Tehelka aftermath: Women's safety is not negotiable!
Government and legal agencies should step up inspections and sack corrupt inspectors who ignore non-compliance with the sexual harassment in the workplace mandates
Yet another case of sexual harassment in the workplace (SHW) hits the headlines, this time catching a leading publication with its pants down. In blatant violation of the law, they do not have an Internal Complaints Committee in place to handle SHW and a senior editor is the prime perpetrator!
Ironically, this publication’s USP is exposing other people’s compliance gaps! Even more ironic is that the Managing Editor is a woman who professes to be an activist for women’s rights. What is far more serious is that her organization has broken the law enacted expressly for the safety of women.
The Vishakha Guidelines and The Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (prevention, prohibition and redressal) Act, 2013, mandates, in no uncertain terms, every employer’s responsibilities. It’s not optional!
Maybe it’s one media house. But the bigger scarier question is: Are there others like manufacturing companies, consulting firms, finance companies, BPOs who are exposing themselves and their people to litigation and shame.
Hurriedly cobbling a committee and jigging social networks searching for bright names to head it is unacceptable. Sending the perpetrator on a six-month leave to do ‘penance’ is a mockery of public intelligence. In fact, it sets a bad precedent: putting up the mechanism post facto.
What prompts organizations and leaders to ignore something as fundamental as safe working conditions for women?
1. Negligent leadership: Sorry, the buck always stops here! As does the flack. Leaders are paid fat salaries to lead, own their businesses and respect their people. A workplace unsafe for women is indicative of a serious gap in the leadership mindset. The gap needs to be fixed – or the leadership changed. Anyone listening? Board of Directors?
2. Pathetic law enforcement: This is obvious. Consequently, perpetrators have a party because they can get away with it. They count on leaders turning a blind eye and corruption in the enforcement agencies. Respect for the law just does not exist for them! Little wonder that approaching the police was the last thing on the victim’s mind.
3. Leadership has privileges: Leaders are powerful people. With powerful friends, sitting in high places, ever ready to lend support – for future favours. Ample reasons for perpetrators to flourish. What hope does a lowly journalist have against a high-ranking editor – and a Managing Editor who’s on his side? Inner strength, determination and, hopefully, the law.
4. People themselves: Strangely, none of the victim’s colleagues – fairly senior individuals themselves – stepped forward to provide any concrete help. Not even the Managing Editor, whom she finally sent a detailed email to, guided her in accordance with the law! Lack of knowledge, or some murky inside story, whatever the reasons – they’re responsible too!
Hopefully, the law will punish the guilty and deter future perpetrators. The next immediate steps could be:
A. Implement the law – to the letter: All employers must set up the required infrastructure, starting with a visible Internal Complaints Committee. The Vishakha Guidelines and The Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, provide clear directions.
B. Punish the perpetrators: First, the prime perpetrator must be punished as per the law and made a public example of. The organization – for breaking the law. The Managing Editor – she clearly failed to do her job. She failed to keep her women employees safe and ran a non-compliant organization.
C. Zero tolerance – spread the word: Government and legal-agencies should step up inspections and sack corrupt inspectors who ignore non-compliance with the SHW mandates. Press-advertisements should be issued to reiterate the laws around SHW. There should be absolutely no doubts in the minds of potential perpetrators – corporate or individual. SHW will be severely punished. So don’t even think about it!
D. SHW has to go – internalize it: The mandated infrastructure available to prevent SHW should be easily accessible to employees. And periodically communicated starting from new-hire orientation programs. Every employee irrespective of the level should internalize the fact that SHW has no place in the workplace and will not be tolerated.
Sounds stern? Good! That’s the idea. ‘Intelligence’ and ‘education’ don’t seem to drive the concept of professional decency for some. For them, there’s only the whip!
This decade is the decade of women in the workforce and in leadership. Women have more than amply demonstrated that they are equal, sometimes more than equal, contributors to the business. They have every right to expect a safe place to work! The sooner organizations make women’s safety a part of the organizational DNA, the more they benefit from the wealth of talent women bring to their business.
Vishaka Guidelines Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace
1. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexually determined behavior like: a) Physical contact and advances; b) A demand or request for sexual favors; c) Sexually colored remarks; d) Showing pornography; e) Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
2. If the conduct amounts to a specific offence under the Indian Penal Code or under any other law, the employer shall initiate action in accordance with law by making a complaint with the appropriate authority. In particular, it should ensure that victims or witnesses are not victimized or discriminated against.
3. Appropriate disciplinary action should be initiated by the employer and a complaint’s mechanism should be created. The Complaints Committee should be headed by a woman and not less than half its members should be women.
4. The Central/State governments must ensure adoption of these guidelines in the private sector through suitable measures, including legislation.