Blog: Role of leaders in making workplaces safe from sexual harassment

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Role of leaders in making workplaces safe from sexual harassment

In my work on organizational inclusion and safety, I have met an increasing number of leaders who believe that the success of an organization is not only dependant on business development or productivity alone but also on the culture of the workplace.
Role of leaders in making workplaces safe from sexual harassment

Article 3 of a Series of 3

This year Silicon Valley and India Inc. alike saw a rise of reported incidents of sexual harassment. Most of these incidents involved leaders and management that did not take the wellbeing of a complainant of sexual harassment seriously. While these articles can make one feel a sense of disillusionment, there are many stories where the incidents have been dealt with in an empathetic manner. But those stories often don’t go viral because the companies make sure the confidentiality clause is not violated. 

In my work on organizational inclusion and safety, I have met an increasing number of leaders who believe that the success of an organization is not only dependant on business development or productivity alone but also on the culture of the workplace.

I would like to highlight some of the small but useful step leaders and founders are taking to ensure that their employees feel safe and that careless behaviour is met with consequences.

Minimize the possibility of safety risks

Will a no dating colleagues- company policy reduce the chances of sexual harassment?

There is no data to suggest the above. The internal committee dealing with sexual harassment cases is not concerned with consensual relationships. Sexual harassment is committed when an action is non- consensual, one sided and unwelcome. It is important to realize that these moral blanket policies often do not aid in preventing sexual harassment. 

A young founder of a small organization explained his company’s effort to ensure safety - “My employees are expected to travel often. While the early morning and late night flights are economical, we have made a conscious effort to ensure our female employees who are travelling alone are booked on flights that depart and arrive at reasonable hours.” He continued that as a brother to two sisters he realized how difficult it is for women to request for reasonable safety measure.

Yet, the mental and lingering fear of the possibility of danger is one most women are forced to deal with on their own.

As a company he sees that this is the first step to communicate to female employees that their safety is the organization’s concern.

No concessions for the star employee

Internal Committee members are first responsible for the safety of the Complainant and their witnesses and second to ensure that the behaviour of the Respondent is not repeated. The IC is expected to fulfil their role given the constraints of the organization. This can often be a complex task.

A few months ago, I met with a small start-up to train their Internal Committee (IC) members. The founder requested if he could speak to the committee just before the session ended. Just as I was concluding the session he spoke to the committee explaining – That as a small organization everyone knows the challenge of finding good talent. Yet he explained that the founding team was certain that they would rather let go of one very talented but badly behaved employee rather than slowly watch the other employees exit because of one bad apple. 

In doing so he made the intentions of the leadership clear to the IC, that the organization prioritized respectful and professional behaviour. 

Our employees should not have to consider the option of silence

An HR head explained how she understands the challenge of speaking up against sexual harassment. Complainants are likely to weigh their options and the consequences of speaking out - Will the IC believe me? How will this affect your career? What will my colleagues think? 

And more often than not women consider silence.

Beyond the all employee training the company organized an informal conversation with female employees to share their expectations from the organization, share their fears and incidents of discomfort. The platform went on to explain the qualifications of the IC to deal with incidents and the commitment of the organization to the employee’s safety and well-being.

These are some of the examples of good work that have been done by companies to go beyond the mandates and this goes a long way in building a company’s brand, attracting bright talent and retention follows automatically. 

In accordance with the regulations of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), all listed companies disclosed the total number of sexual harassment complaints (those addressed and those pending) at the end of the financial year through their annual reports. The data suggested an increase of cases filled with the Internal Committee. Sexual harassment is not a new phenomenon but the increase of reported cases to the Internal Committee is an indication that companies are trying to do the right thing and that their efforts have led to an increase in the faith of the employees.

Article 1: A story of the Delhi Metro, a chocolate wrapper, and the start-up world
Article 2: Internal Committee - A responsibility beyond hearing cases

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Topics: #Culture, Leadership

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