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Taking The Stigma Out

Taking The Stigma Out


The experience of sexual harassment is subjective, but the test of whether an act can be construed as sexual harassment under the POSH Act is an objective test.


 

The experience of sexual harassment is subjective, but the test of whether an act can be construed as sexual harassment under the POSH Act is an objective test. In a virtual or hybrid context, these lines can be further blurred. As custodians of employee well-being and safety, there is a lot that you can do to sensitise employees and make the workspace safe for all.

 

In a span of two years or less, we have witnessed changes across personal and professional fronts that would have taken a decade or more to be effected. At some level, it may have been a good thing, but at various others, it has resulted in individuals, teams and organisations having to adapt to changes without either having the time to plan it through or to go with the flow. The issue of training and sensitising employees on the prevention of sexual harassment are a few aspects.

 

Virtual/hybrid workplace adds to layers of complexity

 

Apart from having individuals with distinct backgrounds, we now have team members who may have never interacted with each other in person in the past, and not have had the opportunity or the time to build a rapport. In such a scenario, with the added complication of having to work from home or in a hybrid model, it is important to have clear lines of communication and an understanding of one’s boundaries.

 

The Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) Act includes all spaces that an individual operates from under the purview of the Act. Consequently, working from home and all virtual modes of communication such as messaging apps, emails and video/ audio conferencing platforms can be included under the scope and mode of a workplace.

 

Unlike in a physical context, where one has visibility to another person’s expressions and physical cues, in a virtual scenario, the chances of a certain kind of behaviour being misconstrued are higher. Similarly, the chances of misconduct may go unreported because of the stigma around the subject and one-to-one mode of communication. Does this mean that it is relatively harder to prevent sexual harassment in a virtual or hybrid workplace? Yes, it is challenging, but can be handled by leveraging the power of technology.

 

 A combination of technology and physical interactions

 

 Under the POSH law, companies are required to carry out POSH trainings and refreshers every year. The temptation to make the refreshers a check box activity might be higher, but it would be worthwhile to invest in customised e-courses that are created with the organisation’s unique mix in mind.

 

For first time training, a combination of physical sessions or virtual interactions with experts will go a long way in establishing the tone for how seriously the organisation views the issue. Refresher courses that are upgraded each year and supplemented with minimum qualifier tests, quizzes and feedback surveys can keep reinforcing the message.

 

If you are a large organisation with 5,000+ employees, you may consider integrating an e-course into your LMS. For organisations that have employees between 1,000-5,000, a combination of trainer-led sessions along with virtual assessments is possible. Alternately, irrespective of the size of the organisation, you may consider completely outsourcing the training and evaluation process to experts.

 

Integrate conversations around sexual harassment

 

 Today, conversations around sexual harassment in an organisation are limited to when a complaint is filed or when trainings are conducted. The fact is that the stigma around the subject is so high that even when an individual experiences sexual harassment, more often than not, they are not likely to report it. Dealing with a sexual harassment complaint as per the provisions of the law is one thing, but creating an environment that deters such behaviour in the first place is a completely different ballgame altogether.

 

 

Regular anonymous surveys; conversations during appraisal discussions and team discussions on the subject conducted with utmost sensitivity and confidentiality will ensure that employees feel comfortable with opening up on the subject. Sexual harassment is an issue that requires concerted efforts from senior leadership and individual team leads to create an environment that is conducive to creating a safe workspace.

 

It would be an understatement to say that advancements in technology have helped the world survive the pandemic. It is for us to leverage this very technology to bring about lasting changes within the organisation and drive positive benefits. Let us use virtual platforms to create powerful conversations around subjects that have remained taboo for very long and use the power of anonymity, technology provides to encourage more individuals to come forward to talk about their experiences. Physical or virtual, let us ensure our workplaces are environments that all employees feel comfortable in.

Aparajita Amar is an advocate, certified sexual harassment and workplace diversity advisor and founder of SHLC - Sexual Harassment Law Compliance Advisory. She is reachable on [email protected]

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