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Intel Corp's Tanushree Ghosh on #MeToo, love contracts and the new normal

Tanushree Ghosh, senior engineering and program manager at Intel Corporation, and founder-director of Her Rights Inc, says hiring of women, both by men and women, has decreased after #MeToo.

March 08, 2022 / 01:16 PM IST
Tanushree Ghosh, senior engineer and program manager at Intel Corporation, and founder-director of Her Rights Inc, is the author of 'Beyond #MeToo: Ushering Women’s Era or Just Noise?'

Tanushree Ghosh, senior engineer and program manager at Intel Corporation, and founder-director of Her Rights Inc, is the author of 'Beyond #MeToo: Ushering Women’s Era or Just Noise?'


Tanushree Ghosh, senior engineer and program manager at Intel Corporation, and founder-director of Her Rights Inc, speaks to us about her book Beyond #MeToo: Ushering Women’s Era or Just Noise? (SAGE India, 2021).

What is your target audience?

I’m targeting men and women of any age group who care about gender violence and sexual harassment but have nowhere to educate themselves. I look at soft and hard patriarchy, and how they manifest at home and at work. This book is also for readers interested in the economic argument for gender parity, and the cost of sexual harassment to corporations and nations. When women feel safe at work, it empowers them and also increases the GDP.

How did your work with Intel Corporation and Her Rights Inc feed into this book?

I was pregnant when the Nirbhaya rape happened in Delhi. I asked myself: “What kind of a world am I bringing my child into?” I felt I had to do something or I’d lose the right to complain and get upset. I started Her Rights Inc. to end gender violence and facilitate social justice. That fed into my book, along with case studies from corporate India and America since I’ve worked with Intel in both countries.

Women face situations where they find their career prospects being harmed. Even if they are not subject to sexual harassment, they face gender harassment. They are overlooked as they are not part of locker room conversations and social engagements with male colleagues.

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These things have an impact on how sexual harassment allegations are perceived. Male colleagues have a rapport, so they protect each other. Even HR heads often protect the business rather than employees. This is why a culture of awareness, dialogue and representation matters. A human problem cannot be solved merely by drafting a policy.

Has the #MeToo movement reduced cases of sexual harassment at the workplace?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the nature of the workplace and the workforce has changed. There is a lot of informal employment. Data gathering has been difficult at this time. Even the reports that exist are based on too small a sample size to make any broad conclusions.

Have you seen any changes in hiring patterns after the #MeToo movement?

Hiring of women, both by men and women, has decreased after #MeToo. There are men who refuse to mentor women because they think that everything is misunderstood these days. Many organizations are hesitant to hire women for jobs requiring close contact with men.

This reminds me of IIT Kanpur, where I did my Masters. Certain advisers used to turn down women who approached them for thesis supervision. They said, “Your research is good but we can’t work with you. Most of the people in my lab are men. We don’t want any romance happening.” Women had to find advisers without biases in the 1990s and early 2000s.

What do you think of love contracts and non-fraternization policies?

Some corporations have a zero-tolerance policy towards fraternization; there can be no relationship between co-workers. Most corporations define non-fraternization along the lines of conflict of interest; there can be no subordinate-management relationship.

Guidelines or rules about non-fraternization related to conflict of interest are important. You have to avoid workplace bias. It’s not a gender question but a fair employment question. Any real or perceived conflict of interest can cause problems with performance and team morale.

Between co-workers where there is no conflict of interest, I don’t think it should be the corporation’s business to police or monitor consensual relationships.

Beyond #MeToo: Ushering Women’s Era or Just Noise? (SAGE India, 2021)Love contracts are becoming popular with smaller size corporations. Co-workers in a consensual relationship sign a love contract saying that they are liable if anything goes wrong, if they break any policy, or if it stops being consensual. They can seek mediation if there is a conflict. Technically, love contracts are better than forbidding consensual adult relationships but they don’t solve the problem of perceived conflict of interest.

You write about the intersection of gender with religion, caste and race. To what extent have workplaces incorporated these nuances into policies against sexual harassment?

I don’t think that they have been incorporated well even though there’s greater awareness of intersectionality, protected segments and under-represented minorities at least in the US. In terms of sexual harassment, the question that we need to ask is whether the secondary identity – religion, caste or race – has a role to play in a specific case or not. While an intersectional lens is important, gender rights progress also becomes slower when other identities come in.

How do you think of the trans rights movement in relation to gender rights?

It creates awareness that gender is a fluid concept. It challenges heteronormative gender expectations. It gives people a space to make different choices. The trans rights movement in the US gets a lot of flak. People think it is going too far. There’s a lot of emphasis on using the right pronouns. Many people think this is unnecessary. I used to think like that until a friend asked me to think about whose space I was taking up.

I’m not a trans person who has struggled to find the right restroom to use. I haven’t been excluded on account of pronouns. It’s not my place to have a contradictory opinion. It is futile to pit women’s rights against trans rights, or to say black women’s rights are more important than white women’s rights. The problems faced by women are pretty much the same; only the manifestation and extent are different.

What, according to you, are some valid criticisms of the #MeToo movement?

Because it uses name-and-shame techniques, and is driven by social media, there is a real possibility of trial by media and people’s reputations getting damaged in cases that are not real. They are considered guilty until proven innocent. That said, name-and-shame techniques help in building awareness like we’ve seen in the case of Harvey Weinstein.
Chintan Girish Modi is an independent journalist, writer and educator.
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