Utopeia Co-founder Mitali Srivastava Hough quits; protests #MeToo culture

Mitali Srivastava Hough, Co-Founder and Head of Strategy at Utopeia Communicationz, has announced that she has resigned from the company with immediate effect. She had set up Utopeia six years ago along with Sudarshan Banerjee, Sean Colaco and Ayan Chakraborty. Krishna Padhye and Krishnaraj Bhat later joined her as managing partners. 

Hough has been instrumental in creating a strong brand with Utopeia that has in the past worked on some of the most compelling campaigns in Indian advertising and has won numerous awards. 

Following this development, Managing Partners of Utopeia Communicationz have appointed Krishnaraj Bhat as the media spokesperson of the company. 

In an open letter, Hough had slammed the leadership at Utopeia for not taking the allegations of sexual harassment in the company in a serious manner. She also mentioned about attempts to discredit her through “a malicious anonymous, unverified post” that was shared on a blog, which branded her as a sexual predator too. She added that an HR enquiry by an external third party consultant had cleared her, but despite that, the management did not provide an internal statement to clarify the situation nor did it offer an apology. 

Following is a reproduction of the open letter written by Mitali Srivastava Hough: 

“I have resigned from Utopeia in protest at the dismissive attitude of the leadership towards the alleged survivors that came forward as part of #MeToo. Utopeia is not legally bound to investigate the allegations against the co-founder in question, but I believe there was a moral obligation. As Utopeia’s co-founder, I cannot share a value system that chose not to conduct an enquiry into this matter, and neither will I endorse a culture where sexual harassment of any kind is treated lightly. 

#MeToo is not about legalities. It's an opportunity for organizations around the world to ensure that survivors are heard, that credence is given to their concerns, and that justice is given to them where appropriate. I support all the four women who showed immense courage to talk about their harassment and we should recognize that it was the power of #MeToo that encouraged them to come forward with their testimonies. I want to tell all these women that I stand by them completely. 

There was also an attempt to change the narrative in the last few weeks, to hint that I have run a conspiracy against him and to blame me for the disrepute that has followed the agency and him. To discredit me, a malicious anonymous, unverified post was shared on the blog, which branded me as a sexual predator too. This post was later taken down by the author. The site that shared it offered a public apology, and confirmed that they were unable to verify its source and that it was likely a vicious rumour. When this attempt failed, an internal HR complaint was raised against me by one of his team members, which gave the management and their legal team a reason to exclude me from any discussions regarding Utopeia's approach to the incidents reported through #MeToo, due to the enforced leave that I was placed on. We were both placed on leave together, but only I was investigated. The HR enquiry against me was closed - clearing me - by an external third party consultant. The management did not provide an internal statement to clarify the situation, or offer an apology. Nor was there any attempt to identify the anonymous author despite the damage it did to my reputation and the agency. In my opinion, it was a deliberate attempt to deflect the allegations raised by four verified women through their #MeToo testimonies. 

If one pieces together the chronology of the tragic events in Utopeia and their aftermath it is easy to spot the tactics that are used by all sexual predators around the world: Denial, gas lighting, deflection, coercion and character assassination of any woman who questions, challenges and calls out the inappropriate behaviour of a man. Many such men groom women in such a way that they fail to recognize harassment, to instead normalize and defend it. I believe that such men are hard to detect and harder to punish. I do not want to watch this silently. I believe that the pursuit for justice is far more important than holding on to my position in a firm. 

I've been challenging this behaviour internally for a long time. I implemented an Internal Complaints Committee when the first incident was officially reported. At one point I threatened to resign, but returned following promises of change. To blow the whistle publicly would risk damaging our firm, and the livelihoods of all our employees; most of whom are diligent, dedicated, hard-working and brilliant. Having the spouse of the co-founder as Head of HR will always remain a conflict of interest, and Utopeia’s inability to resolve this even now is another glimpse of how wrong the situation is. #MeToo ultimately held up a mirror to this culture. 

I have also quit Utopeia with the determination to create an equal, kind and safe workplace for all genders and orientations. 

I firmly hope that it's #TimesUp for this culture in India so that there is hope for a utopia where women can co-exist in harmony with men and are treated as equal human beings without being abused sexually, physically, psychologically or in any other way. 

Although I did not get an iota of support from the senior management of Utopeia while doing my moral and ethical duties as a human being, I know that the bigger and larger world, and corporate world, is a much more civilized, decent, kind and dignified place. 

I know that I am not alone. 


Mitali Srivastava Hough” 

Meanwhile, in a statement issued, Utopeia Communicationz said, “From the morning of November 14, 2018, several posts have been appearing in various social media platforms on issues internal to the Company. In the event any Media House desires to report these and for that purpose, obtain the response of the Company, they may contact Krishnaraj Bhat on email on this ID – contact@utopeiagroup.com.” 

The statement further added, “The Company may also, if deemed necessary, issue Press Statements on its own through Krishnaraj Bhat, including, but not limited to, the above issues.” 

It may be recalled that in October this year, there were media reports on #MeToo allegations against Sudarshan Banerjee, Co-founder & Managing Partner, Utopeia, by former employees of the agency. Between October 8 and 11, four posts had appeared in social media where allegations of sexual harassment were levelled against Banerjee. 

Following the posts, it was decided that Banerjee stayed away from office for a period of two weeks to facilitate an independent and objective enquiry into the allegations. 

In a public statement issued through his lawyers, Banerjee stressed that the narrations given in the first, second and fourth posts were “figments of imagination and are utterly false and concocted”. He added that the third post was a “twisted and embellished version of an old and closed HR issue involving an ex-employee of Utopeia”. He insisted that four posts were put out as part of a “criminal conspiracy”.


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