I was shocked when my student called me yesterday and shared her sister’s experience of sexual harassment at work.
She said that it started with just a friendship request from one of her colleagues. And then the guy went on to cross certain limits in and outside of the office too.
How it all started :
Miss Amruta(name changed) took an internship role at a tech company.
“I saw boundaries being crossed but felt powerless to do something about it,” she shared her feeling to her friend.
That is, until one day when that colleague—senior to her, came to her cubicle and grabbed her waist uninvited. She would’ve slapped him, she says. But she couldn’t imagine slapping someone at work.
There was a voice in the back of her head that blamed herself. But, when you’re a student, an intern, a new hire or junior, you feel like you have no power and are very easily replaceable. Isn’t it?
That moment in her cubicle, however, that made her extremely uncomfortable but felt harder that, “This is harassment. This isn’t a funny joke.”
That was really shocking. But I felt sad that instead of raising her voice she resigned.
We talked on the delicate issue of ‘Sexual harassment‘ for a while and at the end she asked me, “Mam, did you ever experience such thing in your career? Have you ever been a victim to such harassment?”
Well, I have been working since last 15years and now that this question is raised by a very young lady, I decided to write on this topic and try to make it as informative as possible including some laws in our country.
And give some ways to avoid and how not to fall victim to sexual harassment anywhere.
Early stage of my career :
Let me tell you that people had tried, there were such attempts made in that direction. BUT. They had never been successful.
I would share one experience when I was very young and fresher.
During my very first week in the office, my senior colleague sent me a text message after office hours asking , “Hey, do you have a boyfriend?”
I replied “NO”
I accept, I was really stupid at the first question because instantly, I started thinking.
What kind of question was that?
And I was wondering, What was that have to do with my work?
What was his intention?
Why was he asking me such kind of question?
Now that I had already replied to his first message, my gut feeling told me that he was not the right person. And I regretted for my reply but at least I was alert then.
After a few minutes to my reply, I got another message, “Hey I am so surprised.”
Now look, as I had already knew his intention, I didn’t blushed or smiled at his reply. Because till then I knew he was playing a very tricky game.
You know it well, right?
After that he kept on sending messages and messages:
“Can we have a coffee together?”
“Is just a coffee off the limits?”
“What happened?” “Why aren’t you replying?”
“Are you angry?”
But I kept quiet. I did not reply to any of his messages after that.
Because I very well knew that silence is a powerful weapon and silence can do a lot of things that talking could not!
You must have the sense to distinguish between the two and thus, decide about when to talk and when not!
In several situations, silence can actually do wonders, provided that we are able to deal with it appropriately. After that day, the guy never looked at me or talked to me. Perhaps, he was thinking what’s there in my mind. Whether I complain about him or not.
So, I had not done great job or showed a huge courage. But I tried to stop him at stage 1, instead of worrying at stage 4-5.
Now if you feel that, it was just a friendly gesture, then let me tell you that it’s not.
I have seen; it has ruined careers, reputations, and work of years of some really talented people.
But with such stains on their image/character, talent really goes waste and spoils everything. And there are certain types of people, whom you’ve to deal with utmost cautiousness.
In professional life, it is really tricky and dirty game which begins with ‘just a coffee??’ or ‘are you married?’. It’s played not only with women but men too. (With women it’s often)
Once you open the gates of your availability into the game, you may loose your career. This game is called flirtation or sexual harassment.
What is sexual harassment?
- Unwanted jokes, gestures, offensive words on clothing, and unwelcome comments
- Touching and any other bodily contact such as scratching or patting a coworker’s back, grabbing an employee around the waist etc.
- Repeated requests for dates
- Transmitting or posting emails or pictures of a sexual or other harassment-related nature
- Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, or posters
- Playing sexually suggestive music
Quid pro quo Harassment:
The Latin term quid pro quo translates to “something for something.”
When a manager or other authority figure offers or hints that he or she will give the employee something (a raise or a promotion) in return for that employee’s satisfaction of a sexual demand.
This also occurs when a manager or other authority figure says he or she will not fire an employee in exchange for some type of sexual favor.
A job applicant also may be the subject of this kind of harassment if the hiring decision was based on the acceptance or rejection of sexual advances.
Zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment:
There should be a clear zero tolerance policy in any organization. Regardless of an employee’s status within the organization, should they be found guilty of sexually harassing a colleague or staff member there should be immediate consequences.
Responsibility of Employer:
In some countries, the burden of preventing sexual harassment rests on the employers.
In the United States, Canada and in some European Union Member States, employers are responsible for providing their employees with a work environment that is free of harassment.
Employers are, therefore, required by law to take steps to prevent and deal with harassment in the workplace.
In India also, some duties of employers are mentioned in the act of Sexual harassment by the Central Government. Please read or download the PDF provided on Indian Government site given below:
Preventing sexual harassment at workplace:
- Be aware and conscious of engaging in potential sexual-harassment behaviors or incidents at work;
- Be strict for the work location and working hours. What I mean is, if it’s work related , the meeting should strictly be at office or at any public place and within the fixed hours. And it should be on record. There are examples where seniors forced to meet in a hotel room or at their home, covering their intention under the name of peaceful work environment. But avoid such meetings by requesting them to change the location.
- Do not take sexual harassment lightly.
- If you think you are being sexually harassed by an individual or a group, do not accept it as a joke.
- Do not encourage the harasser by smiling, laughing at his/her jokes.
- Let the harasser know that you do not enjoy and do not want this type of attention.
- Your look, body-language or any non verbal communication should send a hint to the person that you’re not accepting his behavior.
- Do not agree immediately. “Anytime” should never be your answer. Because it sends him a wrong message of your immaturity and also full authority on your decision making.
- Take time, think, and then respond. Your opinion should have value in front of anyone.
- The moment you realize the change or advance in the behavior of the person, react. Respond to those changes at that instant itself.
- If possible, confront the sexual harasser immediately. Tell him/her that you find that type of attention offensive;
- Consider writing a letter to the harasser and keep a copy for yourself;
- Document all the incidents of sexual harassment.
- Be detailed, precise about date, time, location, and person/persons involved.
Report any concerns immediately
If you feel someone in your organization has behaved inappropriately towards you or you have concerns regarding a colleague, raise your concern immediately. Your company policy should highlight the importance of confidentiality so you can raise your concern without fearing any negative consequences such being fired.
If you know someone who is being harassed, give him or her your support. When any employee files a complaint, if possible, support him or her throughout the complaint process.
Harassment at work assessment
This assessment is designed to measure your perception of sexual harassment in your workplace.
Think about your current workplace including co-workers, clients and people you come into contact with in your day to day work.
- Has someone at work ever made work related promises(a raise, promotion, extra opportunities) in return for unwanted physical or verbal behavior?
- Once or twice
- Frequently or All the time
- Have you ever been threatened with negative consequences at work for failing to accept requests of unwanted physical behavior?
- Once or twice
- Frequently /All the time
- Has anyone at work shared or caused you to see sexually explicit or inappropriate content?
- Once or twice
- Frequently /All the time
- Does your organization have a sexual harassment policy?
- Don’t know
- Have you ever received physical contact from someone at work that made you feel uncomfortable? (Example: Touching or massaging your shoulders or back or ‘accidentally’ touching you inappropriately)
- Once or twice
- Frequently /All the time
- How seriously do you think your organization would deal with a report of sexual harassment?
- Very seriously
- Somewhat seriously
- Not very seriously
- Not seriously at all
#Metoo movement in India
For far too long, Indian women were conditioned to remain silent to avoid disturbing the status.
Yes, there are rapes and sexual assault cases every day and there is an outrage for selective rape cases that jolts the nation.
But apart from that, women are expected to keep quiet. And also accept that India is safe because there are some countries that are even worse than India.
However, in 2018, there was a storm in India.
2018 saw the rise of the #MeToo movement in India. Inspired by a global campaign against sexual harassment and assault, women across the spectrum opened up and shared their stories about abuse by men in positions of power.
And it began in October with actress Tanushree Dutta accusing actor Nana Patekar of sexual harassment while shooting for the 2008 film ‘Horn Ok Please’.
Women named and shamed their abusers, most of whom held powerful positions in their respective fields including politics, Bollywood, journalism, and media.
Despite the anticipated backlash, hate messages, and the taboo attached to being a victim, women in large numbers came out with their accounts of harassment and abuse.
But some women were accused of destroying men’s careers. And some people blamed them for their timings – why speaking now?. There were claims that considered the victims as ‘attention-seeking’ women who only did it to get some fame.
Some women wished to remain anonymous because of the obvious consequences that could hurt them personally and professionally. But some who dared to go public with their stories faced terrible consequences.
“If you tell your employer, then they will fire you … Police are the worst. They ask really inappropriate questions.” – said one of the victims.
“With no one to turn to, most women just bottle it all up inside. They learn to ignore or normalize it”
However, despite the push-back from society in general, it was empowering to see women daring to report their accounts publicly.
Anyways, handling all this things really needs a lot of courage. But make yourself strong within and learn to remain silent in some situations.
I request, don’t engage that category of men. Recognize them with your gut feeling and stay away. And such people exists everywhere. Disuss with your friends or collegues. Stay aware.
Don’t enter in that dirty game of sexual harassment. Not only at your workplace but anywhere. What are your opinions on the issue, please write in the comments box given below. Let’s make each other strong.