By Qrius Staff
In the year since accusations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein took Hollywood by storm, the MeToo movement has only gained strength around the world. In India, the movement finally gained momentum when actress Tanushree Dutta spoke up against Nana Patekar in early October. Since then, numerous women have come forward to share their stories of harassment, assault and more, in the workplace and elsewhere. Prominent men in the news media and entertainment industries, in the business and technology industries, and politics have been called out on their predatory behaviour, yet few have faced serious action.
What the movement has done, however, is to increase dialogue about appropriate behaviour in the workplace, and encourage women, and men, to speak out against sexual harassment and assault.
Qrius spoke to Ritu Mendiratta, Oxfam India’s HR and Administration Manager, about dealing with sexual harassment in the workplace, and how Indian workplaces can be made safer and held accountable for misconduct.
Mendiratta has extensive hands-on experience in leading HR initiatives such as policy design and development, compensation design, performance management, recruiting, and compliance reporting.
The #MeToo movement brings the spotlight back to safety at the workplace. How can an organisation ensure safety from harassment for its employees?
It is unfortunate that one needs such movements to fight for the basic right to safety. Organisations must ensure the safety from harassment for its employees. There could be multiple ways to ensure the safety and security of staff including having robust policies around it, implementing these policies and strict repercussions in such a manner that people in the organisation are living them day-to-day. Everyone is aware of the processes of dealing with any kind of harassment. A strong and active Internal Complaints’ Committee is the key for the implementation of policy against sexual harassment. Regular training of the committee members, and orientation of the staff about these policies will be very helpful. A regular overview of the situation and considering the staff’s feeling about the situation will strengthen systems towards safe and secure culture. Lastly, staff should be empowered enough to speak their mind, and regular discussions with them on different platforms can be very empowering.
In case of a harassment claim, what are the first steps that should be taken by any organisation?
In such situations, the first and foremost step should be to ensure safety and security of the complainant. Then, further steps should be taken to investigate and verify the facts.
Many times, survivors of sexual assault and harassment have claimed that workplaces are conducive to a toxic environment. What could be the legal remedy for this? Where can one go if they don’t find a satisfactory response through the internal complaints’ committee?
One can approach the Complaints’ Committee set up by state governments if they are not satisfied with the response from Internal Complaints’ Committee. Other way could be to approach police and taking a legal action.
For many survivors, assault and harassment can cause emotional trauma and even hurt workplace productivity. How can an organisation help them recover?
Organisations should provide psycho-social support to the survivors and they can engage the experts for providing such support in need and maintain the confidentiality.
What should not be done or said when a person alleges harassment?
Do not distrust them and pass any casual comments like “woh toh aisa nahin lagta” [He or she doesn’t seem like that]. Also, anyone who alleges harassment should not be forced to conciliate if they don’t wish to.
What are the grey areas in laws on workplace harassment? How can these laws or regulations become better?
Laws are made but nothing much is done to verify the implementation of the law. Although state governments are supposed to organise Complaints’ Committee, this hasn’t been done in many instances. It takes hell lot of time and effort to identify complaints’ committee outside the organisation. Many organisations have just formed the committees for the sake of it. Strong steps are needed to ensure that these committees are efficient and trained to deal with complaints of harassment or improper behaviour, and are not just working on paper only.
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