It has been a tough month, say some of my male friends. Many are walking on eggshells. Most have been dusting the cobwebs of their office memories — “Did we do anything we will soon be made to regret? In public?”, “I remember this one time I smiled at my colleague and another when I danced with her at an office party? Did I upset her?”, “Will my ex accuse me of something?”
Too many questions, not enough answers.
How is one to behave around women at work, and outside work? (Photo: Twitter)
While everyone is waiting for investigations into the many charges made as the #MeToo movement gathers strength in India, a parallel conversation has begun in predominantly male circles. What is a man in the workplace to do now? How is one to behave around women at work, and outside work? Is the office romance dead?
Here are 5 simple rules that can help you figure the situation out yourself.
Rule 1: C.O.N.S.E.N.T.
Did she say NO? Understand that ‘NO’ is a complete sentence. It means stop, right now. It is never a yes, it is not even a maybe. A no is a no. And it can be said anytime by the woman (or man) you are attempting to touch, woo, ask out, have sex with. Even if she was kissing you a few minutes ago, even if she is staying over at your place, or you at hers, even when the physical distance between you is so little a ray of light won’t pass. A no is a no. Just that. She can say it in any volume, loud or soft, and even gesture it. If she is intoxicated, unconscious, asleep, or not in a position to give consent, assume it is a NO.
Rule 2: The Boss Boundaries
At work, your job as a head of department, or a senior, is to set an example. Your juniors are to be mentored, not groomed for sexual favours. No exception. Do not have a bro-code at work. Follow the law and make sure you have an ICC in place. Listen to the woman making the complaint. Do not protect the predator. Set, follow, and maintain high standards of equal opportunity and respect in office for all. Follow work timings. Have work meetings at work, and public spaces. You know by now that meetings and interviews in your hotel bedroom are never acceptable. Even on company off sites, outstation locations.
Rule 3: R.E.S.P.E.C.T
When in doubt, refer to rule one. Don’t invade her personal space at work. Don’t hover, and bend over her. Don’t flirt, even verbally, don’t stand too close in an enclosed space such as a lift or a corridor. If there are common washrooms, always knock. Be aware of unnecessary physical contact. You do not have to touch her to make a point. Sounds like common sense, huh?
Don’t invade her personal space at work. (Photo: India Today)
You would be surprised how often this common sense slips, and things take a dangerous turn. And being aware does not take away from friendly office banter. Awareness creates trust. As does technology. Keep office conversations on record, emails and phones chats can be backed up. Install CCTV cameras and inform your colleagues why this safety step has been taken. Trust, and respect, is earned. Never betray that.
Rule 4: Casual sexism is not cute
Never tell a colleague she looks or smells sexy, or give her tips on how she can. Don’t call her sweetie, cutie, sweetheart. Especially if she’s a colleague, professional or casual acquaintance, friend, junior, student, even a Tinder match meeting you for the first time. Heck, just drop the ‘dear’ too, while you are at it. She has a name. Please address her with that. Add relevant titles — such as Dr, Prof, Nurse, Teacher, Justice, Ms, Mrs — as relevant, and as preferred by her!
Confused? Just ask her how she prefers to be addressed.
Don’t even think about using a nickname for her. Unless she has asked you to call her that. For example: You may call me KJ/ KayJo/ Kay. You may never call me chubby cheeks, cutie, muffin! Comprende?
Rule 5: Alcohol, drugs, misreading a moment, loneliness
No one owes you a sexual favour in this world. Your colleagues and juniors are there to do their job. They are not there to entertain you, leave alone have a sexual encounter with you. Do not try emotional blackmail either.
Your loveless marriage is not an excuse to made sexual advances to fill a ‘void’. Talk to a therapist, or a lawyer. Just don’t whine, verbally, via text or email, notes or snail mail, to your women colleagues and juniors in the hope of a sympathetic shoulder, a hug, a cuddle, a kiss, or more.
Of course, office romances are as old as offices themselves. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)
Don’t offer out-of-turn promotions, plum postings, increments, favours, gifts, that elusive international trip, as lure. Work is work. Focus on that.
Do you have a crush on, or think you are in love with, a colleague? Want to ask her out? First check the power dynamics. Is she much younger? Are you her mentor? Do both of you find yourself on common ground here?
Of course, office romances are as old as offices themselves. Love is love. Love can happen anywhere, and there are many colleagues, and former colleagues, who continue to thrive in consensual romantic relationships. Ask her. Talk to her. Be a gentleman. Remember, respect her decision. Whatever it is. Every time. Every day.
The key here is to keep repeating, relearning, and understanding the magic word: CONSENT.
The #MeToo movement has been one of the strongest public-sourced and supported revolutions we have seen in recent years. In India, the movement has gathered strength after powerful men from the world of cinema, music, art, journalism, advertising, public relations, medicine and more, have been accused of sexually harassing, stalking, intimidating, emotionally manipulating, gas lighting, and raping women colleagues, and women they met on, or at, professional meetings and event. Serious charges and more, which will be investigated by various competent authorities.
The change has begun. Embrace the change.