Blog: A story of the Delhi Metro, a chocolate wrapper and the start-up world


A story of the Delhi Metro, a chocolate wrapper and the start-up world

This weekly column is for companies who wish to go beyond the law and address the finer issues of culture, safety, and inclusion.
A story of the Delhi Metro, a chocolate wrapper and the start-up world

Article 1 of a Series of 3

On my first trip to Delhi, my friends insisted we ride the metro. I’ve lived in Mumbai my whole life and riding the air-conditioned metro in the peak of Delhi’s summer sounded very exciting. The Mumbai metro was not constructed yet so I was better acquainted with the Mumbai local train.

As we boarded the relatively empty women’s compartment, I noticed a young mother open a small Britannia muffin packet. The excited little child reached out, grabbed the cake and began eating. At the next station, the announcement and the new commuters boarding the train distracted the boy. He abruptly raised his little arms and dropped the big piece of chocolate muffin into crumbs all over the floor. There was a moment of absolute silence. No one said a word but the stares of the other commuters were deafening.

The young mother overcomes with horror slowly opened her bag and took out a wet wipe. She sat on her haunches and picked up the crumbs from the floor. The chatter in the compartment resumed. No one seemed surprised but I was dumbstruck. This was an unusual sight for me. I was accustomed to seeing train passengers deliberately throw trash on the floor of the train compartment or outside the local train window.

Back in Mumbai, the local train tracks are strewn with wrappers, vegetable scraps or plastic bags of flower garlands. So when a plastic bottle is thrown to the floor or out the window, no one takes notice. In comparison, the Delhi Metro was so much cleaner that the presence of muffin crumbs or a chocolate wrapper on the floor would certainly come to one’s attention.

While the cleanliness of the Mumbai local or the Delhi Metro may be up for debate today, this incident taught me a lot about organizational culture – It starts with picking up the little chocolate wrapper.

Certain physical acts of sexual harassment are obvious to us all but there is a vast gamut of subtle forms of sexual harassment that go unnoticed. These forms are so subjective and rarely spoken about, that the person facing the harassment is often left doubting if it is actually harassment or just their imagination. Even when one finally musters the courage to make the complaint they are asked to let it go or told that the harassment is not very serious or asked to ignore the behaviour. 

For those who work in the field of safety, diversity, and inclusion, you will know that sexual harassment is inevitably a consequence of deeper cultural issues within an organization. Like the ignored chocolate wrapper on the floor, at first, it is uncensored language. Then a few harmless sexist jokes. Then it’s one or two overlooked, unwanted sexual advances and then not before long there is a court proceeding or a blog circulating on social media. As a leader of an organization, one is left wondering how did this happen? When did my company’s culture fail me, my employees? 

Like the tracks of the Mumbai local, it started with one chocolate wrapper thrown outside the window without any action taken and without a single thought of the consequences.

The incidents of sexual harassment in Uber, TVF, Binary Capital and recently in Hollywood have emphasized how addressing company culture is now an important facet for an organization’s success. So how does one begin addressing safety in the workplace?

The Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention. Prohibition, Redressal) Act 2013 is specifically designed to help companies build safer workplaces. The law lays down simple yet effective mandates that every employer with more than 10 employees HAS to put in place. These include,

Formulating a prevention of sexual harassment company policy

The policy lays out what it considered sexual harassment in the workplace, who is covered and the procedures for seeking help if an employee or an associate of the organization faces sexual harassment. The intention is to convey the leadership’s zero tolerance for any act of sexual harassment and the organizations' commitment to workplace safety.

Appoint an Internal Committee (IC) with an external member

Beyond setting up the IC it is important to ensure that all the members are trained to handle an incident (which may occur inside the office or outside) with fairness and abiding by the law. A well trained IC is more likely to earn the confidence of the employees than an IC that is merely set up on paper.

Provide a sensitization training for all staff on this law

The diverse employee backgrounds can sometimes complicate the understanding of acceptable and unacceptable conduct. The all employee training is a platform for employees to discuss their fears and misconceptions surrounding the law. The training is expected to help employees better understand what is sexual harassment in the context of the workplace and the internal procedures for seeking assistance in case of an incident. 

Submit a report to the deputy commissioner every calendar year

As mandated by the law, companies are expected to submit an annual report outlining the number of training and cases that arose in the annual year. This report is to be submitted to the deputy commissioner of labour at the end of the annual year and suggests the Company’s compliance with the law.

My work at present, working with small and larger organizations has lead me to understand better strategies leaders and HR can put in place to make all employees feel safe and stand out as an employer of choice. This weekly column is for companies who wish to go beyond the law and address the finer issues of culture, safety, and inclusion.

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Topics: Diversity

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