As a responsible, progressive organization, you are probably compliant with the law in all facets of preventing workplace sexual harassment. Your redressal mechanisms are in place, your committees are operational, and you may have conducted all the mandatory sensitization trainings. But you may be missing a key tool – have you truly empowered your women employees to deal with it?
An intrinsically equitable and healthy work-environment has the following key features-
- Compliance with the law
- An educated and informed employee-base
- A fair, balanced and robust redressal system
- The most vital feature – Agency of the individual.
For workplaces to be truly equitable, individual employees need both an environment that safeguards and protects their rights, and agency to wield the tools as they see fit. Without the former, the workplace is just anarchy and chaos with the loudest and strongest voices winning every time; and without the latter, the employer is just a nanny.
Let me explain why I believe it is vital for women employees to be sensitized vis-à-vis workplace sexual harassment. While educating them as to their rights is a critical part of it, the most important reason is enabling them in their right to choose how they want to deal with harassment. Do not interpret this as “a women’s problem” or the women employees’ responsibility to stop harassment. On the contrary, this is about providing women with the choice, and if required, the skills, to articulate their own message. Most importantly, this is an attempt to equalize the social power imbalance that exists, to a large extent, between the two genders in our country. The obvious caveat, of course, is to be sensitive towards the content and delivery of these trainings. Ensure that the sessions are about true empowerment and agency, and not an inadvertent or explicit attempt at victim-blaming.
If you can do this, and at the same time provide a supportive mechanism for de-escalating or penalizing sexual harassment when it happens, you will have gone a long way in complying with not just the letter of the law, but the spirit of it – a far more laudable aim.