Arise and a-woke

Corporates should be virtue warriors and earn the admiration of customers

Though the wheels of justice moved slowly and it took more than 150 years to decriminalise homosexuality in India, the Internet dispenses instant justice, as illustrated by the case of a former employee of IT major Tech Mahindra. That person took to social media the day after the Supreme Court’s decision on Section 377 to point out the harassment he faced while he was an employee. The accused was a senior member of the staff. The young man wrote a detailed post recounting instances when he was picked on and made the subject of abusive, foul-mouthed comments because of his sexual orientation. The post went viral and the Internet being what it is, people immediately dug into the past records of the abuser and out came tweets of casual bigotry and hate. Facing this backlash, the company instituted an inquiry and within days announced that it was terminating the services of the accused. While Tech Mahindra should be credited for doing the right thing, the pertinent point here is that it did so only when it became impossible to ignore the issue. The IT company is not alone in this; many corporates muffle the complaints of victims to carry on with business as usual. In India especially, corporate work culture is one that relies on the hope that employees would rather protect self-interest than be activists for social change. The environment is boss-driven, and employees are actively disbarred from speaking their mind and are penalised for going against the authorised and approved version of events. This makes workplaces cesspools of bullying, with rampant bigotry, casteism and sexism. Yet, very few instances become public. All of that is now set to change. With millennials entering the workplace and “wokeness” — being vocal against social injustices — seizing a large part of popular narrative, even big corporations are likely to be left with fewer places to hide. In fact, smart organisations are doing exactly the opposite — they are seizing control and promoting their own message of being “woke”. Earlier this year, sports good major, Nike, controversially signed on Colin Kaepernick (in picture), the American footballer who was the first to kneel during the U.S. national anthem in protest against police brutality. That invoked the wrath of many, including President Donald Trump, who predicted that Nike would get “killed” in the backlash. To the contrary, despite an initial dip, the company is now thriving, with a $6 billion surge in market value since the start of the campaign. In India too, corporates would do well to learn this lesson early and proactively promote themselves as virtue warriors, earning the admiration of customers and the interest of potential employees. Knee-jerk reactions to correct past mistakes, such as Tech Mahindra’s, will yield few brownie points in the future.

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