The last couple of months have been deeply trying, as you could imagine. I have tried my best to maintain silence, a sense of composure, and focus on my team and the work at hand — Homegrown is a vision we have been committed to and continue to be deeply passionate about. But in the course of this period I found myself going from being an individual who spoke her mind to letting fear of online hate override most of my decisions. I can’t keep silent and will now speak my truth. Besides, my silence should not be construed as an admission of guilt. I do hope you can consider my narrative as I present it.
As you may be aware, there was a statement made recently about our work culture, my leadership and some of the decisions made recently. This statement was made by some disgruntled ex employees a few months into their first entry level career and I would like to use this space to address them. There are several false allegations — that’s what they tantamount to considering they are shrouded in ambiguity and lack context. I use this opportunity to present the facts as they are:
Decisions that were made: I am aware of the individuals who have made the claim. I stand by firing one of the individuals on the date for the following reason and the second individual had already handed in her formal resignation. Soon after the story was published I was informed by my team; they had insurmountable evidence that these specific employees were creating a hostile environment at the workplace, and were planning to negatively influence incoming employees, even before the story became public. Moreover, they were communicating against the company on social media platforms during a time of crisis, while still under the company’s employment.
I became privy to a group chat between these employees; through a shared Instagram group chat where we were maliciously targeted; it is apparent from this that these employees were conspiring to bring down the company.
I rescinded their bylines, and asked them to leave with immediate effect. It is important to note that one of the said individuals was on probation and hence could be terminated without notice (as per the clause in the joining letter), and the other individual had turned in her resignation; so in effect I had just cut short her handover period to immediate effect.
Employees leaving the company: The editorial team had 5 employees. One of whom was the backbone of the editorial team and was resigning after 3 years. This person had put in her papers several months prior. The second and third person had been asked to leave by me; and two left after two months understandably as their reporting boss had left.
It has to be noted here that all the core marketing, tech, design and finance teams stayed on and have stood by me and the company. In fact the three new employees who joined us when the story broke stayed on with us for the duration of their tenure. And we now have have had a wonderful new editorial team. We also continue to be a majority female workforce at 75% of the team with 6/7 new employees being women.
Company work performance: Not doing your work within expected time frames, mutually agreed upon, cannot be framed as unrealistic deadlines. At HG, we have liberal work culture - with work from home policies with regard to sick leave, menstrual leave, or even mental health days. The pressure the said employees felt was no different from any professional work environment. Because they weren’t entirely committed to the task at hand, it was posed an issue. There is an understanding amongst new employees that Homegrown’s work as a bootstrapped startup comes with a strong work ethic to shape new cultural narratives and there is an expectation to wear multiple hats.
ICC: The ICC has been formed and is underway. We are also creating an independent body for male employees and those who identify themselves with other genders.
The primary issue here is whether we are moving towards a workplace where any disgruntled employee who is let go due to disciplinary or performance issues can be allowed to take their grievances public? If they feel wronged they can always have recourse to mechanisms for redressal of grievances, including legal action. However, launching a vicious media campaign is defamatory, especially when what they have to say is far removed from the truth. The integrity and efficacy of a business or company cannot be judged by social media comments made by employees who have a personal agenda.
Internet and social media while is a wonderful place that has democratized the exchange of free ideas and ability to express oneself, it has also pigeonholed us to surround ourselves with different versions of the truth and is also a platform for spreading untruths. We are shaping a culture of presenting one sided stories with no vetting process. Systematically leaving out critical facts and context to perpetuate a convenient narrative leading to wrong perceptions. Further propagating these misconstrued story lines to malign and cyber bully. Are we not to question the veracity of information shared? Do we always perpetuate polarized narratives that we can feed off? Online echo chambers can be dangerous and we are all part of it today.
The fear of online onslaught can be paralysing. The problem is that we are now a feeling-based society. If we don’t like facts, we don’t believe them and social media trials are one sided, and destructive. We are now more concerned with addressing how we feel about what is presented, rather than ask for the other side before naming, shaming and lynching uncontrollably. It’s inhuman and it’s personally detrimental to anybody who is targeted.
Lastly, I am where I am and Homegrown is where it is because of the strong and able team that stands beside me through the trials and tribulations. And we will continue to move forward with the purpose we started out with. And I am proud of the significant momentum we have gained in the last few months with 5 new brand campaigns, 80+ new collaborators and partners through creative agency, photo-shoot/film production, and youth research projects. Moreover, editorially for the first time in 5 years we have recorded a 384% growth in traffic at 2MN monthly visitors, through strategic directorial and audience development.
I have also learnt my greatest lessons along the way and I will always conscientiously work towards being a better human being and a leader. And it’s about time we put this hate behind us.
Thank you for your time and consideration
- Varsha Patra (CEO Co-founder of Homegrown)
While I’m not comfortable sharing these screenshots, in today’s social media environment my word will not hold without this context.