A bunch of young girls recently asked Michelle Obama on the pushback faced by women in the #Metoo movement: “How do you stay resilient in the face of difficulty? Her response was: “The thing I have to remind them and remind myself, is change is hard, it takes time. We are planting seeds every day and the alternative is to do nothing, to say nothing, to sit back and watch things go unchanged. But with every act, with every dollar we spend on this issue, we are moving the needle and that’s what we have to do slowly and surely.”
Every process of change in this world has met with its share of resistance, its share of ridicule and skepticism. Given that we are attempting to change a belief or an attitude that is so deep rooted, it is expected to be an uphill task. Giving up too soon isn’t an option.
Not A Men Vs Women Debate
Enough is enough! We have to change the order where women feel undervalued. When I see this outcry that one should take a “balanced” view to the #Metoo movement and not allow women to pay the “Abala Nari” (damsel in distress) card, my blood boils. When I hear of some women sympathising with this point of view, I feel let down.
I would urge all such sympathisers to share any material or statistics that suggest we live a balanced world when it comes to women, their rights, their standi at workplace or in society.
I am certain there could always be a stray case of misuse by women. But by no stretch of imagination would such cases be comparable (statistically) remotely with what women (and how many) undergo daily with relation to harassment, humiliation and disrespect at work or otherwise. Hence, should we allow the “men’s victimhood” argument a place in this debate at this point in time? I must also remind that this isn’t a men vs women debate. Rather, it’s a movement towards safety and protection of those who are seen to be easy targets by those in positions of power and towards meaningful preservation of our civilisation.
Well, while the scope of this discussion is exhaustive, let me in this piece attempt with what can be done at corporate workplaces with immediate effect by key stakeholders – the employer, the victim and those in the ecosystem. My recommendations go beyond what the law (Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace, or POSH) suggests:
What Employers Must Do
In wake of the #Metoo uprising,
employers must do a lot of soul searching about what they could have done better to make their workplace safer for women. A few of my suggestions for them would be:
To begin with, stop hiring people (especially in leadership positions) who are probably brilliant in their skills, in their trade, in their expertise, which can probably commercially benefit your organisations tremendously in the short run, but who even has the slightest whisper about sexual misconduct and transgressions. I am personally aware of many such instances wherein employers have knowingly hired professionals even at CXO levels with reputations of treating women with disrespect and as objects. Guess by now we have all realised it is not worth it in the long run if you sincerely care for your brand image as well as diversity inclusion beyond a buzzword. Until such people (who are achievers and excel in their trades) are hurt where it hurts the most, change will be impossible.
Ensure as much background verification around possible history (I believe this needs to be beyond proven) of past cases of harassment of women employees as one does to assess professional credentials at the time of hiring. It would also be advisable to add a strict clause in their employment letter leading to immediate termination if any such past or present transgressions come to light. I would highly recommend an assessments process akin to CIBIL rating to assess credit worthiness of individuals be institutionalised wherein employers of the country and the government can collaborate on.
Ensure zero tolerance towards offenders when any such complaint is brought to light. Until the internal complaints committee (ICC) proceedings are concluded, the person (offender) needs to be put on forced leave till further notice. This is the only way to ensure the person doesn’t try to exert undue pressure and influence the judgement on such issues.
Ensure workplace safety in spirit and beyond a compliance requirement. Without that, more training around the ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’ won’t be sufficient to make workplace free from such harassment. It will not even give the women the confidence or make them feel safe. There has be exhibition of zero tolerance for any such behavior, starting from hiring decisions, the speed at which action is initiated, the transparency with which such cases are handled and dealt with. All of these are key to bring real change.
What The Victims Must Do
affected party, I would recommend the following actions:
Raise any behavior that makes you uncomfortable as a woman without giving anyone any benefit of doubt. Raise it directly irrespective of the man’s position and stature. Bring it to the notice of your colleagues, HR and your family members. And yes, raise it whenever you are comfortable with it. More often men take advantage of women’s inhibitions to share such things. Needless to say, it always helps and is more effective when it is sooner than later.
Please store evidence of any such behavior. While your word should be enough in situations like this — however, we should be aware that is easier said than done given your opposition is likely to be more powerful and more resourceful than you.
Don’t quit for fear of repercussion. While that might seem like a prudent thing to do and there would be a lot of social advice that suggests as much, I strongly advise against it. Predators among men have long got away scot-free because women have quit instead of taking the fight to them. That just leaves the door open for the next victim and hence the order never changes or gets questioned. Be reasonable, keep yourself at a distance, use existing grievance platforms to fight it out. Just don’t leave or give up too soon.
What Bystanders Must Do
bystanders I would strongly suggest the following:
Approach the HR or anyone who would act as soon as you witness an act of sexual harassment. Most employees usually know these offenders and might have even several nicknames for them. They figure in their cafeteria small talks as well as after party jokes and narratives. However, everyone chooses to remain a spectator and be on the sidelines. Be bold and call out such behaviour with people who matter. Yes, some might say how does our voice matter and how can we be sure that anything would be done about it. Also people are reluctant because they fear they will pay a price for calling out such behavior. All of this is a possibility but that is the price of bringing about change. It is never easy. It is never quick. But it’s my belief that when a majority starts airing their displeasure, it is bound to drive change.
Even if you are an unaffected party, take a stand and refuse to work for offenders irrespective of whether you are a female or a male employee. This isn’t mutiny. This is standing up for what is right.
Avoid making the victims the butt of all jokes. Avoid judging them for their intent.
If you are a vendor, or a partner for a company that has a reputation of such harassments or if you happen to work as an independent third party for such offenders, please refuse to work with them. Until at a social level such offenders or companies (that keep quiet knowingly when such harassment happens) are made outcasts, there will not be much difference to the cause. Recent public announcements made by a group of prominent women actors, filmmakers (such as Nandita Das, Konkana Sen, Gauri Shinde, Kiran Rao etc) in Bollywood is such a welcome and bold move and should be emulated across industries.
To all those who want to be pragmatic and measured about this movement, those who believe this is yet another social media exuberance which shall die soon as the wannabes will get scattered, exhausted, aimless and move on to next #hashtag, pick a side in this debate. You should be aware which is the wrong one. Don’t risk being a fence sitter irrespective of whether you are a man or a woman.
Be prepared for the new normal as this was long overdue. Nadia Murad, this year’s Nobel Prize winner wrote in her book,
The Last Girl: My story of Captivity: “I want to be last girl in the world with a story like mine.” I imagine we would see an upsurge of many such Nadia Murad, Tanushree Dutta, Ira Trivedi and many more not-so well-known women who would change the world for our daughters with their courage and conviction. Let’s stand with them, together, unflinchingly. Rituparna Chakraborty is co-founder and EVP, TeamLease and President of Indian Staffing Federation. Disclosure: All matters brought to Network18’s attention which are within the purview of the workplace have been forwarded to our Internal Committee for Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the workplace for appropriate action. The Internal Committee is independent and all recommendations made by it are followed through by Management action. Network18 Group has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to sexual harassment. The company complies fully with all legal provisions and seeks to ensure a speedy and effective Redressal on complaints.