As a college senior, I went to India during Winter Break to visit relatives. Around that time, a 23-year old medical student had been brutally gang-raped in Delhi, dying from her injuries days later. Following this incident was a cascade of media coverage on the topic in India. Day after day, I read about other sexual assault incidents and the barriers that prevented women from reporting them—a complicit police force, the fear of “dishonoring” their families, and more.
Many years later after working in Corporate America, I realized that things weren’t any better in America. According to a recent Redbook survey on sexual harassment, 80% of women “reported receiving unwanted attentions at work.” In a separate study, 60% of women in tech reported the same.
My parents moved to America to make sure their girls had better opportunities than they did growing up in India. As a first-generation immigrant, I was disturbed to find out that America, the seeming paragon of progressive values, had institutions where sexism, harassment, and discrimination were rampant and even normalized.
However, I’m also hopeful. 2017 has been the year where those same institutions are getting a much-needed wake-up call. From media coverage of the many sexual misconduct allegations to the more recent #MeToo campaign, it appears that we are approaching the critical mass necessary to bring forth lasting social change.
What can we do to make sure we don’t lose momentum and bring forth a culture of accountability?
1. Recognize that there is no excuse for a harasser’s behavior, not even the classic “boys being boys” excuse. When you see something, call people out on their behavior, including bystander men.
2. When you’re evaluating a new job opportunity, investigate the company’s culture. What steps do they take to prevent harassment in the workplace? Do they call for mandatory training for employees (including leadership)?
3. Hire and promote women from diverse backgrounds. If more women are in management, workplace harassment should be less likely to occur.
4. Don’t let harassment, discrimination, or sexism deter you from reaching your potential. Go after those leadership roles and make sure to help other women advance their careers.
Change starts with us. If we raise our collective voices together, we can change our society for the better.