India Inc has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to sensitising employees to gender issues at the workplace, HR experts have said, amid increasingly frequent reports of sexual harassment charges in the country.
Tehelka founder Tarun Tejpal is the latest to face such allegations, joining a list that includes Phaneesh Murthy (Infosys and iGate), David Davidar (Penguin) and Gopal Kanda (MDLR Airlines).
According to some experts, such cases expose a deep-seated and sustained gender bias at the workplace and highlight the reality that a vast majority of Indian offices are poorly equipped to handle these instances.
The world’s largest democracy faced severe criticism globally after the Delhi gang rape incident a year ago, which forced the country to take a hard look at sexual violence.
Several organisations are still not compliant with the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, according to Kaustubha Mani, an advocate with PXV Law Partners.
The Act, which had been in the works since 2005, got presidential assent in April after approval by Parliament.
The Act, which is yet to be notified by the Centre, mandates all organisations to sensitise their staff to sexual harassment issues by conducting workshops and seminars.
The Supreme Court issued guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment at the workplace in 1997, after a women’s rights group called Vishakha had filed a public interest litigation in a gang rape case.
“What is more shocking is that even to date, there are organisations that haven’t even found the necessity to adopt and implement the Supreme Court’s guidelines as laid out in Vishakha,” Mani said.
He added that larger firms have always been sensitive to the issue and have dedicated wings that specialise in such matters.
According to the International Labor Organisation, India ranks 11th from the bottom out of the 131 countries for female participation in the workforce.
According to a workplace sexual harassment survey by the Centre for Transforming India, a non-profit organisation, awareness levels of such issues among female employees is poor and a majority of them continue with their ordeal for fear of professional victimisation.
Experts believe that once employees are sensitised about the consequences of sexual harassment, the number of such cases declines by up to 30 per cent.
“Most of the Indian corporates do follow strict policy for the discrimination of gender and sex but they are only able to act and react once it is reported,” said Sunil Goel, MD of GlobalHunt, an executive search firm.
Prior to the enactment of the 2013 Act, many small and medium-scale organisations formed ad-hoc committees to address sexual harassment issues as and when they arose.
The Act requires a permanent committee to be set up to handle such matters.
Goel said the Vishakha guidelines must be implemented at the very initial stage and organisations must regularly inform their old and new employees about them, just as they update the staff about company policies related to leave and benefits.