How Corporates Must Handle the Wave of #MeToo Allegations and Their Fallout
The #MeToo Movement Reaches India and Spreads Worldwide
In recent weeks, the #MeToo movement, which encourages women to speak up on their harassment at the workplace and end the culture of silence, has been all over the place, both in India and the United States.
Indeed, this trend of naming and shaming the men who harassed women during the course of work started in the United States a year ago and has been responsible for many very reputed and highly visible men losing their jobs as well as being hauled up in court.
Now with this phenomenon reaching India, it is time for corporates and the HR (Human Resources) personnel to finally acknowledge and take steps to handle it.
The fact that corporates care about their reputation means that the fallout from such accusations must also be handled with care and compassion and at the same time, in a professional manner, no matter how high the alleged perpetrator is and no matter how important or valuable they are for the organization.
Before that, the corporates must also ensure that they care more about the victims than about any perceptual losses and as we discuss subsequently, this must inform the direction of the probe as well as the tone and tenor of the succeeding conversation within the organizations.
Ending the Culture of Denial and Silence
Indeed, the last point is very important as it is the case that most corporates often treat Sexual and Gender harassment more in denial than in acknowledgement and more in acceptance in covert ways than facing it overtly.
For instance, there are many seasoned professionals world over who would rather prefer to talk about sexual harassment in private, though they know that it happens in their workplaces. In other words, the focus of many corporates is to sidestep and push the issue under the carpet rather than speak up and address the grievances and redress the pain and the prejudice.
On the other hand, it is also the case that many victims of sexual harassment often do not report such instances because there is an invisible barrier that they face when they do report as well as the peer pressure and the wink and nod culture that deters them from seeking redress and justice.
Thus, the lesson for corporates is that they must make a genuine attempt to address the issue instead of merely paying lip service to the same.
It is Important to Have Mechanisms for Discreet Probes and Inquiries
Having said that, it is also the case that there must be a proper inquiry and a mechanism to deal with such cases of sexual harassment.
For instance, studies have shown that many corporates in India do not even have an Anti Sexual Harassment Committee to deal with complaints and a structure to investigate them despite the passage of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act by the Indian Parliament in 2013.
Moreover, with the exception of a few large and medium sized corporates, there arent many firms that have even rudimentary forms or mechanisms to let women even report such cases, let alone investigate and address them.
Thus, the clear implication here is that unless corporates take the issue seriously, the backlash in the form of the #MeToo and the other such movements would only be more severe sooner rather than later.
However, this is not to say that they must be spurred into action only when there are allegations and in our research and experience, we have come across many corporates that do have clear guidelines on dealing with sexual harassment.
Indeed, this is wakeup call for India Inc. to acknowledge and address an issue that has historically been denied or at best, whispered about.
Learned Helplessness and Organizational Culture Harm Women
A key aspect to note about the treatment of women at the workplace is explained by the term Learned Helplessness which is used in Behavioral Psychology to describe how people tend to behave based on past experiences and tends to act and think in ways that are informed by such experiences.
For instance, when the dominant culture at the workplace is of denial or worse, an attitude of boys will be boys or shrug it off with a laugh, then women are not encouraged to report sexual harassment.
Moreover, even in the cases that get reported, if no action is taken against the perpetrators and the victims, in turn are transferred or made to resign, this has a cascading effect on other women who have been at the receiving end and hence, they would rather Shut Up and Put Up instead of coming out into the open.
Mind you, this is not restricted to India or a few countries alone, and as the stories in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement have shown, even supposedly liberal Silicon Valley firms are suspect in such cases.
Thus, HR managers do have to take the lead and incentivize and motivate women to report rather than forget.
Lastly, it is also incumbent upon the corporates to follow strict confidentiality and protect the privacy of the victims.
A key reason why the #MeToo movement exploded is that many victims have found themselves to be at the receiving end of further harassment thereby forcing them to come out into the open encouraged and buoyed by the stories of other women.
To conclude, as mentioned earlier, #MeToo must serve as a tipping point as far as gender discrimination is concerned and it is the responsibility of all stakeholders to make it #NoMore.
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