Women's Safety in the Workplace
Women’s safety and its issues are discussed and debated all around the globe. Still every year the number of reports on sexual harassment is increasing at an alarming rate.
Men and boys, we show our manhood through the way we treat our women. Our colleagues, our wives, our sisters, our mothers.
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu
In the past decade, women have progressively earned a higher standard in the workplace. Women are now gaining higher positions and form a big/huge section of any working sector around the globe.
Women now are more independent in every sense. They are competent enough to take care of themselves and their families. They are more able to make their own life choices and live in their own terms.
However, everyday women are mistreated in the workplace by their co-workers. After the #metoo and #timesup movement in the U.S, more women are coming forward to tell their horror stories. Susan Fowler, an ex-employee from Uber claimed how her team manager harassed her on the very first day at her work. The incident led her to leave her team and eventually Uber. Following the incident, many other harassment complaints were filed. In the mid-2017, Uber fired 20 employees after investigating into the sexual harassment claims and workplace culture.
The statistics on sexual harassment in the workplace is very shocking. And it varies from place to place. According to the survey, 81 percent of women have faced some form of sexual harassment in their lives.
Sexual harassment can lead to anxiety, depression, lower self-esteem, alienation and overall degradation of their physical and mental health.
It’s a disturbing fact that women in work still face sexual harassment, which is why many of them even quit their jobs.
Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
Sexual harassment is the unwanted or inappropriate promise of rewards in exchange for sexual favors.
It is the unwelcome sexual behavior, which makes a person feel offended, humiliated, degraded or intimidated. It is non-consensual and unacceptable.
Forms of Sexual Harassment
Quid Pro Quo: Quid Pro Quo is a Latin phrase which literally means a favor for a favor or this for that. Though the phrase varies in different contexts. But in sexual harassment it means seeking sexual favors in exchange for any work benefits, promotions, salary increments or fulfillment any asked favors.
Hostile Work Environment: A Hostile work environment is a general form of sexual harassment. Its an influence or behavior targeted towards women, which makes it hard for them to work in a workplace. According to a number of surveys, most prominent hostile work environment actions are:
- Derogatory remarks on females workers.
- Gender discrimination.
- Unpleasant complements, body shaming, stroking or grabbing without consent.
- Sharing pornographic materials through notes or emails.
- Spreading rumors about personal life.
- Rape or attempted rape and so on.
Facts about sexual harassment according to U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Here are some important points on sexual harassment, however, remember that harassment can take place in a variety of circumstances and are not limited to the following:
- The victim and The harasser can be a member of the same or opposite gender.
- The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, the employer’s agent, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
- The victim does not have to be the person harassed. It could be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
- Unlawful sexual harassment may not bring economic injury to the victim or discharge of the victim.
- The harasser’s conduct must be offensive or unwelcome.
Ways to Ensure Women’s Safety in the Workplace
Sexual Harassment Policy:
Any big/small Organisations must have a Sexual Harassment policy which defines:
- Sexual harassment and its forms
- Explain the zero-tolerance approach
- Educate on inappropriate conduct
- Outline consequences
Create Awareness Among the Employees:
It’s sad that many organization and people, in general, are still not aware of women’s safety in the workplace. It’s very clear from the statistics and cases on sexual harassment in the workplace.
To create awareness among the employees on women’s safety and their health is vital. You can use all possible techniques and ideas to spread awareness. Workshops, open group discussions or activities can help to create awareness on women’s safety in the workplace.
Wellness programmes are must when it comes to the physical and psychological health of your workers.
Awareness starts with the implementation of guidelines, and laws against sexual harassment in a workplace. Therefore without understanding the root cause you cannot stop any discrimination against women.
Encourage Women to Express:
Generally, women facing sexual harassment doesn’t speak up. We as a society are responsible for this. We teach our girl child to behave and act in a particular way. Since childhood, we give them a set of do’s and don’t. This conditioning later stops women to express. They are ashamed. They fear consequences. Other reasons are low self-esteem and lack of information.
You must encourage the female employees to express and come out of their discomfort. This can be done by boosting their confidence by implementing equal opportunities for both male and female workers in the workplace. The sense of equality in the workplace will make them fight the social stigma.
Role of an HR:
HR needs to explain to the employees about the safe work environment. And must play the role an intermediate to highlight any complaint or any women issues to higher authorities.
In the Employee Orientation Programme, the HR needs to give strict guidelines on sexual harassment to the new employees.
It is HR’s role to bring notice any unwelcome behavior faced by the employees to higher authorities. Since the authority needs to take unbiased actions. The participation of the HR is most important here.
Infosys is doing it right in this aspect.
In an interview, Richard Lobo, an Executive Vice President and Head of Human Resources at Infosys Ltd, said that whenever people join their organization, especially at the entry level, they undergo training sessions where they give them case studies of what is okay and what is not okay at the workplace.
They also explain the mechanisms to bring misconduct to the attention of someone who can do something about it. therefore, they make sure counseling and support are available.
Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) on Women’s Safety:
The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (“POSH Act”) has made ICC compulsory for both the private and non-private for women’s safety on sexual harassment.
A woman who is harassed can make the complaint within 90 days of the incident. If the woman is not comfortable to express near ICC, in that case, her co-worker, friend or a relative can lodge the complaint as long as they have a written consent from her.
ICC then takes the responsibility to properly investigate the issue. The inquiry should take place within 90 days. And once completed, a report has to be issued within 10 days.
Any workplace that has 10 or more than 10 employees needs to form ICC to address sexual harassment in the workplace. ICC should have a team of at least 4 members. At least 50% of the members should be women. The chairperson of ICC has to be a woman. And half of the members of the committee must have some experience in social work/legal knowledge. There must also be a third party member, who is a social worker from NGO committed to the cause of women.
Organizations needs come up with tactics and ideas which suits them best to ensure women’s safety in a workplace. And they must have a sexual harassment policy. And it could vary with the demographic and types of harassment one face in the organizations.
Sexual harassment and degradation of women in the workplace is not a recent story. It is prevailing in the world for decades. As a part of the society, it’s our duty to make a healthy and safe environment for our women in the workplace.
We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.- Malala Yousafzai