Serein

The Law and Unconscious Biases: Gender

Sharanya Venkataraghavan

- May 29, 2024

It’s a busy day at Beta Enterprises, with their annual planning going on:

Leo greets his diverse team with a “Hey guys! We have a busy day ahead” 

Leya lets her team know that “The Chairman, Ms. Katie will be joining us for today’s meeting. So be prepared for some difficult questions”. 

When presenting their latest product, Harry says “Our product isn’t meant for just one section of the market, it appeals to the common man

Do you notice a pattern to these common phrases you heard around your office?

All the conversations use language that is inherently masculine to apply to people of all genders. 

But why do we tend to use masculine language? 

The answer is the unconscious biases that we hold about associating certain genders with certain activities and positions. 

What is unconscious bias?

Our brain unconsciously processes about 11 million pieces of information in a single second, while our conscious processing capability is about 40 pieces at the same time. 

With so much information being processed every second, the brain tends to “jump to conclusions”, in the words of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of “Thinking Fast and Slow”. To come to conclusions and make decisions, our brains make use of “unconscious biases”. 

Unconscious bias refers to associations we hold that are not a part of our conscious awareness and control. They are often a product of social conditioning and are learned associations between specific qualities and a social category. 

Our association of male pronouns and gendered terms with certain jobs, tasks and positions can also be a result of unconscious biases we can hold about who generally occupies these roles. 

What if I told you that this isn’t just something we do as individuals but a legally recognised practice?

How is Gendered Language used in the Law?

The General Clauses Act, 1897 is the law that explains how certain common terms should be interpreted across various Acts and Rules in India. In terms of pronouns, it states that the use of masculine pronouns shall include the feminine pronoun as well and the use of masculine terms shall also include other genders. 

This means that all laws currently in force in India can use just “he”, and “him” pronouns but shall be interpreted to cover people of all gender identities and gendered terms such as “Chairman” shall also include any person who does not identify with the gender who occupies these positions. 

The Section goes on to explain that the same is to shorten the law as well as save the “draftsman” from the “tortuous process of mentioning the female of the species”.  

Essentially, the drafter of the law believed that an umbrella use of male pronouns and terms was most practical so that the drafter of every other law would not have to clarify by explicitly stating “he or she” and “her or him” at every instance as well as using the female version of terms such as “draftswoman” or “Chairwoman” every time they appeared in a statute. 

How does gendered usage in the law create unconscious biases?

The use of exclusively male pronouns for all legislation tends to create unconscious bias- where we link positions and genders. For example, the Constitution of India uses exclusively male pronouns and uses “Chairman” to refer to the Head of various departments and bodies covered under the Constitution. 

These biases especially come into play when we are talking about people in positions of power. For example, even laws that are aimed at empowering women such as the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013 or the PoSH Act 2013 rely on male pronouns to refer to members of the Management, defined as the “employer.” The Act states that “The employer shall act upon the recommendation within sixty days of its receipt by him, explicitly referring to the employer with the male pronouns. 

This unconscious bias reflected in the law also sets the base for all other legal conversations in the country- from contract drafting and discussions in Courts of law to common parlance.  

Even the approach of using female pronouns continues to exclude those who do not identify with gendered pronouns. The effective use of gender-neutral pronouns such as “they” and “them” can play a role in effectively creating inclusion. 

Changing gendered attitudes and language

Even the law has shown promise regarding recognising the negative impact of using exclusively male pronouns. In 2022, the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill used exclusively “she” and “her” to refer to all, in an attempt to empower women. However, the law itself is yet to pass. 

In 2023, the Supreme Court of India released the ‘Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes‘ to help members of the legal community identify and avoid the use of harmful language and stereotypes concerning women.

Even though the practice of masculine language has existed since the 1800s, the recent decade has shown great progress. These moves create a path for continued progress towards a more gender-inclusive attitude toward the law and its practice. 

What are some actionable steps that workplaces can take?

While we see the law take steps towards change, workplaces can take active steps towards recognising unconscious bias and using gender-neutral terms. 

Here are a few actionable steps to create gender-inclusive workspaces:

  • Use “they” and “them” pronouns when referring to people whose pronouns one doesn’t know or is unsure of
  • Use gender-neutral greetings like “Hello all”, “Hi everyone” and “Hey folks” instead of “Hey guys”, “Hello ladies” etc.
  • Use gender-neutral terms for jobs and positions such as “Chairperson”, “Flight Attendant”, “Businessperson” etc.
  • Avoid addressing emails to “Ms./Mr.” or “Sir/Madam”. You can use the name of the person to whom the email is addressed or their professional group such as “Hiring Committee” or “Member of the Board” 
  • Implement gender-neutral Company Policies across the organisation to create a safe workplace for all. In specific instances such as the PoSH Act 2013 where the law is gendered, organisations can create a gender-neutral policy to give space to every employee to access a safe workplace. 
  • Audit all organisational communication for gender-neutral language. When drafting internal policies, marketing material, internal communication and job descriptions, be mindful of using gendered language that could perpetuate gender-based stereotypes.   

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Elina Tiliba

Workshops Facilitator

Elina is a certified coach who works with leaders, entrepreneurs and business teams from over 30 countries. At Serein, she facilitates sensitisation sessions for clients across the globe.

Her passion lies in empowering individuals to maximise their personal and professional potential, enabling them to achieve both success and fulfilment.

With a commitment to the International Coaching Federation’s (ICF) Coaching Core Competencies and Code of Ethics, Elina brings over 1000 hours of individual coaching and 400 hours of team facilitation, workshops, and coaching groups to her coaching practice. 

Rishab Prasad

DEI Specialist

Rishab is passionate about creating long-term partnerships with Serein’s customers. He is responsible for marketing, operations, customer onboarding, contract writing, and relationship building. Rishab uses his directing and filmmaking skills to design engaging content for Serein’s social media platforms.

Rishab holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics with Honours from CHRIST University, Bangalore. He has directed more than nine short films on topics like stigmas of menstruation, widowhood, and adoption.

Dr. Ishani Roy

Founder and CEO

Ishani founded Serein to provide a data and research-based approach to solving DEI challenges at the workplace. She advises company leaders, startup founders, and venture capital firms on industry best practices to increase diversity and design a DEI roadmap.

Ishani is a recipient of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award 2023 for the global impact of her work in the DEI space.

Before founding Serein, Ishani was a scientist at GE Research working in the Aerospace Lab. She holds a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from Brown University on developing mathematical models to solve Astrophysics problems. She did her Post-doctoral studies at the University of Oxford and St. Thomas Hospital in Biomathematics.

Chryslynn D’Costa

Co-founder and CPO |

Chryslynn leads the product development of Serein’s DEI SaaS tool. She designs learning content and strategic insights for companies to measure their DEI growth, and achieve bias-free recruitment and psychological safety.

Chryslynn is a regular columnist with publications like ‘LiveMint’ and ‘The Hindu’ where she writes about unconscious bias, prevention of sexual harassment, and company culture.

Before Serein, she was a Gandhi Fellow working in rural Rajasthan to address educational leadership and gender equity in government schools. She graduated from Azim Premji University in Bangalore with a Master’s in Education where she specialised in gender and sexuality education.

Bianca D’Costa

Head of PoSH: India, Global

Bianca leads the compliance partnerships and workshops on anti-sexual harassment, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. She has 100+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace.

Bianca designs gamified learning modules for a unique and impactful learner experience on topics like gender inclusion, PwD inclusion, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and regional inclusion among others. 

Before Serein, Bianca worked in hospitality for 5 years with Emirates Airlines. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai. She is presently pursuing a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality in Global Politics from SOAS University of London.

Aparna Pandurangan

Head of Operations

Aparna is leading the finance and operations at Serein. She has also been responsible for Serein’s online platform, customer management, and marketing.

She works closely with Serein’s 500+ long-term partners to ensure they are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law. Aparna is a workshop facilitator on topics like the prevention of sexual harassment at the workplace in languages like Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.

Aparna Pandurangan holds a degree in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Anna University, Chennai. 

Faakirah Irfan

Head of Legal

Faakirah is a legal professional and expert facilitator on topics like anti-sexual harassment, anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. Faakirah has conducted 100+ training sessions on the prevention of sexual harassment for employees and internal committee members.

She has 150+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace. Her legal research at Serein includes policy analysis, human rights, women’s rights, and document drafting.

Faakirah is an experienced legal professional. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in law with a focus on women’s rights and policy analysis from the University of Kashmir. She holds a Master of Law degree specializing in alternative dispute resolution from O.P Jindal School of Law.

Dr. Ruchika Sharma

Guest Consultant: Gender

Ruchika assists with research and facilitation of sessions on domestic violence, sexual harassment, employee well-being, and women’s leadership. She is a feature writer for Serein’s blogs where she writes about gender, women’s history, domestic violence, and sexual harassment awareness in the workplace.

Ruchika is a published author with books like ‘Concubinage, Race and Law in Early Colonial Bengal: Bequeathing Intimacy, Servicing the Empire’ published by Routledge, Taylor, and Francis publications. She has been teaching History at the University of Delhi for over a decade. She has a Ph.D. in History from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Arathi Kannan

Head of DEI: India, Global

Arathi leads the design and execution of DEI measurement tools for global partners. These include Serein’s Diversity Index, the scope of unconscious bias in recruitment and promotions, and the scope of unconscious bias in external messaging. 

She has also designed a standardized tool to review company policies and products through an inclusion lens. Arathi leads workshops on inclusion, unconscious bias, domestic violence, mental health, and well-being. 

Arathi is a published researcher with Master’s degrees in Applied Psychology and Criminology from Bond University, Australia. Her experience includes working with people from different backgrounds, including refugee groups.

Thejaswini CA

LMS Platform Associate

Thejaswini is responsible for the operations and maintenance of Serein’s in-house e-learning platform. She assists customers to deliver learning content and assess employee engagement through Serein’s tracking system. 

Thejaswini is also engaged with finance and other operations to ensure Serein’s 500+ long-term partners are compliant with the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) law.

Thejaswini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Application from Field Marshal KM Cariappa College, Kodagu.

Rhea D’Silva

Designer

Rhea is the aesthetic and creative eye behind Serein’s marketing and sales collateral. She manages website content and social media content calendar. She works closely with Serein’s content experts to design catchy invites, toolkits, and company culture reports.

Rhea creates animated content for Serein’s learning platform. She is focused on understanding the user’s need for engagement and learning to create impactful content. 

Rhea holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media from St. Xavier’s University, Mumbai where she majored in advertising.

Bhavini Pant

Safety and PoSH expert

Bhavini serves as a PoSH external member for 30+ companies in industries like education, healthcare, IT, Pharma, and more. She has 70+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations in the workplace and supporting partner organizations on the legal procedure and best practices for workplace safety.

Before Serein, Bhavini worked as an archivist at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and as an editorial assistant for IIT Bombay’s PR and Alumni Associations department.

She has a Master’s degree in Education from Azim Premji University where she worked extensively with the management on anti-sexual harassment legal implementation. Her work involved the interpretation of the law in a university as a workplace and an educational institution for adults. 

Kirtika N

Safety and PoSH expert

Kirtika is an expert speaker and workshop facilitator on topics like sexual harassment awareness, bystander intervention, and anti-harassment redressal mechanisms. She has developed learning content for investigating committees on topics like witness cooperation in a workplace sexual harassment inquiry proceeding. 

Kirtika serves as a PoSH external member for 30+ companies in fintech, healthcare, business management, gaming, and more. She has 50+ hours of experience consulting on sexual harassment investigations at the workplace and supporting partner organisations on legal procedure and best practices.

She has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Montfort College, Bengaluru, and has experience working as a trainee counselor.

Narayanan Nagarajan

Creative Designer Consultant

Narayanan is responsible for creating visuals for posts and campaigns for social media as a Creative Designer at Serein. He also works on animations for Serein’s e-learning courses, explainer and promotional videos. 

Narayanan’s focus lies in creating content that is subtle yet impactful. He sometimes doesn’t mind being in the middle of a storm but does love a good brainstorm. 

Narayanan worked in a corporate environment for 7 years before making a creative switch in his career. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts from The College of Fine Arts, Bengaluru.

Sharanya Venkataraghavan

Safety and PoSH expert

Sharanya serves as a PoSH external member for 15+ companies in e-commerce, fintech, healthcare, SaaS, and more. She supports partner organisations on legal procedures and best practices to build safe work cultures.

She has been involved in the review of PoSH policies, labour law compliances, and research regarding the risk of secondary victimisation of complainants under the PoSH Act.

Sharanya graduated with BBA, LLB (Hons.) degree from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She has experience in PoSH and employment law with notable law firms like Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co., J. Sagar and Associates, among others.

Nandini Abraham

Statistical Analyst

Nandini conducts extensive industry-specific research on DEI trends in India, South East Asia, Europe, and the USA. Nandini is responsible for developing statistical models for DEI assessment on Serein’s DEI SaaS Tool. She designs measurement tools for DEI benchmarking, inclusion assessments, and employee experience surveys.

Nandini is passionate about creating engaging and impactful reports, toolkits, and playbooks for Serein’s customers.

Nandini holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Mathematics & Statistics from St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore.

Nithya R

HR and Compliance Lead

Nithya drives operational excellence within the HR function. She ensures that Serein maintains the highest standards of HR practices and ethical conduct. Her role extends beyond traditional HR responsibilities as she also serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients, specialising in preventing workplace harassment through the PoSH vertical.

Nithya has graduated in Commerce from the University of Lucknow and has rich experience in hiring and retaining the best talents in the industry with companies like BukuWarung and Belong.co.

Sri Padmavathi C

Finance Consultant

LinkedIn

Sri Padmavathi C specialises in providing accounting consulting services to companies. She helps in assisting & maintaining Serein’s Books of Accounts, GST, TDS, PT filing, financial statements preparation & audit review.
 
She holds an MBA with Finance Specialisation from Annamalai University, and has also has done CA articleship under CA Tom Joseph’s guidance.

Anisha Debnath

PoSH and DEI Workshops Facilitator

As a PoSH and DEI Workshops Facilitator, Anisha is primarily responsible for conducting sessions and facilitating conversations that enable building of safe and inclusive workplaces for all. Anisha also undertakes in-depth research into various Diversity, Equity and Inclusion issues that plague our work cultures today. All of this research goes into designing bespoke sessions and curating interactive learning experiences for several of Serein’s partners. 

Anisha has a background in History, especially in the history of gender and early feminism in colonial South Asia. 

Anisha has a Bachelor’s degree in History (Hons.) from Gargi College, University of Delhi. She has also studied for an MPhil in World History from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Aseem Deuskar

Inclusive Workspace Architect

LinkedIn

Aseem is an Inclusive Workspace Architect dedicated to reshaping workplace diversity and accessibility. He is skilled in conducting comprehensive accessibility audits and implementing inclusive design solutions.


Aseem is passionate about creating environments that foster equal opportunities

He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture and a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning.

 

Siri Prasad

Safety and PoSH Expert

Siri Prasad is a Safety and PoSH Expert at Serein and serves as an External Member of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for Serein’s clients. Her work is not limited to, but includes advising in legal procedures, best practices for safe work cultures, and reviewing of PoSH policies and labor law compliance.

Siri is a Gold Medallist and holds a BBA, LLB (Hons.) from Christ University and a Masters in Science (International Employment Relations) from the London School of Economics and Political Science, where she also served as the EDI Officer.

Abhishek Ghattamaneni

Head of Financial Strategies

Abhishek heads Financial Strategies at Serein. He is responsible for overseeing finance, Corporate Secretarial (CS) related work, and compliance among other things. He is a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience in finance and corporate governance. With over 15 years of expertise as a qualified Company Secretary, he has made significant contributions to the finance departments of companies within the real estate and startup sectors.

Having worked with organisations operating across multiple countries, Abhishek brings a deep understanding of international taxation to the table. Notably, he achieved an impressive 42nd rank in 12th grade under the AP Education Board, demonstrating a strong academic foundation to complement his professional achievements.

Kaushik Mazumdar

Engineering and Platform Consultant

Kaushik has 14+ years of experience across IoT, Systems, Gaming, and Telecom, building high volume production applications and products with worldwide presence.

He looks after the technology and education segment of Krishworks, and has built Ed-Tech products to improve English Literacy in rural areas of India with QR coded books, Smart Classrooms, Teacher Trainings and increased involvement of parents.

Kaushik holds a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. He mentors a young and dynamic team aligned to the vision of Krishworks. Outside of work, he is a fitness and technology enthusiast, and loves running and swimming.

Balaji P

Design Consultant

Balaji has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from PSV Engineering College and has practised UX design at Growth School in Bangalore.

As an associate UX/UI designer at Krishworks, Balaji is responsible for collecting client requirements and converting them into usable digital products using UX principles. He also helps in maintaining brand identity and aesthetics in the products by creating UI design systems and high-fidelity screens. For Serein, Balaji has designed the PoSH LMS Product and the website.

Subhajit Roy

Engineering and Platform Consultant

Subhajit is the Co-Founder of Krishworks Technology and Research Labs Pvt Ltd. He is a social entrepreneur who uses technology to promote rural literacy and upskill rural teachers. 

At Serein, Subhajit and his team has helped develop the e-learning platform and DEI SaaS Tool. He also oversees its maintenance and development.  

He is an incubatee at IIM Calcutta Innovation Park and an alumni of ISB Dlabs. Along with his co-founders, he is recognised with the Leaders of Tomorrow Award by Times Now. During the early days of his career, he worked as an Embedded System Designer, and was involved in various projects related to National Defence (DRDO) and health care research. Some of the products designed by him have been used by Apollo Hospitals, Govt of India, got patented and also received FDA approval.

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