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Women's Safety in the Workplace

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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/massive 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 on their terms.

However, everyday women are mistreated in the workplace by their co-workers. After the #metoo and #timesup 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 work. The incident led her to leave her team and eventually Uber. Following the incident, many other harassment complaints were filed. In mid-2017, Uber fired 20 employees after investigating the sexual harassment claims and workplace culture.

The statistics on sexual harassment in the workplace are very shocking. And it varies from place to place. According to the survey, 81 percent of women have faced sexual harassment in their lives.

Sexual harassment can lead to anxiety, depression, lower self-esteem, alienation, and overall physical and mental health degradation.

It’s disturbing that women at 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 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 that means a favor for a favor or this for that. However, the expression varies in different contexts. But in the context of sexual harassment, the term means seeking sexual favors in exchange for any work benefits, promotions, salary increments, or fulfillment of any asked favors.

Hostile Work Environment: A hostile work environment is a general form of sexual harassment. It is an influence or behavior targeted towards women, making it hard for them to work in a workplace. According to several surveys, the 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.

Facts about sexual harassment according to U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Here are some crucial 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.

5 Ways to Ensure Women’s Safety in the Workplace

1. Sexual Harassment Policy:

Any big/small organizations must have a Sexual Harassment Policy which defines:

  • Sexual harassment and its forms
  • Explain the zero-tolerance approach
  • Educate on inappropriate conduct
  • Outline consequences

2. Create Awareness Among the Employees:

It’s sad that many organizations 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.

Creating 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 create awareness of women’s safety in the workplace.

Wellness programs are a 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 the workplace. Therefore without understanding the root cause, you cannot stop any discrimination against women.

3. Encourage Women to Express:

Generally, women facing sexual harassment don’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 from expressing themselves. They feel shame and 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. Try 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.

4. Role of an HR:

HR needs to explain to the employees about the safe work environment. And must play the role of an intermediate to highlight any complaint or any women issues to higher authorities.

In the Workplace Orientation Programme, HR needs to give strict guidelines on sexual harassment to the new employees.

It is HR’s role to bring notice of any unwelcome behavior faced by the employees to higher authorities. Since the management needs to take unbiased actions, the participation of HR is most important here.

Infosys is doing it right in this aspect.

Richard Lobo, 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 receive case studies of what is okay and what is not okay in 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.

5. 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 expressing herself near ICC, in that case, her co-worker, friend, or relative can complain. But, to do so, they need to have written consent from her.

ICC then takes the responsibility to investigate the issue properly. The inquiry should take place within 90 days. And once completed, a report has to be issued within ten days.

Any workplace with ten or more employees needs to form ICC to address sexual harassment in the workplace. ICC should have a team of at least four 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 an NGO committed to the cause of women.

Organizations need to develop tactics and ideas that suit them best to ensure women’s safety in the workplace. And they must have a sexual harassment policy. And it could vary with the demographic and types of harassment one faces in the organizations.

Sexual harassment and degradation of women in the workplace is not a recent story. It has been prevailing in the world for decades. As a part of society, we must 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

This article is written by Braja Deepon Roy. He works as a Content Creator and Digital Marketer at Vantage Circle. He actively participates in the growth of corporate culture and keeps himself updated in this space. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com

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