From all the beasts that you will have to keep out of your respective workplaces, ‘Sexual Harassment’ will prove to be the strangest and most deceptive of them all. And if not clearly identified, sexual harassment can come in unnoticed—cloaked in social norms and habits—and destroy you completely before you know what happened.
The worst part is the person petting that beast may not have even intended to do so. What could be even more horrifying is: that person could be you!
So, even if you have mastered the art of keeping bad business deals and poor talent at bay, it’s quite possible you’re still leaving the front gate of your organisation wide open for sexual harassment to enter. Perhaps, even unintentionally tagging it along with you, as part of your nature!
Let me explain how.
A few nights ago, I happened to meet one of my dear friends for dinner at a trendy eatery in Mumbai. Over the course of our conversation, he began to share an incident that had recently transpired between him and a junior female employee in his organisation.
This is how our conversation went:
Me: “So, how’s work going on, dude?”
Him: “Oh, listen! I need to tell you about this young girl in the company.”
Me: “What about her?”
Him: “Well, she has been underperforming at work for quite some time. So, I called her to my cabin to ask her why?”
Me: “Then what happened?”
Him: “Something totally unexpected, yaar. When I told her she was underperforming, she got really defensive. Her attitude caused me shout at her. After that she said, ‘hey you can’t talk to me like that!’”.
Me: “Oh wow! That’s crazy….”
Him: “Yeah, I was so upset that I said ‘not only can I talk to you like this, I can do whatever I like to you’. After I said that, she refused to leave the cabin and said she would file a sexual harassment case against me.”
Him: “Yeah!! So, I said please do whatever you want. I know I am not wrong for scolding an underperforming employee in MY company! Please get out.”
Me: “How did she react to that?”
Him: “Not well, at all, dude! She stayed there, accusing me of sexual harassment. Finally, I left the cabin in anger.”
Me: “Wow, so, what’s happening now?”
Him: “Oh, she went to some committee in the company.”
Me: “What committee, dude?
Him: “Hang on, let me ask my HR rep” *picks up his phone to make a call* “Hey buddy, remember that issue with that girl? Do you know what committee she went to? *silence* “Oh, okay. Okay, okay, I’ll be there. Thanks, man!”
Me: What did he say?
Him: She went to some POSH committee. Also, they want to meet me first thing tomorrow morning.
Me: “By the way, it’s not called POSH committee. That’s the Internal Complaints Committee or ICC. Its role is to prevent, prohibit and redress any sexual harassment in the organisation.”
Him: “Oh okay, is that what it’s called? HR handles all this stuff for me. I’m too busy crunching numbers…you know how it is, ha ha!”
Me: “Well, yeah. But you do need to know about it, dude! If you don’t have an ICC related to POSH in place, be ready to get penalised, or worse, lose your license to run your business. There are several other repercussions, of course.”
Him: “Ok, this sounds really serious. So, what happens now? I never intended to sexually harass her, yaar. Yes, I did lose my temper and said some things in the heat of the moment but that was only because she was not at all bothered about being inefficient.”
Over the past 8 years of leading Be.artsy (www.be-artsy.com), I have developed and executed several Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) programmes, trainings and campaigns across India. Through this on-ground experience, I have learnt that sexual harassment at any workplace can never be addressed unless all employees of that organisation understand the devastating impact that any sexual misconduct on their part—irrespective of their intent—can have on another person, their workplaces and even themselves.
This incident with my friend has now only convinced me further that purely technology-driven methods such as e-trainings and jargon-ridden policies on sexual harassment tucked away somewhere in their official website/intranet can only help organisations tick a box on their compliance checklist, and do nothing more.
This is because ‘impersonal’ training methods can never fully engage, educate and motivate an audience enough to think responsibly about a very ‘human and personal’ issue such as sexual harassment.
Emotionally intelligent employers invest in POSH awareness programmes that include experiential training, simple and relevant content (even use colloquial language, if required) and a highly impactful mode of communication to personally drive home the message of zero tolerance towards sexual harassment.
Companies such as PepsiCo India, Amex, Airtel and British Telecom (BT) are already leading the way in this regard.
Since 2010, Be.artsy has been using a blend of art, technology and emotional intelligence to enable several organisations in the country to prevent, prohibit and redress sexual harassment at their workplaces.
Our POSH campaign ‘Mind Bugs’ for PepsiCo India even won the company’s prestigious Harvey C Russell Inclusion Award.
For further information, please contact me, Shikha Mittal, at: [email protected]