Article 2 of a Series of 3
As the #metoo campaign gathered momentum an Internal Committee (IC) member wrote to me saying that he had been reading the #metoo stories on Facebook of people close to him. He explained that while he felt anger and a sense of helplessness he also felt a sense of calm from the thought that as an IC member he was in some way part of a solution - that as an IC member he can now make the process of addressing sexual harassment easier for another. He continued explaining that as comforting as this thought is, he wanted to know how as Internal Members the committee can proactively address and prevent sexual harassment in the organization.
In my experience of working with companies on this law, many leaders and IC members have shared similar good intentions. Yet, the first attempt to addressing workplace culture can sometimes feel like opening Pandora’s box and rightly so. There is a plethora of information, tools, and approaches making the first steps seem overwhelming.
So how then does one begin?
Safety holds a big slice of the company culture pie. It is the aspect of culture that allows employees to focus on what matters like ideas, productivity, and innovation instead of unwanted, disrespectful behavior.
In last week's introductory piece, I have listed the five mandates that are in keeping with the Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. These mandates are in themselves a well thought of framework for companies who wish to begin. Among these, is the setting up of the Internal Committee to deal with complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace.
Imagine an employee who is constantly being asked out on a date by her manager with the promise of a promotion. She is not interested and uncomfortable with the proposition. How likely is she to file an FIR or take him to court? Even if she did, how long would it be before any action is taken? Besides this everyone would be aware of the nature of the complaint thus making it difficult for her to continue working in the same organization? Yet this action affects her wellbeing and her performance at the workplace.
Recognizing the impact that even subtle acts of harassment can have on the mental and emotional welling of the person facing the harassment, the law recommends an innovative redressal mechanisms. The institution of an IC in every organization with ten or more employees ensure that every complaint is addressed in a
- Time-bound manner that does not exceed 3 month
- Fair manner by maintaining the principles of natural justice
- Unbiased manner by employing an external member
- Confidential manner allowing all those involved to return to their roles in the workplace
Thus, the composition, role, and responsibilities of the IC are thoughtfully laid out in the law to ensure the safety and well-being of all employees. Here are a few guidelines for IC members to who wish to meaningfully serve in this role and assist in building a workplace culture that stands out as a thought leader.
Ensure that as an IC member you are well trained on the law
Setting up the IC is the first step but training the IC is extremely important. In my experience, I have seen that a well-trained IC earns the trust of employees making it more likely for an employee to file a complaint internally.
According to the law, the IC has three months to complete the inquiry into a complaint. A well trained IC is better equipped to maintain this timeline. Additionally, this timely procedure is enhanced if the IC is trained to focus on facts instead of unwanted information like the character of the Complainant or the moral judgment of those involved.
Understand the meaning of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment does not amount to a list of Company do’s and don’ts. It is a subjective experience. Today’s workforce is diverse with employees coming from different regions, age groups and universities. This difference in cultural lens leads to the same action being acceptable in one group but offensive in another.
As an IC member, employees will come to you when faced with any form of harassment. Trivializing their complaint because you assume it is subtle or insignificant or forcing them to deal with it on their own is probably an indication that the committee needs to re-look at their understanding of sexual harassment.
There are many instances where sexual harassment is unintentional. But there are also those that are strongly dependent on power dynamics where one is aware that they will not face consequences for their behaviors. It is the role of the IC to understand the challenge of reporting especially in work cultures that are aggressive and where sexism is a normal part of everyday language. The quarterly meets are an effective way for the IC to stay updated on the law and on the direction of the organization’s culture.
Rethinking everyday sexism and micro-aggressions
Why is it a matter of fact that productivity or profits are important to the employer? How is this an obvious datum to every employee?
It is probably because the job description, induction training, and every other meeting emphasize the value of performance and profits. As an organization, it is important to similarly make safety, respectful behavior and consent an everyday conversation.
It is important that employees see that safety and inclusion hold value to the leadership. This sends a message that respectful, professional behavior is respected and careless behavior has consequences. It also communicates to someone facing harassment that the organization will ensure their well-being.
In all honesty, being an Internal Committee member can sometimes have its moments where you feel a sense of helplessness in situations where you wish to make a change but it is almost difficult. But then there are moments of satisfaction where you know your role has made a difference. As an IC member your primary role is to protect and correct behavior, to an employee facing harassment you are an empathetic ear but in a larger sense, you are a guardian of workplace culture.