A week or so back, Krishnan and I were watching the program called “Neeya Naana” on Star Vijay. It’s a program where social issues are debated and many times the topics are really interesting. This one was on working women and the challenges they face. There were some workplace practices that showed how much we need to evolve – one lady spoke of being asked to return to work within days of giving birth to her child, another spoke of the discrimination through personal interview questions, yet another spoke of how their dress affects the way they are treated and so on. Towards the end one of the experts mentioned about sexual harassment and asked the participants to comment on that.
The stories that women shared that day clearly pointed out the fact, that predators come in all shapes and sizes. They spoke of how they fob off their advances and how some men immediately stop, but some others continue to try in different ways. There was an attractive single mother, who has been directly solicited :(:(. All women spoke of their ways of “managing” sexual harassment at work – not one of them spoke of the organization not tolerating it and none of these predators have lost their jobs.
While it was good that many men stopped pursuing when they were clearly rebuffed, the very fact that they were neither shamed nor had any major consequence, they will try their luck with some other woman colleague. While we have made stricter rules against rape, we also need stronger policies against sexual harassment at work. Women need to have a safe working environment and predators need to be flushed out of the system. As leaders, encourage lady colleagues to speak up about harassment issues and not just “manage” them.
The MNCs and global organizations have strong anti-sexual harassment policies and these are implemented rigorously in most organizations. Am not sure if many of the Indian companies, large retail outlets and other places where many young girls are hired, have clearly laid out anti-sexual harassment policies. More importantly how rigorously are these policies implemented ? When it’s a family business or a really small setup, what does a female employee do if the business owner is a predator ?
There is an advertisement for the liquor brand Officers Choice that shows a young man raising his voice against this senior leader who tries to misbehave with a young female colleague. The senior leader retreats into his cabin… Sure, he stops misbehaving with that young girl, but why not show that the leader is booted out of the organization ? I wonder, how many harassment cases are lodged in India. We prefer to “deal” with it, and not make it a public issue. That has to change.
The predator is the one making the mistake, so he needs to feel ashamed, not the victim. There are many men, who do this very subtly, asking someone out for coffee or trying to hire them into their department, wishing them on birthdays etc, “bumping” into them accidentally…. Hey, when your womanly instincts scream out aloud that this man means no good, just pay heed to that and stay away. If they continue to not get the message tell them directly that you don’t appreciate the attention. If they still don’t get it, escalate to your manager and HR. Raise your voice against the predator..
And men who are predators, who have a “glad eye”, get glasses so you can see the writing on the wall clearly. You get no respect and as you go around acquiring trophies, your wife, daughter, mother may also be similarly treated by some brother of yours … And someday this behaviour will derail your career and mess up your personal life.
My women friends – know your rights, understand your avenues of fighting back and most importantly raise your voice. Don’t put up with sexual harassment.