Why don’t our CEOs stand up against our ‘bro culture’?

Pankaj Mishra April 24, 2017 4 min

After the recent allegations of sexual harassment at TVF and against Mahesh Murthy, how would you have felt about a three-part tweet by Sachin Bansal, the poster boy of Indian entrepreneurship, that went like this:

“In light of recent allegations of sexual harassment against Arunabh Kumar and Mahesh Murthy, I want to reassure women in my workplace.” 1/3

“Flipkart will never EVER condone such behaviour in office (or outside). If you have any complaint or doubt in this matter, message me.” 2/3

“The truth behind the allegations against Kumar/Murthy will come out in time. But, I just want to reiterate our stance at Flipkart.” 3/3

Women — and most men — would have applauded a message like this, right?

Bansal’s is a hypothetical example I have used in this opinion column to drive home my point: our CEOs don’t talk enough about the “bro culture” at our workplaces. It could be a message from anyone: Vishal Sikka of Infosys, Azim Premji of Wipro, Amit Agarwal of Amazon, Vijay Shekhar Sharma of Paytm (who is an investor in FactorDaily), Girish Mathrubootham of Freshdesk… Anyone.

Our CEOs don’t talk enough about the “bro culture” at our workplaces

To be sure, they (and India’s other tech CEOs) might be doing their bit of messaging in other ways or on other fora. But there are times our leaders need to take a public stance with the caveat that the allegations in question are yet to be proven. It is important for our women colleagues to know that offices are as safe and comfortable for them as for their male counterparts. This is all the more important in the technology and startup ecosystem — among the few engines of new job creation in our economy.

In not taking public positions, leaders might as well admit to sexism in their workplaces, and that “bro culture” is alive and spreading in our midst.

There are times our leaders need to take a public stance with the caveat that the allegations in question are yet to be proven. It is important for our women colleagues to know that offices are as safe and comfortable for them as for their male counterparts  

As they say, intentions are not enough to make change. Leaders have to pick up the spade — megaphone, in this instance — to shovel garbage out of the system.

At FactorDaily, we have been telling stories about sexism in India’s tech and startup ecosystem. Stories like this, this, and this are examples of our ongoing coverage. Also, stories including this, this and this.

But writing stories about sexism and investigating instances of the same faced by women in and outside the ecosystem is clearly not enough.

What’s disturbing is the deafening silence of our industry stalwarts, right from the founders of Flipkart to Infosys and so on, about where they stand on these topics.

Their duty to assure one half of our population that they’re safe has been reduced to lip service on March 8. Women’s Day has become a big deal at most companies these days. There are press releases, events at offices, and special treats for women employees. Necessary, for sure, but not sufficient.

While reporting for this story about Mahesh Murthy and allegations against him made by few women, I realised the dangerous silence of the top technology and startup leaders is actually deafening.

The point is not about any particular case or complaint, it’s more about taking an umbrella stand and drawing the Lakshmanrekha in this matter. “Transgress this, bro, and you are toast”  

“How do I take a stand when there’s no evidence?” one of them asked me.

The point is not about any particular case or complaint, it’s more about taking an umbrella stand and drawing the Lakshmanrekha in this matter. “Transgress this, bro, and you are toast.”

By keeping silent on not just specific cases, but also overall issues of sexism in the ecosystem, startup leaders and technology CEOs are helping create a cancerous disease, which will become incurable in the months and years to come.

So, here’s my question to each of you listed below: Where do you and your organisations stand when it comes to sexism and the rising bro culture in the ecosystem?

  1. Sachin Bansal, Flipkart
  2. Binny Bansal, Flipkart
  3. Bhavish Agarwal, Ola
  4. Vishal Sikka, Infosys
  5. Azim Premji, Wipro
  6. N R Narayana Murthy, Infosys founder
  7. Nandan Nilekani, Infosys co founder and active startup investor
  8. Rekha Menon, Accenture India
  9. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Biocon
  10. TV Mohandas Pai, startup investor and policy champion
  11. Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Paytm
  12. Deepinder Goyal, Zomato
  13. Sahil Barua, Delhivery
  14. Girish Mathrubootham, Freshdesk
  15. Vanitha Narayanan, IBM India
  16. Kris Gopalakrishnan, Infosys cofounder and Chairman, Axilor
  17. Shiv Nadar, HCL
  18. Amit Agarwal, Amazon India
  19. Shashank ND, Practo
  20. Krishnakumar Natarajan, Mindtree
  21. Subrata Mitra, Accel (a FactorDaily investor)
  22. Prashanth Prakash, Accel
  23. Sanjay Nath, Blume (a FactorDaily investor)
  24. Karthik Reddy, Blume
  25. Shailendra Singh, Sequoia
  26. Sanjay Anandaram, Seedfund
  27. Rajan Anandan, Google
  28. Deep Kalra, MakeMyTrip
  29. Phanindra Sama, redBus cofounder

Folks, look around your office. If you see a woman, you owe it to her to speak up.

Dear reader, this is an indicative list of leaders, at best. If you want your CEO to take a stance, please point him to the comments section below.

Lead visual: Nikhil Raj


Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.