Around four years ago, when Viji Hari, an ex-Infosys employee, wanted to branch out on her own, she zeroed in on something that focused on keeping the leering corporate-man/woman at bay.
It was in 2013 that she began an HR consultancy -Kelp HR- that specializes in prevention and redressal of sexual harassment at the workplace, especially in the corporate world.
“It was the same year that the Union Government issued the ‘Vishaka’ Guidelines on sexual harassment. That became our focus,” she says, while speaking to the News Minute.
She began with a survey and realized that sexual harassment in the corporate world was a crucial issue that needed to be addressed on an immediate basis. As an HR consultant firm, they did their bit by setting up internal committees for ‘Prevention and Redressal of Sexual Harassment’ in the companies they worked with. This was also supplemented by conducting awareness classes for the management as well as the employees.
“Apart from formulating requisite policies and holding awareness workshops, we also look into the complaints that are lodged. We conduct a detailed investigation, working alongside the redressal committee,” Viji elaborates.
Kelp HR’s recent all-India survey revealed that 22% of employees are victims to some form of sexual harassment at their workplace. This is from a total of 291 working professionals who participated in the survey.
Among these, 5% of the victims are male. 46% of the employees surveyed were not clear on what actually comprises sexual harassment.
According to Viji, as seen in any other sector, the victims harboured their own apprehensions, and were hesitant to report the unpleasant experiences they had faced at work.
“It is here that the management can play a very important role, as an effective redressal mechanism depends on the level of transparency involved. If cases are dealt by the management without preconceived notions or bias, the victim would feel more confident about reporting the same. Also, many a time, victims are embarrassed or even ashamed to speak about such experiences. They are worried over what others would think of them. In the survey, 62% of the victims just did not want to report the incident,” she remarks.
Viji has also authored a book ‘BCC: Behind Closed Cubicles’, which includes 18 short stories that narrate real-life incidents. The book mainly deals with what all can be constituted as harassment inside the premises of an office.
Cartoons in the book
The blurb conveys it all. ‘You look gorgeous, Honey!....Anything for you…..I love you from the bottom of my heart…..It was only a joke…You should learn to enjoy!'
Sounds familiar? But what happens when these caressing words are spoken at the wrong place and in the wrong tone?
Viji takes pains to reiterate that sexual harassment does not imply physical molestation alone: “Dirty jokes on WhatsApp groups or even a simple handshake can prove to be a disturbing experience. For a girl who hails from a cultural background where even simple hugs or partying are not a given, forcing her to comply is harassment.”
What makes it even sadder –Viji feels- is that the girl may not even be aware that this is a form of harassment. But the uncomfortable feeling that she gets every time she is subject to these deemed ‘social’ actions will have a lasting impact on her psyche. And that is exactly what the book tries to explain, tells Viji.
People feel -she says- it is fine to gossip or spread rumours about others: “Before spreading or even sharing a rumour, just think for a moment if it is about you. Would you be okay with that? Thoughtless little actions can lead to graver incidents. People think that they can get away with such so-called ‘inane’ acts -ones that are never taken seriously. But even these constitute harassment. And this is not gender-specific, mind you!”
“In the book I have mentioned an incident about a man being harassed by his senior at the office. When his wife complained, initially, we thought the person and his boss may be in some sort of a relationship. But truth be told, the boss was indeed harassing him,” Viji recalls.
Complaints of this nature are more frequently heard in the corporate world than cases of actual sexual assault. More and more corporate companies have now begun taking these complaints on a serious note, which in itself is an encouraging trend, she adds.