Sexual Harassment at Workplace – Be Aware to Care
Sexual harassment is all about expression of male power over women that sustain patriarchal relations. It is used to remind women of their vulnerability and subjugated status. In a society where violence against women, both subtle and direct, is borne out of the patriarchal values operating in society, force women’s conformity to gendered roles.
These patriarchal values and attitudes of both men and women pose the greatest challenge in resolution and prevention of sexual harassment. Studies find that sexual harassment is still endemic, often hidden, and present in all kinds of organisations. Yet it is still not always viewed as a problem, which has to be systematically tackled.
The issue is of concern for both women and the employers as studies show that sexual harassment touches lives of nearly 40-60% of working women. Such incidents result in tangible and intangible expenses and losses as organisation’s experience Costly investigation and litigation, Negative exposure and publicity, Embarrassing depositions, Increased absenteeism, Lowered employee morale, Reduced productivity, Decreased efficiency, Higher employee turnover, Erosion of organisation’s brand names, goodwill, and public image.
Thus, it has more to do with the change of attitudes in all. Hence it is a collective effort of every one that make an organization to combat sexual harassment (be it employees, colleagues, friends, administrators, employers or the law makers) by developing an increased awareness & understanding on what is sexual harassment.
Ours is a Gen next company with lots of young talent. It has been 9 years we are into the business and the team averages at 28 years with a work-ex around 5 years. We are proud of our gender diversity as an approximate 40% of the team is women and that displays the contribution of ‘Naarishakti’ in our journey this far. It was Friday, 21 October. While most of the employees were busy planning their weekend, I buried my head into the offer letters to be signed. While i was signing, I could hear someone knocking my cabin’s door. Heads up and I saw it was Ms. Meera Roy, the Asst. Manager (one of process leads). She was 22 when she joined us during February 2011. This is her second job.
As she knocked the door, I could see her tremulous eyes & sensed that she pushed herself here by her heart while the mind pulled her back. I stood up, moved forward from my work table, invited her into the cabin & offered her the seat across the discussion table. I also pushed the things on the table to a side & created clean space to extend the room of comfort so that she settles to discuss the purpose of her visit. Few moments of silence prevailed between us. Subsequently I offered her a glass of water and then asked if I could be of any help to her. For the first time in the last 5 minutes of our interaction she looked into my eyes and told that she was here to complain about Mr. Vikram Anand (Associate Vice-President – Digital Marketing) to whom she reports into.
Mr. Vikram Anand
Mr. Vikram is 36, but looks much younger & handsome for his age. He is a Management Graduate from one of the top-5 management institutes in India. In the last 3 – years of his association, he made a mark for himself as a professional through his domain expertise and was equally popular on the floor as a ‘team man’. One can find him setting the floor ablaze with his energy, team outings etc. etc. and were also the man between many women. However, never we received any complaint against him nor got hear anything different about his behavior with the women at the workplace. Given the background, it was bit surprising to listen to one on him today.
Her problem is that Mr. Vikram obligates her to stay late at work, does fault finding in everything that she does and behaves tough with her. This made her feel stressed and harassed at work & also created a feeling of ‘being away’ from the office. I tried understanding if she shared this emotion of hers with Mr. Vikram on ‘how she feels like?’ (or) did she approach the in-house Anti-sexual harassment committee on this. Having understood that she did neither, told her not to worry and assured her of taking care of the matter and saw her through the office.
It is time now to give you a brief about our Internal Sexual Harassment Committee that is chaired by Ms. Neha (38 years) who joined us 5 – years back as Manager in F & A function. Today she is positioned as Asst. Vice President. She is a Qualified Chartered Accountant & carries a decade over experience of working with a couple of MNCs.
Before signing-off for the day, I called Ms. Neha and apprised her of my interaction with Ms. Meera. I asked her to discuss further in detail with Ms. Meera in order to get to the roots of the issue / background / facts of the feelings shared by her. In the meantime, I also called Mr. Vikram and asked him to come to my cabin. In no time he bumped into my cabin….not just alone…..brought along with him the vibrancy of the weekend and asked if there is something that he can do for me.
I told him that there is nothing serious & for the next few minutes, it was a casual talk about his weekend plans. He has thrown a late night party for his team & from the next day he is on a planned vacation with his family as he promised ‘fun time out’ to her beloved daughter during the holidays that followed. I then quickly got into the purpose of calling him and sought his views on Ms. Meera Roy’s. Mr. Vikram quipped if I was into flirting and if he could become a ‘love guru’. I smiled him away and said that I am keen on understanding about her attitude, team-ability & work performance.
Source: Google & Customized
Unlike the views that he holds today about her, he was the one who was in all appreciation about her credentials, talent & was very keen on getting her on board when we interviewed her. I expressed my surprise on the change in his perspective for which Mr. Vikram agreed that his assessment went wrong and she resulted to be regretful hire as she could not translate her potential into performance.
At that moment I told him that she met me a while ago to file a harassment complaint against him. On hearing this, I could see him growing red. I advised him to be cool and take the situation as one more opportunity to speak to her to understand her perspective and do the needful.
Following Wednesday (26 October), I asked Neha, if she got an opportunity to speak to Meera. Neha said, “I am trying every day but I am not seeing her in office. Her team-member said that she is not keeping well and that she is on sick-leave”. On Friday, 28th October, as I walked into my cabin, Neha came rushing to me & she was grasping to breath. I told her to relax and inquired on what made her so anxious. She told that her meeting with Ms. Meera at her home is something that caused this anxiety as she was undergoing a mental trauma of being harassed / abused sexually.
I was taken aback by this response of Ms. Neha and we both quickly walked into the conference to discuss in detail.
The Background of Ms. Meera Roy
Her mother is working as a clerk in a government organization but her salary is not enough to take care of the family. She is a sincere and hard-working girl. Her problem with Mr. Vikram Anand began from the day she joined our organization. Mr. Vikram knew about her background and tried taking advantage of her situation.
He would often call her to his cabin and eye scans through her body. In an attempt to help her, he would often try to touch her. He would put his arms around her shoulders or around her waist. It seems, she warned him to behave appropriately but got know that he paid no attention to it. He would ask her to come out with him for dinner and movies but she refused all the time. He told her that if she will cooperate with him, he will increase her salary and will recommend her for ad hoc bonus or else he will make her life terrible. He would send pornographic videos and text sex jokes on her mobile. In fact, on her last birthday, she was on leave but Vikram sent two pairs of lingerie to her. Having failed in all his attempts to persuade her, now, for last couple of months, he started humiliating her in public glare, trashing her work, etc. and have told her that he will continue to do so till the time she agree to come out with him for a private weekend holiday.
What is Sexual Harassment? :
Unwelcome and unwanted are TWO parameters for defining sexual harassment. It is the impact and effect the behavior has on the recipient that will define the behavior as sexual harassment. If the following circumstances exist in relation to any behavior, that is, if any act is done under the following circumstances that would also count as sexual harassment:
- Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in employment
- Implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment in employment
- Implied or explicit threat about her present or future employment status
- Interferes with work or creates an intimidating/hostile/offensive work environment
- Humiliating treatment likely to affect her health and safety.
Enough is Enough – The Way Forward
Ms. Neha was immediately advised to place this matter to the anti-sexual harassment committee & initiate an inquiry process. We also included THREE members of social repute from outside the company of which TWO are women.
The CEO was also apprised of the situation. Initially he was reluctant to take any action against Mr. Vikram but he was on-board in order to protect the interest, reputation and growth of the company.
As a part of the inquiry process, Mr. Vikram was given due opportunity to present his version on the complaint received against him (Principle of Natural Justice of being heard).
We also obtained the expectations of Ms. Meera Roy from the proceedings and completed the inquiry process within 60 – days. During this period, Mr. Vikram was suspended from his services.
Initially Mr. Vikram denied all the charges on him. However, he had to bow down his head in shame as few other women employees also came forward and shared their experiences similar to that of Ms. Meera Roy.
Life seems to be not the same anymore for Mr. Vikram
- The committee decided to terminate the employment of Vikram Anand;
- This incident also created a storm in Mr. Vikram’s family who couldn’t digest the fact of his darker side. His wife left the house with their daughter and went to her parent’s place.
And from that day on…..Life was not the same anymore for Mr. Vikram as his behavior resulted in a ‘war of values’ from within & the outside world.
Be Aware to Care
Never let go of experiences which are demeaning their self-esteem.
|Victim of Sexual Harassment||Employer|
|Say “No” clearly on seeing the clues / identifying the intentions.
Document the harassment – keep track of dates, times, and behavior.
Get emotional support – Friends/family can be good outlets.
Document your work performance – Keep copies of performance evaluations & memos that attest to the quality of your work.
Explore company channels – Talk to your manager or speak to someone in HR Department
File a complaint – If the problem can’t be solved through company policy, you may choose to pursue a legal remedy.
|Legal responsibility to provide safe working environment for women and are liable for sexual harassment by employees.
Responsible for the conduct of supervisors and managers. Hence focus on the behavioral aspects during interviewing itself.
Responsibility to protect their employees from harassment by non-employees (e.g., customers, vendors, suppliers, etc.)
Know that sexual harassment can have a devastating effect upon the health, confidence, morale and performance of those affected by it.
Absence of complaints about sexual harassment does not necessarily mean an absence of sexual harassment. It may mean that the recipients of sexual harassment think that there is no point in complaining
Adapt a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that has adequate procedures are readily available to deal with the problem and prevent its recurrence
Recognize the tangible and intangible expenses and losses organizations experience.
Composed By: Sanjeev Himachali