Top 5 Mistakes By Companies When Dealing With Sexual Harassment

You’re a leader at a medium sized organisation. You’ve done your bit to ensure that your company complies with the regulations of the Sexual Harassment Of Women At Workplace Act. Did it help? Have the number of cases on sexual harassment come down since? Do your employees feel a sense of security and comfort when they travel to work everyday?

SHEROES, the growth network for women, has been working with a number of companies to put mechanisms in place to address sexual harassment and make workplaces safer for all. In the process, we observed certain patterns in the implementation of the Act, that have prevented businesses from ensuring the effectiveness of its recommendations, as follows…

  1. Not moving aggressively on grievances raised by employees — More often than not we have seen that companies tend to neglect grievances raised by their employees related to sexual harassment incidents they might have faced at work. Being able to raise a complaint requires a lot of courage, given the social stigma attached to it. Not acting fast enough on the complaint, and not communicating with the survivor on the actions that are being taken, creates scope for fear and paranoia to creep in — eventually leading to the survivor and not the perpetrator to leave the organization
  2. Sensitisation of HR/ International Complaints Committee (ICC) — While companies may have an Internal Complaints Committee in place, the members have no idea about the provisions of the Sexual Harassment Act or how to deal with a complaint. Companies need to invest not only in the constitution of the ICC, but also ensuring that a proper orientation is conducted for all members of the ICC. The ICC members should also be provided with case studies & real life examples of how grievances were dealt with in other firms.
  3. Having a support system/ helpline — Most guidelines by the Sexual Harassment Act are focused on addressal of sexual harassment, once it occurs. Companies must realise that this is not enough. Having a support system in place, which engages employees on a regular basis is key to making sure that harassment can be prevented in its early stages. While running the AskSHEROES helpline, a place for female employees to reach out to counselors & seek support, we observed that several women who reached out to us wanted to deal with whatever harassment they were facing on their own, but were unsure how. Just giving them the confidence to be able to go and tell the harasser that their behavior is unwelcome went a long way in preventing these cases from escalating.
  4. Lack of visibility — One company that we visited had their six page long sexual harassment policy taped to their notice boards. No employee is going to have the time and patience to read the complete policy. As an employer make sure that you have posters, which clearly call out your stand on sexual harassment and the consequences of being found indulging in it. Also be sure to send out email communication with a link to your policy and the members of the ICC.
  5. Not conducting regular workshops — Many companies make the mistake of conducting trainings for their employees only once when the employee joins. Incidents of sexual harassment can occur anytime. Make sure you have a schedule to conduct trainings at least once every quarter. Online trainings is a great replacement for in-person workshops, which tend to have a significant overhead in terms of logistics cost. Traditional forms of training content doesn’t work anymore. The content needs to appeal to the social media savvy audience of today, but at the same time inculcate better awareness about the provisions of the policies that are in place. Regular trainings ensure that the ideas you’re trying to convey get reinforced in people’s minds.

Most companies look at the Sexual Harassment Act as something that has been imposed on them, something that is mandated by law given that they are a registered company.

The biggest change that you can bring is by altering your perspective — having mechanisms in place to prevent sexual harassment are essential to building a culture that fosters innovation.

Ultimately, building a workplace that is free of harassment, that is inclusive, is instrumental in building a successful business.