Catalyst India WRC conducted the second session of its three-part series of virtual discussion forums, on Creating Work Environments Free From Sexual Harassment on the 19th of June 2014. The panellists who participated in the webinar were: Biby Mathew, Employee Relations Manager APJC, Cisco; Sameer Wadhawan, HR & Services India & South West Asia, Coca-Cola India; Preet Kushalappa, Manager Employee Relations, Infosys Technologies Ltd. and Senthilnathan B, Head Employee Relations, Citi India.

The basis of this event was Catalyst's new tool Making Change in India Inc.: Creating Work Environments Free From Sexual Harassment. This tool addresses how safety and physical vulnerability both inside and outside the workplace contribute to the lack of workplace gender inclusion and affect women's career aspirations.

The webinar was moderated by Shachi Irde, Executive Director, Catalyst India WRC. The session took flight with the definition of sexual harassment and the fact that an anti-sexual harassment legislation was introduced in 2013; only after the country faced one of the most tragic incidents that questioned the safety of women in India. 17% of working women in India face sexual harassment. Majority of them do not report it due to fear of the possible consequences. It is thus important for organisations to take actions in order to make their employees feel safe and secure.

All panellists expressed that the key factor to make workplaces free from sexual harassment is to create, build and sustain an organisational culture and embed it within employees across all levels. A safe workplace is not the responsibility of the HR department or an employee relations manager but is a shared responsibility of all stakeholders.

It was construed that the crucial aspects required towards creating a harassment free work environment include:

  • Leadership commitment towards ensuring safety of employees and spreading awareness for the same
  • Framing relevant company policies and guidelines
  • Innovative and effective ways of communication to spread awareness about the policies amongst employees; intranet is an useful tool to communicate within the organisation
  • Training for members of the Internal Complaints Committee in order to maintain standardisation for handling sexual harassment complaints and cases

The panellists shared initiatives that they implement in their organisations in order to keep them safe for their employees. They included:

  • Providing flexible work hour options to employees
  • Infrastructural initiatives like providing cab services whenever required
  • Employee assistance programmes like:
  • Ethics hotlines which take up grievances regarding sexual harassment
  • Having their emergency contacts in place
  • E-learning or face to face sessions to spread awareness on the issue and how to prevent it from happening

The discussion then went on to the challenges faced by companies and their solutions.

Instances of challenges faced were:

  • Sensitising managers towards the issue of sexual harassment
  • Women being afraid to come out with their problems for fear of being ridiculed or being ashamed
  • The Anti-Sexual Harassment Act considers only women

Solutions to those challenges were:

  • Education of managers regarding the issue, its consequences and how should it be dealt with essential
  • Companies should promise confidentiality pertaining to the complainant and the case. They should assure employees protection from any possible harm
  • Companies should also consider the fact that men could also be the victims of sexual harassment and have sessions that would address both genders equally            

The discussion concluded with the fact that it is the responsibility of organisations not only to keep the internal workplace safe but also to look after the safety of their employees in extended workplaces.

For further details about this event, contact [email protected].

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