Saturday, 10 June 2017

Unbox: Theater based learning experience on Bias/ Prejudice

NHRD Bangalore Chapter organized a theater-based discussion on the above subject on 30/3/2017. In view of the novelty of using theater to convey ideas, the attendance was very good with the conference hall being jam-packed. The speakers/performers for the day were Ms Aruna GaneshRam of Visual Respiration, a performance company committed to designing unique audience experiences and Ms Nirmala Menon, Founder CEO of Interweave, a company focusing on organizational diversity and inclusion solutions. The objective of the evening program was to create heightened awareness and inspire better inclusion for all.

In our society, we tend to look at a person not as an individual but through the lens of gender. What people are capable of doing or whether an action is right or wrong is perceived from the gender of the person, whether male or female. The program started with a theatrical presentation by Aruna who drew attention to the plight of women in society, whether at work (interviewed for a job, being considered for an assignment or promotion) or in personal life. She adopted the style of a  Sutradhara, a story teller or narrator In Indian Theatre of yore in a singsong exaggerated voice. I am sharing below a sample of what Aruna related in her performance:-
“Boxes boxes everywhere
Men and women in clear separate boxes
Categorizing people one way or the other”
“A woman’s chores include
apart from attending official work.
Attending PTA meetings, bank work and others.”
“she is to be commented upon
no matter what clothes she wears
be it Biz suit, hot pants or salwar
if nothing else, you can’t help asking
“What’s with the new look?”  “
 “At work it’s always doubt
Can you arrange, manage, co ordinate
They say, “I’m not tough enough
Fast enough, not networking
Not capable enough, not worthy enough”
For promotion Nikhil is chosen over me
Take a break they say- adding insult to injury
“In a way it’s an opportunity to chill out
Look after the kids, take up
Your hobby of gardening”
“Boxes, boxes everywhere!
What’s in your box?
How did it get in there?
What do you want to keep?
What do you want to throw out?”
“Boxes, boxes in the air
Boxes, boxes everywhere
It starts from the time of childhood
Boys get blue
Girls get pink
Boys are brave, girls do cry
Barbie dolls are girly
Video games are nerdy
Girls to the left, boys to the right”
“Boys are good at maths
Girls good at crafts
Boys have to be bread winner
Girls need to worry about being thin”

After the theatrical performance by Aruna, the baton was passed on to Nirmala Menon who brought in the necessary professionalism and focus to the exercise. What does the insights from the performance mean to the HRDians assembled for the evening? Whether an appreciation by HR leaders, of the negative aspects of boxing employees based on their genders could lead to policies that are progressive, more egalitarian and inclusive? As a person engaged in sensitizing corporates for some time now as a diversity professional, Nirmala admitted that all problems would not disappear instantly as if  by waving a magic wand. Yet, baby steps taken in this direction in more and more companies would yield results in the long run.

Nirmala underscored the fact that it is not women alone but both genders, who are victims of the practice of boxing people. As for example in our country, society would not view kindly or appreciate a male’s wish to be a ‘home maker’ based on his natural traits and inclination for that role. In the work situation, if the capabilities of women are constantly judged unfavourably due to biased prejudices, it would amount to ignoring 50% of your talent pool. Why would any organization want to do that? The success of diversity management at the organizational level would be possible only if concerted efforts are made by managers and the spirit is reflected in the culture of the organization.

Nirmala concluded by stating that notwithstanding the efforts of organizations, the challenges to the problem included comfort and psychological safety felt by women, societal influences and the psyche of the women themselves. There has been change in   women over the years and they are demanding more of their rights. However, more change or corresponding change is necessary in the mindsets of men. It is in the interests of the organization to have a balance of the masculine and feminine energy. In this connection, a few courageous souls need to break the status quo and the others would follow. 

The evening provided all of us present a lot of food for thought.By recreating the evening for you here readers, I am passing them on to you also to mull over- How much longer are we going to continue  at the work places and in all spheres of life with a limiting perception of seeing people in boxes?How long will it to take to break boundaries, realize full potential of indivduals and claim the palaces of possibilities?