How are organizations dealing with #MeToo

When the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 mandated the setting up of the policy on Sexual Harassment (POSH) most organizations obeyed the letter if not the spirit of the law. Due processes were put in place, ICCs or Internal complaint committees were set up and training conducted for all employees regarding understanding what constituted sexual harassment, and the redressal mechanisms thereof.

Over the years I know that in all the organizations that have set up POSH, the complaints that have come in have gone through the necessary steps required to address them, they have been escalated to the organizations’ boards and subsequent and necessary action taken.

Have all the complaints made, been taken to their natural conclusion? Most certainly they have. However, have all the complaints been true? Not necessarily. Some women have tried to avenge themselves for imagined slights by complaining against their male colleagues/bosses through the POSH, which is tremendously unfortunate. Equally has every instance of sexual harassment been brought to the notice of the organization? I am quite sure it hasn’t. In some cases, women have been too fearful to do so, in some cases they have been actively discouraged from complaining.So what do organizations need to do to deliver both the letter and the spirit of the law? What do they need to do to ensure that women are treated as equal professionals and colleagues by the men in the room, that they feel safe in working in the organization and the male gaze is a level and collaborative one, and neither a patronizing nor a sleazy one?

The biggest service the #MeToo outrage has done and will continue to do for some time to come, provided it doesn’t lose its steam, is to bring this conversation to the fore, right up and bang in the centre of the room. This is no hushed whisper in the corridor or gossip at the water cooler but loud, deafeningly noisy, public and pervasive. The whole world is talking about it, men are feeling queasy and looking over their shoulder and about time too!

For too long has the feminine voice been shushed and suppressed to a frequency that has been disregarded by the human ear. And what is not vocal is considered invisible! To ensure a wrong is redressed it has to be heard first, and in the #MeToo era, organizations have no choice but to hear the complaints internally and quickly, because if they do not do so, there is a large and public platform now waiting for women to be heard. The reputational risk for the organization can be colossal and irreversible and that fear itself will ensure far more diligence, which is a big win for gender equality. Witness the speedy dispatch of various senior leaders on enforced leave in Corporate India!

The second and equally impressive victory of #MeToo has been emboldening women to stand up and complain. With 90% of senior leaders in any organization being male, with the historical baggage of being seen as playthings, and with the immense pressure of being a ‘sport’ just to fit into a fundamentally male culture, women have been wary of complaining, despite the organization creating avenues for them to do so. It is my hope that genuine complaints will be voiced speedily and just as speedily addressed, and women will continue to find the courage under the aegis of #MeToo to come out and speak!

Thirdly and finally, the unassailable and enduring way to ensure equality and fairness for women in the workforce is simply to have more women in the workforce. The more women there are at all levels; entry, middle and at the top and the more women there are in all fields and industries, the more their voice will gather strength and the more impetus it will give to the gender equality agenda.

By staying in the workforce and by being visible in public domains we add our voice to the chorus that forms opinions and becomes the basis for actions.The wisdom of the crowd always prevails. It is up to us to ensure we are a significant percentage of that crowd!