Amy (name changed) had been working at her job for 6 months at one of the largest and oldest call centers in Iloilo when it happened.
Because of her odd shift schedule, which started at 3 AM local time and coupled with the last jeepney arriving at her office at midnight, she was always at work at least 3 hours early. Sometimes, she would read or watch videos on YouTube during the three hours before her shift. But sometimes, she would go into the “quiet room” to sleep before her shift.
That’s where it happened. Her team’s operations manager, John (name changed), was always the one who came to rouse her and the other agents that were sleeping, even though that wasn’t allowed by company policy. John was a pretty aggressive manager though, always yelling at them and pushing for good stats, so he felt he had to.
The first time John came onto Amy was at a company outing about two months ago, making some comments about how they should go out. Amy politely rebuffed him then, citing company policy. John persisted. He had asked her a few times since then, usually doing it at work.
About two weeks ago, John came into the quiet room again to wake everyone up. Amy was in a deep sleep this time and didn’t immediately get up. John came over to the bunk where she was sleeping and this time sat down. He shook her gently to wake her up, and John smiled knowing his would be the first face she’d see when she woke up.
When she got home, Amy spoke to her parents about it. They warned her not to sleep at work anymore, that they had heard stories and that John could take it too far next time. She told them that she was fine. Besides, her wages were helping to keep her siblings in school.
So, that night she went back to work on the last jeepney, as she always did. The last thing she remembered before falling asleep was noticing that the broken lock on the quiet room door had been replaced. When she was awoken, her life would never be the same.
Instances of sexual predation, sexual assault, and rape are a part of the BPO industry culture in the developing world. The BPO industry cannot escape the currents of imbalanced sexual power that exists in the societies in which these call centers are located. The only problem is, the BPO industry has elevated it to instances that statistically are higher than is the norm inside of other industries in these societies.
This elevation occurs for three reasons: First, the 24/7 nature of the BPO industry means that people like Amy are forced to spend more time at the office than they need to, to do their jobs, utilizing ill-designed quiet rooms, and thus putting them in danger.
Second, through their personnel policies, the BPO industry does not prioritize Agents’ rights vs. management rights. When accusations of sexual predation, sexual assault, and even rape emerge, if there are no witnesses, the company assumes that everyone is violating policies, and fires everyone. That’s what happened to Amy — since John could lock the door, there were no witnesses. An HR investigation simply revealed a he-said-she-said scenario, and so HR deemed it inconclusive. So, she lost her job even though John raped her on company premises.
Third, no company, BPO or otherwise, wants to admit that these types of things happen on their premises. Given how hard it is to win and keep business, BPO management is highly protective of the company’s reputation. This is true for senior managers as well, like John. So they try to cover up instead of bringing it to the light of day, thinking it’s better for everyone.
All in all, it creates a toxic work environment where there is no trust. Unfortunately, this is what happened to Amy. Given the inconclusive nature of HR’s investigation, they simply fired her and John for violating the company’s fraternization policy, and her only avenue remaining was to report the incident to the Police.
When she did report it to the Police, the Police wanted to talk to the Company and see their report. Wanting to protect their reputation, the Company refused the Police. And the Police, having only Amy’s account, didn’t feel like there was sufficient evidence to pursue a court order for evidence. So, they closed their investigation as inconclusive.
And now, a young woman will forever be a rape survivor who will live knowing that nothing was done.
Amy isn’t her real name, but she is as real as the woman sitting beside you on the bus. She can be your neighbor, your sister or your friend. She is one of many women who have experienced sexual harassment in and out of the workplace. In Amy’s case, it ended with rape.
At Rethink Staffing, we promise to take care of our agents, not just financially but emotionally and physically as well. We’d make sure Amy would no longer be a scared young woman. She would rise to a leadership position because we’d be there beside her, coaching her as she moved up the ladder into management.
ABOR #4: “You will never feel threatened at work” was created after a few of our agents shared similar experiences with me and our HR team, as well as after RTS itself had one instance each of sexual harassment, sexual predation, and inappropriate sexual relations between a manager and his employee. This all occurred in 2016.
ABOR #4 is deeply personal for me on many levels. As a traditional “white guy” from the United States, I grew up socially and sexually during the 1990’s, with Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, and Anita Hill as the backdrop. I, like many of my peers, was told one thing by our baby-boomer fathers, hearing another from Gloria Steinem and Monica Lewinsky, and yet a third from the young women we were pursuing in college. We were all very confused about what level of respect and consent was appropriate.
I’m a Gen-Xer too which means that I’m the child of a Baby Boomer, and these days, the CEO of a company populated by many millennials. The differences in sexual norms, consent, choice, and preference have changed tremendously between those two generations, with me and my Gen-X and Gen-Y peers (at least in America) sandwiched in between. My generational peers certainly feel it as well; we speak about how we are stuck in the middle between two generations with large differences in the way they think about what a workplace should be.
In addition to growing up in the 90’s, and being between two generations, the other thing that the 1990’s gave to me is a deep, clear sense of social justice as an overriding value by which I live my life, and which, for a while at least, seemed to be a clear goal in world politics.
So back in 2016, when those incidents happened in a work environment I created, I was enraged and embarrassed. My alpha-male warrior sense was ready to avenge what had happened to people that worked for me, but I was also embarrassed that I had missed how our environment was preventing social justice from existing in our company.
As I said in my founding post for this company, I was ashamed but not powerless. In addition to cleaning up our environment, I knew I need to protect people. And in order to protect people, I knew that not only did I have to promise to protect them, but I had to actually do it.
And so, the ABOR — particularly ABOR #4 — was born. Many parts of the ABOR were created largely as a document to ensure social justice in our workplace. It defines not just who we are, but also what our people are capable of doing. Both Agents and management.
Given that the majority of Agents working in Philippine call centers have reported feeling unsafe not only in their workplace but outside of it, too. ABOR #4 ensures that Agents can come to work at RTS without any stress that isn’t created by the demands of their jobs.
I keep returning to this theme as I write this series — how can you perform at your best if you’re feeling scared, sick, or worried about money? No one can, not an Agent in the Philippines, not a CEO in America.
So, it’s really no surprise that by putting the ABOR — most especially ABOR #4 — into place, we’re proving what many business leaders have known for some time: take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers. We’re just applying to the developing world and have created a fuller framework and more elucidated philosophy. And the result is outperforming results for our clients by our agents.
This is the core of what we are discovering with the ABOR and the RTS culture of “doing good while doing well.” I alternatively call it “Social Justice for Profit.” The ABOR gives us the power to make this vision a reality. And most of that power comes from ABOR #4: “You will never feel threatened at work.”