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Sexual harassment at the workplace is an employment issue, not a 'women’s issue'

Company law expert Archana Khosla Burman on the POSH Act and empowering women in the workplace

April 03, 2021 / 07:33 AM IST
Mumbai-based Archana Khosla Burman is an active member of the POSH committees of several companies.

Mumbai-based Archana Khosla Burman is an active member of the POSH committees of several companies.

Archana Khosla Burman is the founder-partner of Vertices Partners, which is considered among the top 10 law firms of India in the private equity and venture capital space. With a team of over 40, the firm has handled over 200 cases in the past four years since its launch.

Raised in an Armed Forces family, Archana opted for a career in corporate law early on. “It allows me to maximise my impact on the startup economy as well as women’s empowerment. These are the two fundamentals for a healthy economy,” says the 39-year-old.

Archana and her husband and cofounder Vinayak Burman closely work with young entrepreneurs, offering legal solutions to help navigate through their journeys. They also conduct workshops for the holistic development of new and future entrepreneurs.

Based in Mumbai, Archana is fond of music and plays the keyboard and guitar. She sits on the advisory board of several new-age ventures and is an active member of POSH (The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace – Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal Act, 2013) committees of several companies.

We asked her about the POSH Act and its implementation, and the barriers to women’s empowerment in India.


What holds women back from achieving their fullest potential?

In a society where there may be forces that consciously or subconsciously hamper women’s growth, globally, I believe that the only antidote women have for themselves is their thinking. These circumstances, in fact, call for us to rid ourselves of restrictive or negative thought processes so we can break the glass ceiling for ourselves, and in doing so, for other women.

Do you believe the POSH Act has had any impact on the ground, and what is your view on women’s equality and safety in Indian workplaces at present?

The POSH Act has indisputably brought cases of sexual harassment to light and increased visibility, awareness and recognition even at the grassroot level of organisations. It has empowered women employees by prescribing a comparatively convenient mechanism of complaint redressal in such cases.

However, there are still many organisations that have not implemented POSH policies. Due to poor implementation and awareness of the POSH Act, this problem continues to be pervasive and rampant. While the POSH Act is widely regarded as a milestone legislation in India’s history, a great deal of work needs to be done to ensure a safe, equal, and secure working environment for all women.

Some critics of the POSH law say that it could make some organisations more wary of hiring women. What are your thoughts on this?

There is no data or a substantive study on sexual harassment to support the argument that organisations have become more apprehensive of onboarding women after the POSH law came into force. The POSH law only provides complementary protection to women and the same must be clearly addressed in training sessions for such policies in every organisation.

The fundamental problem here is that the various stakeholders involved primarily view the issue of sexual harassment at the workplace as a ‘women’s issue’ and not as an employment issue. The focal point needs to be on creating a safe work environment and in developing gender-sensitive social protection policies by addressing the real problem of hostile work environment.

The definition of employer and workplace under the POSH law is wide enough to cover even one’s home in the current lockdown scenario and, therefore, it is practically impossible to escape the ambit of this law. Employers must view compliance with the POSH law as instrumental in achieving greater growth of business and a sustainable work environment.

In India, women work in both the unorganised sector and the organised one. How optimistic are you about women’s workplace rights trickling down to all socio-economic strata?

The POSH law has a wide scope, thereby covering both formal and informal economies. It recognises every woman’s right to a safe and secure working environment, irrespective of age, employment status and capacity of work.

A large portion of the unorganised sector comprises female workforce, and due to their vulnerability and lack of agency, effective implementation of the POSH law becomes more pertinent in this sector.

With more conversation on these lines, changing approaches towards addressing the real issues, and significant involvement of judiciary and government agencies, better implementation of the POSH law can be achieved at all socio-economic levels.

First published in eShe magazine.
Manasvi Jerath

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