She is one of the over 100,000 amazing women in your workforce. She is one among the brilliant women who are making you India’s largest software exporter. Her performance track record over the last six years has been phenomenal. However, one male colleague of hers thought she would not protest if he touched her breasts because he had the powers to appraise her work. She protested. She sought justice. But what did you do?
You judged her. Instead of probing the incident fairly, your team passed judgments on the character of the victim. You called her an unhappy person. You found her highly distressed and emotional. You attributed her state of mind to her being single and separated from her husband. You accused her of being hysterical. You accused her of seeking attention for her career growth.
You made her feel that aspiring to grow in an organization is a sin. You said that the onus of proving the sexual aggression is on her.You interpreted her conversations with the harasser-colleague as“non-professional.” You accused her of “speaking up” against sexual harassment.You said the confinement of the victim in a conference room for long hours amounts to “hostility” and not “sexual harassment.” While your Global Policy document on Prevention of Sexual Harassment defines on page 4 “physical confinement” and “touching against one’s will” as “sexual harassment,” you chose to ignore that in this case of sexual harassment.
To sum up, you indulged in victim-blaming rather than creating a favorable environment to render justice for the victim of sexual harassment. The star performer-victim approached the labor court to set aside the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) report which harassed her mentally for days and nights together. In the court also, you are not relenting. You are harassing the victim further.
Here is a historic opportunity for course correction. She could have asked for damages because you have caused her such a mental agony. She wanted to set aside the ICC report which questioned her character and passed “insensitive” judgments on her instead of providing justice. The victim has given an opportunity for you to stand corrected. You can easily disapprove the report and move on to redoing it more sensibly and sensitively.
You have decided to keep both the victim and the harasser in Chennai. But on different campuses. That definitely is a sensible step because the victim is not forced to relive the trauma whenever there are chance encounters on the same premises. However, the ICC report blaming the victim is more than reliving the trauma and hurts the victim deeply. So, it is important not to blame and harass the victim any further.
“Women face real obstacles in the professional world,including blatant and subtle sexism, discrimination, and sexual harassment,”says Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook in her book “Lean In.” “To their credit, many institutions have worked hard to sensitize people to these issues, especially sexual harassment. But while human resources seminars can raise consciousness and help protect employees, they have also raised the specter of legal action, which can create real barriers to these conversations.”
In this case, the victim was forced to approach the labor court because the ICC report turned out to be an act of “injustice” further to the sexual harassment she faced. You could have understood the pain and the scars in the victim and taken a reconciliatory approach to redeem the situation.Instead, you chose to confront the victim and cause more pain to her. When Uma Maheshwari was gang-raped and killed near your butterfly-shaped Chennai campus in 2014, the city wept because the 23-year old girl’s dreams were crushed, just 200 meters away from the office campus. In this 2018 case of sexual harassment is a historic opportunity for you to tell the world that you care for the women workers. You are yet to achieve the dream of having 50 per cent women in the workforce. One course correction in this case can send a strong message for the women engineers out there.
(The report is updated around 7.20 pm on the day of publication.)