Unveiling the façade- Stark reality of the sexual harassment scenario in India Inc. –A paper to be presented at the RVIM national conference on Ethics in Business and Corporate Governance-2010
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New Horizon College of Engineering
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‘Sexual harassment’ in corporate India is one of the most shunned and non-discussed topic. But, the impact it has on organizations in terms of talent attraction and talent retention and other issues like job satisfaction, productivity etc is immense. And the HR fraternity in India does not seem to being doing a great deal about this. Sexual harassment in companies goes unchecked and unattended or improperly attended because it’s not given the due attention and is a matter of embarrassment to the employees in general and management in particular.
Further, companies have suffered a lot due to cases of sexual harassment, leading to loss of brand image, loss of share prices, loss of clients and more importantly loss of trust of the employees itself. The famous case of Phaneesh Murthy of Infosys proves this, wherein Mr.Phaneesh Murthy, a high profile executive handling global operations was made to leave the organization due to a sexual harassment case that was reported against him. “While sexual harassment of female employees was prevalent in the country, it was either not reported or ignored. Either the victims kept quite due to fear of social ridicule and fear of losing their jobs, or the matter was somehow hushed up by the management. The stance adopted by Infosys in this case seemed to go against its image of a company considered to be a model of good corporate governance. Analysts claimed that the company had kept the issue under wraps for a long time. Media reports blamed Infosys for neglecting to formulate/implement a structured policy regarding sexual harassment and for compromising on moral values for an 'economically-valuable' person like Phaneesh.”
There are several lessons to learn in this case. Though out-of-court settlements were the norm for most workplace sexual harassment suits the world over, it clearly was not the best solution. Instead of addressing the problem, this solution simply paid off the victim, so that the accused could walk away. The larger issue of the emotional, physical and financial damage caused to the victim, could be dealt with only if strict policies and guidelines regarding sexual harassment were established by the companies (Refer Exhibit I for a note on preventing sexual harassment at the workplace). This, is the quote a press statement reported in ICMR journal of management.(4)
The National Commission for Women (NCW) has 60 cases of sexual harassment at work places in the capital over the last three years, while Uttar Pradesh has registered 77 such cases, the Lok Sabha was informed on Oct 16, 2008. Thirty-six cases of sexual harassment at work places were registered by the NCW in Rajasthan, 21 in Haryana and 20 each in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhary said in a written reply.(2)
Sexual harassment is intimidation, bullying or coercion of a sexual nature, or the unwelcome or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favor. In some contexts or circumstances, sexual harassment may be illegal. It includes a range of behavior from seemingly mild transgressions and annoyances to actual sexual abuse or sexual assault. Sexual harassment is a form of illegal employment discrimination in many countries, and is a form of abuse (sexual and psychological) and bullying(1)
Examples of stern action taken in cases of sexual harassment are rare, and many a times only in the junior level. Two Wiproites were shown the door during the last six months on charges of sexual harassment, Wipro Technologies vice-chairman and President Vivek Paul said on Wednesday. Talking to newsmen here, he said the company had a mechanism that handled such cases, swiftly and fairly without getting into legal and media exposure. Mr. Paul, however, clarified that both the dismissals were at junior level and not at top level. (3)
All this, and more relating to the landmark Vishaka case actually takes a very serious note of the kind of care and precautions that a company should take in order to effectively prevent sexual harassment of any form in the workplace. In fact, Vishaka case gave Indian government something to wake up and take notice. Even the media did give prominence to the Vishaka case. And only after the prevention part is taken care of, should the matter of settlement of sexual harassment cases be brought to the fore.
Many a times, cases of sexual harassment go unreported due to several reasons. Some of the prominent reasons are:-
1) Fear of job loss
2) Fear of public embarrassment
3) Fear of security of self and family
4) Loss of further job prospects
5) Other psychological reasons
Therefore, we can very well say that the absence of data on sexual harassment in workplace or the absence of data on registered complaints with regard to sexual harassment at workplace does not mean that sexual harassment levels are low. And further, you cannot come to the conclusion that sexual harassment does not exist. Women activists in India have been trying hard to drive home the point of social inclusion and fight against gender based discrimination. This fight against discrimination, dominance and oppression is not new, but the forms of the fight, the roles donned by the people in case are very much different. This gives a reason to be thinking into how all the above mentioned pitfalls can be covered and improved. At a time when India is looking towards being a leader in terms of IT/ITES market, making inroads into several countries and several sectors, we should be looking at making Indian workplaces the best in the world. (6)
Further, we are clouded by several issues myths regard to sexual harassment. They are:
• Women are harassed more, compared to men
• Moral degradation and defamation when harassment takes place, is more in case of women.
• Harassment accusations by women are more genuine.
• Harassment in Indian organizations and Indian institutions are low compared several countries
• Sexual harassment occurs mainly in the IT/ITES/BPO sector
• Sexual harassment cases are difficult to prove in the court of law
• Sexual harassment is done by people who are young and below the age of 40
• Just commenting on someone cannot account to sexual harassment
• Future employers will not consider you if you have been involved in a case of this sort
• Influential people always get away with these kind of issues
And the best workplaces in the world would be the ones which can boast of excellent gender ratios at workplace, a positive, non-discriminatory, inclusive, progressive and adaptive work environment rarely found, when it comes to Indian workplaces, except for the few companies who have been extremely proactive in terms of the Human resource management systems. There are several global giants like IBM, Google, Coca-Cola and so on, which have set bench marks in the human resources management area in general and gender inclusion in specific. They have evolved over the years in terms of preventing sexual harassment cases and the way in which people in the company deal with such kind of incidents. No wonder, they are all constantly ranked as the top ten brands of the world and claim their places in the best workplaces of the world. And it is time that Indians companies too took notice of these practices and adapt them suitably and aptly to their own organizational contexts. Otherwise, they will surely be left behind in the race for global work talent which is not abundant and needs strong motivation to join any company or serve any organization. (8)
With all the above factors taken into consideration, companies’ world over in general and companies in India in general, have to ensure that the system is ready and proactive to counter issues in this domain.
The MAGIC SQUARE
The magic square is in fact, probably one way of effectively dealing with the sexual harassment issue.
Training: The most important component of a good sexual harassment awareness campaign programme is Training. It is extremely essential that training programme with a proper design scheme and an implementation plan has to be in place. The training should be designed according to the considerations like the organizational level at which the employee works, the previous work experience and the company policy and procedures framework. It’s actually one way of ensuring that the doubts, whatsoever in the minds of the employee regarding sexual harassment, the policy issues, the remedies etc are made clear.
Communication: All possible Communication channels have to be used in the organization to ensure that the sexual harassment policies have to be communicated properly to the audience ie; the employees. The non-conventional communication channels like intranet, dashboards, e-notices, case-sharing, one-to-team communication should also be used to make sure that the issue is given due importance.
Technology: Technology aids have to be effectively used to increase awareness, set standards and examples and also to ensure that the employees are reached out. Technology aids can be anything like communication on the mobile phone, availability of the Ombudsman 24/7, e-grievance handling, and use intra-company social networking sites and so on.
Updation: The company policies, the procedural framework, the employee awareness programme designed, the consulting team that works with these issues should be updated constantly. The updates should be based on employee feedback, the changing legislation on these issues, consultant’s views etc. It should ensure that the updation made should be in line with the objective of preventing sexual harassment cases effectively and dealing with these issues properly.
The strategies that can be used to effectively deal with sexual harassment cases in companies from the HR point of view are as follows:
1) Design a very strong code of conduct, which can address sexual harassment as an independent concern
2) Proper communication channels to be used for proper implementation of the policy.
3) The induction/orientation programme for the new joinees should compulsorily include a module on sexual harassment
4) “Voluntary team” to discuss strategize, formulate steps, to be taken, like an anti-sexual harassment manual, a squad, case studies booklet etc.
5) Good/Approachable team in the Ombudsman team who are trustworthy and elucidate confidence in others.
6) Periodic feedback on the behavior of employees to be given along with the appraisals
7) Get ahead and adapt best practices, relating to sexual harassment prevention practices and so on
8) Line managers to be specifically trained on how to deal with such people and such cases at the grass root level
9) Use technology –Allow anonymous reporting on the intranet and other internal systems.
10) Do not set any bad precedent in the company by favouring the accused in any case
11) Renew policies and procedures in this area by discussion and consultation
12) Encourage employees to discuss this issue and be open to all forms of communication
13) Power and authority should come with responsibility which needs to be underlined and understood
14) Ensure that victims are not embarrassed due to the actions of the company
15) Put up case studies on how these kind of issues are dealt with , how these cases matter, how they affect individual career prospects etc
With all the above steps and some appropriate leadership, examples that can be seen and from whom people can learn, sexual harassment can be minimized in companies. But then, it cannot be fully prevented from happening because it’s a matter which is self-regulatory and for an employee, an issue of self-compliance.
To sum up, the punishment it holds for the person/persons indulging in this act, putting up the accused on the net, and taking care of such incidents not happening in the future would be the right mixture of things needed in this regard.
5) ‘Understanding Organizational Behavior’ Second Edition, Udai Pareek, Oxford University Press, 2004.
6) ‘Management of Organizational Behaviour, Leading Human Resources, 8th Edition, Prentice Hall of India Pvt Ltd-Paul Herses, Kenneth Blanchard, Dewey.E.Johnson
7) Organizational Behavior, S.S.Khanka,S.Chand and Co Ltd, 2000
8) Organizational Behaviour-An evidence based Approach, Twelfth Edition,Fred Luthans,Mc Graw Hill International Edition 2010.
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