When do you actually cross the line? Or for that matter, where’s the line? Is there no line at all for senior leaders at workplaces? Let’s explore.
When 30-year old Piya Sen complained to the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of the journalism college she passed out from about a sexual harassment issue she had faced some years ago by a leading professor in the college, the board of authorities dismissed it. They said that the incident took place outside the college campus and this was after she had quit the institution. When media wrote about it and took it far, the professor declared that he was going to resign and drop off from the electives that he was teaching. The chairman and the other board of directors stopped him from doing that, patted him on the back and said that ‘it was ok that incident happened’. Clearly, they didn’t want him to leave as they were all part of the same left-leaning boys’ club. What was also shocking was the lack of seriousness with which the entire matter was treated. The emotional trauma or the dignity of the woman was not taken into account at all.
In another instance, at the premises of a leading bank based in Mumbai, two employees, a senior leader and a relatively junior female, were always seen hanging out together. They were admittedly friends and went out for dinner and drinks together. One day, this lady complained to the HR department, saying this man had tried to molest her in her car. Evidently, without any proof on the issue, the HR called on few other employees to ask about the duo and everyone said that they both looked like close buddies and always made plans, hung out together. The HR then had to declare that the incident happened outside office premises and these two people were friends. Hence, the male employee could not be punished.
The only conclusion that we could draw from this incident is perhaps about the nature of the world. As Oscar Wilde has rightly said, “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” In the ancient studies and scriptures, the tree of life starts with two branches: white and black. The white represents wisdom or knowledge and black stands for understanding. As much light a person might have within oneself, without an understanding of the ways of the world, one would remain in the periphery. While this understanding has definitely helped some people tide ahead, some others have taken it to a completely dark space by bullying, manipulating, dominating the more vulnerable ones. For such people, these games have almost become like a second nature. They are forever on the lookout for their next prey.
Even then, let’s explore some possible reasons for this ‘lack of seriousness’.
Least important issue: Over the years, sex has been the least important issue for people in power. They have not given a second thought to it and mostly considered it to be an issue not worth wasting time over.
Western, liberal ethos: A lot of intellectuals, raised on western, liberal ethos, where individualism and ‘momentary pleasures’ is almost a way of life, with consent and without harming a third person, tend to be casual about sex. They often don’t consider sexual indulgences to be a big deal, even at the workplace. They also expect the workplace to be full of like-minded people with similar values and dismiss off anybody with a differing worldview.
Code of conduct: Often, there is no clear ‘code of conduct’ or policies when it comes to senior officials. And this holds true for a lot of Indian organisations. The Human Resources (HR) team is often at the mercy of such people. Hence, HR departments are unable to take a stand when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace.
Patriarchy: A lot of senior company officials take juniors, especially women for granted. They feel they have an ownership and a right over them. As soon as any woman employee rebels or displays a mind of her own, she gets dismissed. Patriarchy has travelled from Indian homes to workplaces. Thus, senior management has not taken a firm stand on dealing with sexual harassment and offering a safe and equal work environment to all.
Emotional Quotient (EQ): A lot of senior leaders lack emotional intelligence, whatsoever. To deal with sexual harassment at workplace, it’s imperative for leaders to possess a very important character trait called ‘empathy’. Lack of this trait can result in lack of seriousness when it comes to preventing sexual harassment at workplaces.
Company reputation: Top management is more cautious about saving the reputation of the company and avoiding negative media. Thus, they choose to not touch the topic at all, making their workplace non-inclusive and unsafe.
Education doesn’t guarantee civilised behaviour: The last and the most important point is education, of course. While a lot of people from a background of power and privilege often end up in ivy leagues, that does not always widen their minds. Hence, if the leaders are not self-aware, self-regulated, self-driven, don’t have adequate social skills and most importantly, are not high on empathy, their educational degrees won’t make workplaces diverse, inclusive or safe.