For 'We Care' to make a difference it will need more support from the agencies: Poonam Lal
In an interview with Everything Experiential, Poonam Lal, Chair-CSR | We Care Initiatives | ICC for EEMA spoke about her journey with We Care, its various initiatives, challenges faced by women in the industry and more.
Thirty per cent of the entrepreneurs in the event industry are women. 40-45% of the event management workforce are women. Empowering women through leadership training, best in class entrepreneurship training would ensure that the event industry would be the first to usher in Equal Opportunity for women and men. We need to provide skills, training, resources and and equal playing field to ensure that we are the first off the block and inspire other industries to follow our example", this was the dream of EEMA's former president, Sabbas Joseph when We Care was launched.
The We Care Initiative was led by Poonam Lal, MD, Marketing Solutions, who joined the National Executive Committee in 2016 to spearhead Women Empowerment, a newly created portfolio. She was supported in the initiative by Sushma Gaikwad, Director, ICE Global and Wizcraft MIME.
We Care under Poonam's leadership went on to address issues such as harassment in the workplace and beyond, the understanding and implementation of the POSH guidelines; introduction of best practices in the areas of mental health and physical safety.
In an interview with Everything Experiential, Poonam spoke about her journey with We Care, its various initiatives, challenges faced by women in the industry and more.
What was the thought behind setting up We Care?
We Care was set up as a body that would work towards the well-being of the event industry folks. In the first phase, the initiative focused on creating a safe workplace for 40% of the industry’s workforce by proposing simple solutions. Safe would imply physically and mentally safe. We started with simple steps like proposing a mandatory home drop for girls and women with a trusted aide if the employee was required to work late night; a separate toilet facility for girls at all facilities including warehouses with hygienic conditions; and a work from home option for them once or twice a month to help achieve a healthier work life balance.
Tell us some of the initiatives of We Care.
We have launched a Helpline, as a reach out point for girls who face harassment at work. The helpline officially operates from Monday to Friday 10 am – 5 pm and started with a trained counsellor who was available to help the callers with the required advice. Over time, we realized the spectrum of the calls we received needed more comprehensive and specialized assistance. And we requested help from specialists and created a panel of experts. Today, our panelists include experts from the fields of psychology, medicine, law, sexual harassment compliance experts and more, all of whom have volunteered pro bono to advise and guide the callers seeking their help at any time.
Along with this, we constituted the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for EEMA, as well as 4 Regional Complaints Committee as per the POSH mandates to ensure that EEMA members can avail of the facility should they need to.
How do you make sure that there is no gender differentiation in the event industry?
Time and again, we have organised workshops with Sexual Harassment Law Compliance experts for agency owners, for HR teams and employees, so they are aware of their rights and are safeguarded against harassment, both as employers and employees. These special workshops help in creating awareness among event companies about harassment at workplace and how to handle any such sensitive issues.
We have proposed a Code of Conduct for EEMA members that covers respect for each other, and for women in the industry it stands for; and equal opportunity in the workplace and the industry.
What are some major issues that women in the industry have faced in the last few months owing to the lockdown?
The Lockdown hasn’t been kind to anyone. We are in one of the most uncertain times that has hit the world and businesses are struggling to survive. As a result, salaries have been slashed, sabbaticals have been recommended, jobs have been lost. It has been harrowing for all employees. Women have also suddenly found themselves battling these along with the added pressures of handling their homes full time now.
The lines have blurred between clear divisions in household chores and office work, with the brunt of handling home responsibilities being added to work pressures. Division of labor at home remains skewed. And where one could switch off from work at 6 pm, the time zones now overlap into personal time too. With all that is happening, women are now calling up seeking counselling for their mental health!
Are there any new laws being framed for women in events?
While laws are being framed for women protecting them at home and at the workplace, we haven’t had specific laws being proposed for women in the event industry as such. And for this to happen, EEMA will have to step up and step in as the industry apex body and engage with the government bodies for special laws and concessions.
We Care to make a difference will need a much wider reach and more agencies will have to embrace and support the initiative. I hope that in the coming years, every member pro actively does this. With the EEMA elections for the new National Executive Committee round the corner, most contestants have spoken about initiatives for women in their manifestos, seemingly having woken to the fact that women constitute 40% of the event workforce and are as much a contributor to the growth of the industry as any other person.
What is your vision for We Care for the next few years?
We Care's vision in the truest sense is an environment that gives equal opportunity to all, gives them a safe work environment to work in, without having to worry about any kind of harassment, and one that is conducive to their professional growth all the way.
We want to focus on nurturing talent and upskill them for leadership roles through mentoring and learning, while continuing to educate all the stakeholders on their responsibility to create a thriving, safe and gender neutral work environment.
Tell us some of the challenges that you have faced while working for the cause.
It has been a huge struggle to get an acceptance for We Care and we all know why! The effort has been ridiculed, mocked, and several decision-makers have shown the effort the door on numerous occasions. But we have trudged on, sure that change is inevitable and with it, acceptance. With the government creating stringent POSH laws, and ensuring that they are implemented across workplaces, we will all soon realize that there is no getting away from employer responsibilities.
Spreading the word has been a slow and painful process, and finally after 4 years we feel that we are getting somewhere. On the flip side, it is gratifying to see women reach out and avail the Helpline facility and take a stand against harassment and talk more openly about the subject, and know that there is a strong support system backing them all the way.
We Care Helpline: +91 8448-445168
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