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Last Updated : Oct 17, 2019 04:38 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

One year since MeToo: Has India Inc’s attitude changed?

The first response by corporates is to brush the incident under the carpet

M Saraswathy @maamitalks

In August, a 36-year-old financial services sector employee Mita Nayyar complained against her manager to the company’s human resource (HR) head. The person in question had a reputation for being overly flirtatious and she found it unacceptable.

However, the HR manager laughed off the instances which Nayyar found disrespectful. And such a response is not only a sector-specific malady.

In Tamil Nadu’s textile hub Tirupur, HR officials say that attrition rates of women at garment factories are skyrocketing. The reason? Supervisors consistently ignore sexual harassment complaints.

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Just a year ago in October 2018, India woke up to the news of a host of public figures including actors, performers, artists and top business executives being alleged perpetrators of sexual harassment against women.

India Inc was, in fact, jolted out of its practice of inaction against sexual harassment offenders and lack of empathy toward victims. However, a year later, things seem to be returning to the status quo.

While a Moneycontrol analysis showed the number of complaints increased, HR experts pointed out that the data is comparative, as hundreds of complaints are still not even registered.

Even Nayyar’s complaint for instance was not officially filed as per the provisions of Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, since the HR did not take the incident seriously.

Also read: Nifty companies see a rise in POSH complaints

The first response by corporates is still to brush the incident under the rug. Several HR heads whom Moneycontrol spoke to, admitted that if it is a set of ‘stray’ incidents of bosses misbehaving with a female employee or sharing adult content, they would counsel the woman and close the matter without filing it as an official complaint.

Another one added that only if there has been a 'reliable evidence' of incidents like molestation or assault would they proceed with a complaint. The justification is that several women from smaller towns do not know what 'acceptable' social behaviour is. For instance, a regular hug by a male boss to his female subordinate may be seen as inappropriate by her but may not warrant any action.

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act says that a series of unwelcome remarks and actions would constitute sexual harassment. These include physical advances, demand for sexual favours, making sexually-coloured remarks as well as any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.

Contractual employees and factory workers have a far worse situation, especially since a large proportion of them are not even aware of their rights in the workplace.

On paper, companies are following all regulatory provisions of the POSH Act. They have internal complaints committees in place, hold regular awareness workshops about POSH and declare their workplaces as 'women-friendly'. But the reality is completely different.

India Inc. has become far more conscious in the last year since POSH cases impacted employers' reputation. But, what seems to be driving change is the fear of ‘being outed on social media’ rather than a genuine concern for female employees.

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First Published on Oct 12, 2019 10:58 am
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