The time, averaging 40 hours per week worldwide, is a considerable portion of life we spend at work. Imagine having to work with a colleague who is inappropriate, who makes you feel like a lower being, who will pass comments and would smile at your uncomfortable position.
Imagine feeling powerless? Imagine feeling uncomfortable? The work becomes an emotional battle that needs to be navigated daily.
Yet, this is the plight of women at work. The harassment need not be as loud as a comment or a physical touch, but could be subtle and could slip you if you don’t pay attention. You would doubt it and would feel guilty that you questioned. You would say it is just an invitation to the meeting, and then you would feel uncomfortable attending it.
You need to report it! Feeling uncomfortable at work is not acceptable!
The repercussion of any sexual harassment is way more than the act itself. It is psychological as well as physical and could cause trauma for years before surfacing. Unfortunately, it is everywhere. Every sector, every market, every place we could imagine. Even in tech. Especially in tech!
In 2013, the Indian Government passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, Redressal) Act.
According to this act, any organization with 10 or more people needs to have an Internal Committee (IC) for the prevention and redressal of sexual harassment at the workplace.
The committee is meant to be the first point of contact in a case of sexual harassment, with powers to act immediately and gracefully.
The mandate set by the government is to serve as the first point of contact, and is not a progressive solution to the problem — it is just a start. A progressive solution is to have a culture that would help eliminate the possibility of such encounters.
This is tough, not impossible!
“We need a world where women don’t get sexually harassed. Full stop. Period.” — Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook
The correct way of forming an Internal Committee (IC)
The committee should be at least 4 members according to the mandate, but it should ideally reflect the organization’s size and geography. The team should have adequate powers to perform and to act at a moment’s notice.
Having a committee in one of your offices out of the four cannot work.
Having a four-member team for a 4000 strong workforce cannot work.
Having employees who are not at a position in the organization to make a decision quickly and implement it will not work.
Consult an expert before even starting to form the committee. There are three steps to the process:
- Formation of IC and hiring of an external member, preferably a lawyer in the field.
- POSH training and workshops for both the team and the employees.
- Policy drafting to handle cases with care and consideration
The process apart, the committee should aim at educating the employees in the organization. Conducting discussions and interviews with an expert in the field is a good start.
Make sure the message of intolerance towards sexual harassment of any kind is loud and clear to everyone working in the organization.
Prevention should be the mission!
The foremost job of the IC should be towards the awareness of the employees about sexual harassment. The definitions are subjective, and the lines blurry when it comes to sexual assaults. These could be loud or could be subtle. But every instance should be observed with a critical eye.
As a rule of thumb, if you feel uncomfortable about someone you work with for any reason, you should talk about it. Talk to your best friend, talk to your parents, talk to your aunt or your boss. But talk. And find out if the feeling persists.
If it does, report it!
Remember not to take anyone’s opinion as the last word even when it is coming from a place of confidence. The decision should be yours and should make you feel comfortable at your workplace.
Prevention of sexual harassment is the goal.
The future would be challenging
Prevention of sexual harassment moving forward is going to be complicated. Primarily because most of the human effort will move to gig-based work culture, and we will have different dynamics as an organization to work with. People would work with different people and would frequent various organizations. The definition of sexual harassment would also change with it.
A committee, a group of people, in your organization working towards a safe place to work for women will help you sail through into the future.