Vivek Paranjpe, Consultant & Strategic HR Advisor to Reliance Industries answers professional and ethical dilemmas faced by our readers at their workplace.
Question: I work for a growing advertizing firm. A lady colleague in my office recently confided in me about certain advances being made to her by a senior colleague and she is distraught. While she is hassled and uncomfortable with the situation, she is not willing to make a formal complaint fearing it might affect her career prospects either in the present organization or in any other. Also the antagonist is one of our high performers and I know the management would not be willing to take any blind action against him. We do not have a structured sexual harassment body to handle such cases but I feel she needs to be helped. Should I take the matter to the senior management?
Answer: I am glad that this lady colleague shared this unfortunate information with you. This indicates that she has confidence in you. Now it is your responsibility to advise her appropriately. If the sexual harassment cases are not nipped in the bud, they can take ugly turns. You need to reassure her that making a formal complaint is always a good idea and also her responsibility. Today this top performing senior colleague has made advances at her, tomorrow if unchecked, he could harass other women. If these other women are not strong enough to lodge a formal complaint or they do not have friends like you to give them right advice, some may succumb to the pressure which is highly undesirable.
You have stated that the “antagonist is one of our high performers and I know the management would not be willing to take any blind action against him”. It is never appropriate to take any action blindly without proper investigation, but to make an assumption that management will not do anything just because he is a good performer is also not right. If this woman colleague of yours lodges a formal complaint to the management, the management will have to undertake proper investigation and take appropriate disciplinary action against the culprit if the complaint is well founded. There are set mechanisms to deal with such cases, which I am sure, your management will follow.
In fear of career being adversely affected, if women stop making complaints against sexual harassment cases, we will create corporations where women cannot work in peace. In today’s world where we have strong NGOs, protective legal mechanisms and supportive colleagues like you, this lady colleague of yours should boldly lodge the complaint and ensure proper investigation and right actions are undertaken. I am sure that any reasonable management that is ethical and wants to ensure equal opportunities and fair work place practices will do all the right things.
You can post your questions to Vivek by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org