps. While it’s encouraging to know that conversations have happened and relevant actions have been taken in some parts of the industry, it’s also important to acknowledge the comfort with which we accept and allow it go on everywhere else.

How do we begin to address the concern? There are some easy answers and some not-so-easy ones. Here are a few thoughts that can be considered.

  • Recruit more women: It’s a simple first step. A diverse workforce brings with it heightened sensitivity and empathy. A diverse team can also create better market solutions with more perspectives.
  • Get the t-shirts right: Small tokens shared with the teams to create a sense of belonging to a community cannot exclude a section of employees. Small gifts and incentives need to be fair and inclusive. It’s a small cost and small effort.
  • Redesign rewards: There are multiple ways a reward can be made more meaningful and relevant for all team members. To begin with, be more inclusive and sensitive to the program content to build an inclusive workplace and avoid larger repercussions to the society.
  • External partner programs: Organizations have the ability and power to influence the larger ecosystem and society. As pointed out by one sales manager, ‘the dealers are happy even with an international trip; the program content doesn’t make them more loyal or connected to the company.’ There is no reason for the company to spend money on objectionable programs or events.
  • Sensitize teams on values: It’s necessary to have an open dialogue with employees about organization culture and values. It’s crucial to consciously create a code of conduct.
  • Monitor sales process and practices closely: While revenue is the prime driving force, organizations need to be careful of the unethical and objectionable practices by the sales force and build strict standards.

Society hasn’t changed. So why should businesses?’ Someone pointed this out during the discussion and further added, ‘this is a reflection of society; you can’t change this.’ With this mindset, human society would never have evolved. We are far ahead in time from the primitive societies. We can define new rules that serve us better today. Businesses with organized workforce have the ability to influence the face of new society. Organizations are made up of people and therefore reflect society. But they are also structured institutions with their own identity and goals. Their workforce follows strict rules and code of conduct to work together for the company vision. They are mini-societies in themselves with their own defined set of behaviour patterns. With organized workforce forming a bigger part of our society, they can influence thought patterns and make a larger impact to communities around them.

 

 

Posted in Life, Quick Thoughts

Paper Boats

As a child, I loved making paper boats and watch them float away in puddles or streams created by rainwater. And then I grew up and forgot the art of making delicate paper boats.

One fine day, during a long call, I started fiddling with a grocery bill lying around and made a little boat. It remained there as a random piece of craft on my dining table. The next grocery bill also tuned into a boat. Soon enough half of my dining table was covered in paper boats made with grocery bills. Somehow they don’t look like a bunch of junk papers on table to be thrown away. They bring playfulness to the living room.

As a child, I didn’t have any bills to pay. And now my thoughts and mindspace are dominated by paying bills. Somehow turning these bills into boats brought back memories and smiles from the carefree days of childhood. Life seems a bit easier just by turning bills into boats.

Posted in Life, Mumbai, Nature, Places, Quick Thoughts, Travel

coming back home

Still immersed in the smells and sights of my trip, I came back home yesterday after twelve days. On way back, I was a little irritated by the return journey and worried about going back to normal life. An unclean house awaited me with an empty kitchen and fridge. The suitcase in my hand reminded me of mandatory upcoming laundry time. My mind indulged a bit in the memories of the people I met and places I saw. But the discomforts of the trip would soon be replaced by convenience of a home. I was looking forward to the familiarity of home while missing the strangers and friends I left behind.

Every time I come back home, there is a mixed set of feelings. Happy and sad. A little annoyed. Sometimes tired and numb. Followed by confusion. But as soon as I enter home, there is always something that brings in a sense of comfort. The turmoil inside settles down.

Mostly its a small item kept in my room that spells home for me like the Ganesha idol on my dressing table or a pile of books lying next to my bed.

Yesterday, it was just the balcony and the view outside. It started raining as soon as I entered home. The vast landscape was covered in mist. I stood there for a while soaking in the sound of heavy rainfall, cool breeze, misty view and gorgeous patterns of streetlights in rains with city melting away in the background.

Mumbai in rains. Life is back to normal.

 

 

 

Posted in Life, Mumbai, Quick Thoughts

Empty Swing

I recently moved in a new building away from the heart of Mumbai. Even though it’s a beautiful convenient residential complex, it was an unpleasant change for me. I am away from the sea view, my favourite bookshops and cafes. Over the years, I had mapped a set of routes for my morning and evening walks. I wouldn’t go every day, but there was always somewhere peaceful to go when I needed to break away for a few moments from life.

My new apartment is near a highway and next to a construction site. There is a constant cloud of dust and noise of machines. After long day of work, the only tiny break I could get was a walk in my society near the pool and a small garden.

This building has more children than anywhere I have lived before. This is a pleasant change with all the positive energy they bring. But at times they can get annoying also. There are three play areas near my walk route.

My evening walks coincided with the play time of kids, that hour of restless energy just after the sunset when the sky is still blue, the kids are well rested after their afternoon siesta and excitedly waiting for the parents to return home from work. The playground is filled with joy and cheer.

One fine day, I met the 2-year old daughter of a family friend in the playground. She showed me around her play area and her favourite activities. We spent a few fun moments before she went back.

She started to recognise me after a couple of days. I would meet her almost every alternate day in the playground, mostly just following her instructions and trying to ensure her safety. It soon became the favourite part of my day. She would almost always start with the swing. She is an adventurous and courageous kid. She flies high and fast. I can see the swing from the lobby of my building. Even before I enter the playground, I could see her flying and hear her laughter. Often I would directly go to the playground on my way back from work.

On my difficult days at work, I wouldn’t be able to wait to reach back and hear her laughter. Her childlike wonder and joy opened my heart. She gets excited just looking at the water fountain or jumping in the pool or swinging. She walks around with not a care in the world. I learned to laugh more and smile more.

Every time I come back from work and she is not there, I take some time to recover and fill my evenings with other activities. I dread the days when I come back from office to find an empty swing.