She Followed EVERY Harassment Reporting Protocol. But No One Listened.
As a speaker and counselor for SHEROES, I meet women all the time at our events who share their stories of corporate life, and how they manage to stay above the fray when their experiences with sexual harassment become too much to bear.
I met Varsha* at a workshop in Bangalore I was conducting at a career event; I observed her diligently asking questions and taking notes. She was an engineer working in consulting firms (mainly the Big Five), and she was looking forward to transitioning from corporate life to one of entrepreneurship.
She was young, all of 28 and in the first growth phases of her career. I was instantly energized by her ambition to become an entrepreneur and she asked me many questions in the workshop itself, then sought me out afterwards for more counsel.
After the workshop, the true story of Varsha’s motivation to leave consulting came to the light. At EVERY SINGLE office she had worked at since starting her career, she had experienced sexual harassment from seniors and colleagues in her company. She detailed managers revoking projects and keeping her on the bench if she didn’t spend time with them outside of office or refused their advances when they mentioned that she was a “young unmarried girl — why isn’t she settled down already?”
She was marginalized on team efforts and kept off projects for months on end. Eventually, she ended up leaving every single company. Three companies, three career trajectories — and all of this in a span of four years.
The saddest part is that in every case, Varsha did bring her experiences to the attention of HR. Yes, EVERY SINGLE COMPANY. But instead of following procedure — the Internal Complaint Committees (ICC), refused to follow up on the incidents and eventually she was frozen out of her workplace. She wasn’t given work, other colleagues got assigned to offsites and she sat on the bench; she had no option but to leave each company lest her career be completely.
I thought to myself — how could she deal with all this with such little support from her employers?
THIS is what led Varsha to wanting to be her own boss and creating an environment for herself where she felt safe. I asked her to work on her business idea and come to SHEROES for support, as well as actively take the support of counselors and friends around her so she didn’t feel so alone.
Her case indicated a systemic problem for women in the workplace — if high achievers like Varsha are leaving large companies due to harassment, how will these companies ever seek to hire and retain amazing women to help their businesses grow? Varsha followed EVERY harassment reporting protocol to make sure the issues were addressed — but no one listened.
I left Bangalore thinking about Varsha and how many other women in India leave careers behind due to sexual harassment. Is Varsha’s story unique, or is this happening more than we care to acknowledge?
*Name changed to protect identity
Avani Parekh is the Director of Empathy at SHEROES.com, and a counselor dealing with issues related to abuse, harassment, and relationships for women.