Badal Ja! Meetups: Creating Safer Workplaces
We kicked off our Badal Ja! Meetups last month – an informal bimonthly space on Sundays to chit chat and nurture budding gender justice ideas – and this month we had our first budding idea turning into an impactful action!
At our second meetup in January, Tilly Josephson, a senior team member at Vera Solutions, a global startup that creates data and tech nology solutions for social organizations, joined us for chai and chit chat with the safety of her employees on her mind. One of her employees had been harrassed and she needed to find a way to talk to her team about safety in Mumbai in a sensitive, practical, gender-inclusive, and actionable way. She had a long, nuanced discussion with the group. After the meetup, I offered to help her design and facilitate a session on Gender and Public Space in Mumbai, which was a lot of fun. Below are some excerpts from my conversation with Tilly:
What enticed you to come to the BJ! meetup/join the community?
I approached BJ! because I wanted to brainstorm gender issues with intelligent, practical women who have been living in Mumbai for some time. I run a social enterprise in Bandra staffed mainly by young adults and I wanted to prepare everyone for the challenges that they might face living and working here day-to-day [feeling unsafe walking and traveling around the city because of the extra attention they get as women and expats]. Discussing women’s safety can be challenging. It’s inherently value-laden and political. So it was terrific to share ideas with BJ!. The community gave me practical, judgment-free advice and lots of knowledge and examples about the status of women in India and organisations working in the space.
What made you think of doing a workshop?
I really wanted to create an ongoing conversation about safety in my workplace, so after hearing everyone’s thoughts, I thought it would be great to have a workshop to contextualize safety in Mumbai for them a little more, especially for my expat staff. In my conversation with the BJ! community, we discussed how every city is unsafe in its own way and a large part of coming to a new place is understanding what safety means there (in terms of location, timing, who you’re with…many factors) and how you can personally navigate that in a way that makes you feel safe. We also talked about the underlying changing dynamics from the last 10-20 years with more women entering the workforce and globalization, and how that churn is reflected in pushback from some segments of society, in street harrassment and otherwise. During the workshop, we had a lot of peer-to-peer discussion on these topics, and everyone started to realize that this is a topic that they are not alone in, and that everyone has a role to play in women’s safety.
What was your favorite part of the workshop?
Listening to team members openly share their experiences and feelings. It’s hard to create an environment that feels safe for sharing personal experience related to safety and gender. Nilima made everyone feel comfortable and supported. Overall, I’m trying to create a workplace environment where people feel free to reach out and speak up if they have experienced something or if they feel unsafe. One part of that is having these ongoing spaces for dialogue, and another idea we got from the meetup was to assign a gender champion inside our organization – someone not in a senior position – who people feel comfortable reaching out to.
What was the best feedback you received afterwards?
One male from the group said “when I heard about this session I thought it should be held out of the office in people’s personal time. But after sitting through it, I realised how difficult life can be here for women and how strong the women on my team are. I’m so proud to work with them.” So, I was glad that we had kept a mixed gender group, so guys also felt like this was a conversation that concerned them.
Any plans of keeping up this initiative in the future?
Yes. This was our first team discussion on the topic of safety and space in Mumbai. We intend to run another workshop on the Indian legal system and regular informal discussions hosted by our new internal Gender and Safety champion (which was another idea that came out of my discussion with BJ!)
Thanks Tilly, and good luck with your new initiative!