In a country punctured with an unbalanced culture – a thoroughly patriarchal and sexist structure, where most of the key seats in corporates are still held by men; where ‘talking back’ is taught to be bad manners right from the time you’re born, ‘good touch-bad touch’ is an uncomfortable conversation, and reporting sexual abuse is discouraged by your own loved ones – are we ready to join the global #MeToo movement that was triggered by an outbreak in the West, where people are supported and believed?
Since the corporates of India are a reflection of our culture – Are they going to help bring closure to these women or leave doors open for further agony and assault? Are they going to actively resolve or deny and ‘protect’ the men from the accusations? Are the women ready for the risks and ramifications? And most importantly, do they have the language, tools or power to push back, stand strong and be believed in the current corporate scenario?
In the face of the #MeToo movement, what’s worth exploring is if HR initiatives and technology used by corporates can become enablers in providing a safe, dignified and conclusive way to report these cases. For several reasons. First, sexual assault and sexual violence can have short and long-term repercussions both on the individual and the organization. Second, flashbacks are common when such movements gather force, and many individuals report feelings of shame, isolation, shock, confusion, and guilt long after the incident has happened. Victims or survivors of sexual assault can experience anything from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and difficulty forming or maintaining intimate relationships – thereby having a direct bearing on how they perform in their roles or bring themselves to work.
Data from BSE 100 companies has already shown a 15% increase in sexual harassment complaints, as a direct result of the #MeToo movement. While it is a step in the right direction, that women are feeling confident to share, corporates should keep their eyes and ears open, and activate the best possible processes and mechanisms to address this issue effectively.
Here are some ways in which that can happen.
Having A Policy
Many are speaking about tightening policies, but according to a recent survey, every 1 out of 2 companies in India do not even have anything like a POSH (the Nestle India policy on Prevention of Sexual Harassment of women at workplace) framed in accordance with the provisions of ‘The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013’, or worse still, are ignorant of the existence of such a policy in their company. And that’s 50% of corporate India. So the first step is framing a tight policy around sexual harassment and other unwelcome or unpleasant conduct, in congruence with your company’s ethos and business landscape.
Educating People About The Policy
People today come from different cultural, educational, geographical backgrounds to fill positions in a common workplace, especially the Tier 1 corporates. These often result in a mixed bag of exposure, expectations, and knowledge; causing gaps in understanding the definitions of acceptable behavior and sexual harassment. Hence, it is critically important that everyone knows the definitions, details of reporting procedures, how cases are investigated and consequences thereof. To ensure the line is clear, corporates must sensitize and educate every employee about such issues. It shouldn’t just be an email or a policy tucked away somewhere. Employees need to be alerted with relevant notifications on their HRMS, ensuring everyone has read and internalized it. And here’s where new-age HR technology helps. Rolling out reading material, furnishing clear statutes and initiating anti-harassment training sessions through HR tech to educate employees on what is inappropriate behavior, are great tools to get everyone on the same page and build a fair and inclusive workplace.
Is Enough Done Despite Having The Policy?
There are many eminent corporates who have robust policies in place. Many even have legal teams to address such issues, and a zero-tolerance mindset which also applies in case of wrongful accusations. But the question is, how many employees are given a safe space to call out incidents confidently and conferred with the trust that they are going to be believed? One good place to start is by setting up circles of trust and having periodic one-on-one sessions with HR; along with rolling out surveys encouraging people to share any instances of abuse or misconduct in the workplace. Technology could also be configured and leveraged should one wish to report anonymously or to specific eyes only.
What Happens After The Reporting?
One of the most hostile things about our country is the skepticism, resentment and even denial with which such news is received by companies. Not only is there doubt and a focus on brushing it under the carpet, ensuring minimum media picks it up, and calling out how forthright and committed they have always been with such issues; the backlash, social stigma and repercussions that the woman has to go through prevents them from reporting 9 out of 10 times. Thereby, resulting in such outbreaks on social media. Research has suggested that corporates that take sustained effort in protecting their employees have far less incidents of public reporting and employees lashing out on social forums. Thus, sexual harassment cases need to be a top layer priority in corporates, and cases need to be dealt with sensitively and quickly.
So it’s worth discovering everything you can do in your power to step up efforts in the form of open communication drives or HR technology enhancements to protect your employees. For investment towards prevention in this regard, is far more valuable than postmortem.