NHRD Chennai Chapter – March 4, 2014 – Hotel Accord Metropolitan South Region Seminar on Sexual Harassment of Women at the workplace

NHRD Chennai Chapter – March 4, 2014 – Hotel Accord Metropolitan
South Region Seminar on Sexual Harassment of Women at the workplace
Inaugural Session:
Sriram Rajagopal – Head HR, Cognizant Technologies – President NHRD Chennai Chapter
SenthilNathan – Head HR, Citigroup – Executive Committee NHRD Chennai Chapter
Justice Prabha Sridevan – Retired Judge, Madras High Court
Bharathi Baskar – Vice President Citibank, Renowned Tamil Orator.
Keynote Address:
Justice Prabha Sridevan
To quote verbatim, the mood for the day was set thus, “To understand the provision of the law, you need to know the how and the why of the law”.
Furthermore, Justice Prabha referred to the daily newspaper entries of the accused in the case of Uma Maheshwari enacting what they did to her in court, the issue of the Delhi helpline wound up due to lack of funds to pay the salaries, etc… . and asked whether we are actually in a positive note of mind on a daily basis.
The speaker brought to the notice of the audience that it was the monumental judgement in 1997 in the case of Vishaka and Ors vs. State of Rajasthan. She observed that without the efforts of Vishaka commission in setting up guidelines to be followed by establishments in dealing with complaints about sexual harassment until legislation could be passed.
She pointed out the reference of Mohd Yunus of Grameen Bank that Women were far liable to pay their debts than men. She pointed out the setting up of Justice Verma committee for gender equality to examine laws related to violence to women.
The point that these incidents brought forth were that the Woman was no longer at home but yet were not aware of their rights. She faces exclusion in the society and that when any such incident happens, she finds herself on the dock rather than the perpetrator. If an incident happens to a woman in a govt office, she finds herself transferred rather than the perp.
What stands in the way of reaching the goal of equality, are the facts that:

  • Any different does not mean less equal,
  • Need a desperate change of status quo,
  • Present attitude leads to a permanent damage,
  • Discomfort in situations cannot take priority in dispensing justice,
  • Unlearn stereotypes and myths.

Vishaka promoted awareness, gave a language and place to complain, identified that every assault – however or whatever it may be – is condemnable and insisted on the system not to alienate the woman.
She felt that inclusion is equality; we must safeguard the work place for protection and build workplace champions for preventions. Access to the work place also needs to be safe else equality has no meaning whatsoever.
Verma Committee stipulated that the employer to play a huge role in work place protection and they are free to set up an internal committee and all complaints to be directed to proposed tribunal only. The committee also mentioned that the employer must organize for educative programs in the premises and develop sanctions for sexual harassment.
She observed that the Radhabhai case in 1995 before the Supreme Court proved that there was no level playing fields for women as the perpetrator is in a place of power and that the glass ceiling exists so longer to provide for an inequality and of being invisible, covert and overt.
She requested the HR teams to create an atmosphere of equality with a balance of work life compounded by cultural value.
She concluded by saying that today’s advertisement content plays a great role in shaping the mind of the young males as the lessons learnt at home translates to the workplace, and the poor portrayal of women in these adverts leads to a thinking of inequality in the minds of the young males.
Special Address:
Mrs. Bharathi Baskar
“We think that being in the corporate world, we are completely isolated from the outside world, but we are not living in a sanitized or a sterilized world and if we don’t realize it, then the seminar just remains a session we attend.”
Mrs. Bharathi Baskar’s topic was more aligned to the reflection of womanhood and what is behind and beneath the woman’s day celebrations and her perception of how she sees Women.
She too takes off from the previous topic of portrayal of women in advertisements. Her observation of how women are normally shown in adverts – removing stains on clothes, cleaning toilets, using creams that would clear up generations of a duller complexion. What are the ad makers trying to tell us? They are just creating a compulsion to be beautiful, be a supermom, cook fast, clean well… . Is that all? She shows disdain for the poor portrayal of women as well as the poor expectation of the modern male.
She goes on record to say that adverts are not created by illiterate gents from any village but by highly paid educated executives. It is they who decide and are responsible for how women are portrayed in media.
Globally 4% of women occupy top positions while in India it was 6%. Not to be a point of pride as 50% of that were women inheriting and not growing in the ranks. While entry level positions figure an uptake of greater than 50% women in the ranks, the mid level dwindles down to 30%. So most of the decisions concerning women are taken only by men and not women. Only in 16 countries do they have women premiers. When there is no equality in the decision making places, what do we do for equality at the workplace?
The speaker refers to the case of Vinodhini, an IT worker who was a victim of an acid attack when she was returning from her hometown by a rejected suitor. She mentions her sorry plight in not even being able to sip some water and wishing to die rather than live in that state. She also refers to the tenacity of Archana Kumar, another acid attack victim, who fought to ensure a massive piece of legislation pertaining to restrictions on the sale of acid by the state government.
The speaker quotes “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Corporates have to concentrate on ethics rather than save face. Corporates are trying to secretly settle between the two parties. Please don’t try to silence the issue.”
She explains that women’s day celebration needs to be a day of remembrance of those pioneers who tried to step out, those women who decided to take a tougher and different route, those women from their own’s families who made it easy for all those others who came after them.
The speaker remembers the 1st Chartered Accountant of Tamil Nadu “Sivabogam”, the first civil engineer “May George”, the first doctor “Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy”, the first doctor in India “Anandhi Gopal Joshi” and the first IAS officer “CD Muthamma”, all pioneers who have faced a very thorny path and beaten it.
The speaker also quoted Justice V.R Krishniyer, “don’t wait for women to question rules and then make amendments”.
She asks us to look around and see that those things we take for granted were very difficult a while earlier. She also talks about Tamil cinema creating a negative cult in the minds of the modern viewer. She refers to the words of the CEO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg “It is possible for women to dominate in academics but not in the corporate – the only reason being men haven’t yet taken up the work at home”. She says that balancing work life is a very bad innuendo as only juggling is possible. Work must be shared and only then work life be possible.
The speaker concludes that instead of the guilty being punished, the victim is advised. There is a need for an atmosphere where women are seen as souls rather than bodies. There is no point in discussing sexual harassment in isolation when the problem is quite at large in the society.
Session I : Overview on Sexual Harassment – prevention, prohibition and redressal.
Panel Members:
Venkata Narayanan – President HR, Rane
Srinath Sridevan – HSB Partners
Anita Suresh – HSB Partners
Chair Address:
Venkata Narayanan
The speaker referred to the implication of the latest episode of Satyamev Jayate.

  • How the Police react to situations
  • What to doctors do?
  • How does the legal community respond?
  • Political ramifications

The speaker quotes “Most of us do not have the skills to deal with such situations and we need to depend on the ecosystem around as simple debriefing sessions are never enough. There is a need to sensitize the stakeholders on understanding the legal framework”
Srinath Sridevan
The speaker concentrated on the intricacies of the Sexual Harassment Act of 2013. Excerpts from the speech are provided below as bullets.

  • Very common to see cases of women refused their work rights as she refused to confer sexual favours in the workplace.
  • Commonality of cases – Petty teases by colleagues but defaming the woman.
  • Sexual harassment is much more rampant and 1 in 6 women have suffered some form of harassment or the other at the workplace.
  • In IT and ITES, as much as 80% of the women are subject to some form of harassment.
  • There were no guidelines for handling such cases prior to Vishaka.
  • The SHW Act 2013 applies to public, private sector, administration offices and dwelling houses.
  • Explanation of who is an aggrieved woman – includes whether employed or not.
  • Concepts of employee and employer
  • Concepts on what constitute a workplace
  • Constitutional make-up of the internal compliance committee
  • Make-up of the local complaints committee
  • What constitutes Sexual harassment and what are included in harassment
  • Broad purposes of the Act – protection, security and redressal of grievance
  • Obligation of the ICC to report the Sexual harassment complaints
  • What are the obligations of the employer
    • Amend service rules to make Sexual harassment a misconduct
    • Assist in the enquiry, secure the attendance of relevant parties
    • Pay fees to external members participating in the committee
    • Trust ICC to draw correct conclusions
    • Provide for inquiry procedure
    • Obligation to take action or cause to take action
    • Conduct workshops and gender sensitization programs
    • Spread awareness of penalty
    • Maintain confidentiality of complaints and the proceedings
    • Interference even if the victim is a non-employee or temporary worker
  • The Act advices to follow principles of natural justice. Act also provides space for appeals.
  • Implementation of obligations within 60 days. Obligations for the workplace and for assisting victims.
  • Victims can ask for the transfer of self or the perp to another department or workplace.
  • The Act provides for penalty for non-compliance.
  • The employer needs to take action even if the harassed employee has left the employment
  • It is possible to – if the service rules of a company allows – withholding the superannuation or resignation or even suspending if the perp is under enquiry.
  • The law is quite expansive and covers a wide area of workplace possibilities and situations
  • If the perp has already left the employment, then the company can help the harassed to raise a criminal complaint.
  • In cases of victim and perp from vendor companies, then company to assist in prosecuting in the client workplace and also assist in lodging a complaint.
  • Sections on filing the annual report – how’s and what’s
  • Act covers electronic media too
  • The Law is set into motions only on a complaint and not before but the service rules of a company can prosecute independently if a case is known
  • ICC can summon the perp even if they has left the service but there is not much the committee can do on non-compliance
  • The Act is very specific that settlement cannot be monetary in kind.

Anita Suresh
The speaker concentrated on the criminal aspects of the Act and its implication to the Indian Penal Code of India.
Excerpts are given below in bullets:

  • Presence of the Criminal law amendment Act from Feb 2013
  • Sexual harassment is now a separate offence under IPC
  • Explanation of company obligations outside the workplace
  • Explanation of what choices or options a victim has in each case
  • Discussion of relevant amendments to IPC viz a viz SHW Act 2013
  • Compulsion of the police department to record the complaint in video graph, obtain a judge’s permission before videotaping
  • Judgment of a woman’s character not to be influencing statutory proceedings
  • Detailed explanation of penalties under IPC
  • Other applicable laws
    • Prohibition of Harassment of Women Act 1998
    • National Commission for Women 1990
    • IT Act 2000
    • Protection of Children from Sexual offences 2012
    • Protection of Human Rights Act 1993 (redress grievances by public servants)
  • Explanation of the many provisions to encourage a woman to file a criminal complaint and its process
  • Possibility of chances for a court to prosecute while ICC had to acquit and the aggrieved to file a complaint with just a support from the organization
  • ICC and IPC are parallel and are not dependent on each other.
  • Penalty on employer for not taking appropriate action

Session II : Investigation on Sexual Harassment Complaints
Speaker: Kanika Bhutani – Associate Director, Ernst and young LLP
The speaker concentrated on the process of investigation and its intricacies. The speaker insisted on Companies to understand the seriousness of the issue. The woman has a right to say that she is not comfortable in sticky situations and the perp to accept it. Organizational level sensitization programs on what are culturally acceptable in each geographical location.
The process of investigation:
Receipt of complaint ➞ Assessment ➞ Interim relief to aggrieved ➞ Facilitate conciliation at request of aggrieved Conduct investigation internally, seek 3rd party intervention ➞ Investigation report to management ➞ Communication by management to aggrieved ➞ Action to be undertaken

  1. Receiving the Complaint
    1. Submit 6 hard copies with signature of witness
    2. Assist the aggrieved in raising the complaint
    3. Extension, if needed, to investigate
    4. Legal heir to file the complaint if the aggrieved is damaged physically or mentally
  2. Assess the allegation
    1. Interview complainant to access damage
    2. Determine the 3rd party
  3. Determine interim relief
    1. Give medical help if required
    2. Transfer or relocate either perp or victim based on victim’s choice
    3. Counseling
    4. Reassign work to victim on her choice
  4. Facilitate conciliation
    1. No monetary settlement
    2. ICC to record settlement
    3. ICC to provide copy of settlement
    4. ICC to record if settlement terms are not met and a new case opens
  5. Prepare investigative strategy and planning
    1. Identify witness
    2. Interviews, document reviews, technology and resource requirement
    3. Allocation of responsibility
    4. Timeline for completion
  6. Obtain Case Evidence
    1. Evidence gathered without the victim
    2. Evidence gathered from the victim
  7. Analyze case evidence
    1. Correlate facts and revalidate findings
    2. Discrepancy, then re-interview
  8. Report to Management
    1. Report on time basis

The speaker also laid groundwork for understanding what investigative interviewing was all about. She touched upon the objectives and introduced the art of interviewing.

  • Structures and formal interviews to be conducted without interruptions
  • Face-face with an objective to gather information
  • Collecting evidence to be the conclusion of the interview and converting the information to evidence to be the purpose
  • Difference between suspect interview and witness interview
  • Two interviewers to be on a panel – interview one by one
  • Showing care to the aggrieved and permit to speak without hindrance
  • ICC being a civil statutory body and perp cannot bring legal representation to the interview
  • Wait for the interviewee to be comfortable before commencing. Interviewer not to threaten or abuse or be aggressive.
  • Interviewer need to probe well and not to be judgmental or emotional.
  • Interviewer to constantly document interview notes and to avoid deceptions while interviewing and to avoid misassumptions
  • Document questions even if they are answered.
  • Investigating by listening to the choice of victim’s words and using the same language
  • Dealing with deceit by observing, analyzing and listening
  • Listening to the interviewee’s linguistic pattern
  • Duty of the interviewer to take control and responsible for getting the information
  • Interviewer to prepare to deal with “off the record” responses, verbal aggression, “no comments” responses, emotions and silence
  • Interviewer to ensure there are no split witnesses and re-interview to get a clear consensus
  • Explanations of the indicative contents of a report and the inclusions of the annual report
  • Usage of computer forensics

Session III : Investigation on Sexual Harassment Complaints
Panel Members:
Sujith Kumar – Location Head – HR, Infosys
Vahidha Nizam – National Secretary, AITUC
Usha Srinivasan – Advisor, eWit
Vahidha Nizam
The speaker set the mood for her session by informing that our directive principles of the constitution itself give a positive discrimination to women. There have been a lot of policies in our IPC. Still…. We get to hear cases of harassment.
The speaker explained in detail why Vishaka and Ors went to Supreme Court when they didn’t get justice in Rajasthan High Court. She mentioned that the compliance is not in even after Vishaka Guidelines were published 16 years ago. She said that she is against the patriarchal mindset which leads to these societal mistakes.
She touched upon the 1949 UN covenant and the rules that are present since 1979. In spite of all these, it’s only since the Delhi incident in 2012 that we all have woken up to the evils of harassment. She impressed that in the corporate sector, Sexual harassment is more quid pro quo. Eg. of Tarun Tejpal case. A hostile environment is created if the woman fails to cooperate. Normally we consider the intent of the perp but we do need to understand the impact on the aggrieved.
Sexual harassment is not just associated with sexuality but rather with a power hierarchy. Society always deemed women to suit her spouses’ needs so normally a plateau is present at the mid level power ranking in any corporate house. Furthermore, it is an ingrained thought that a woman is always a subordinate to be suppressed or oppressed. A raise in complaints of harassment is more due to the fact that reporting is more today.
The speaker informed that AITUC is more concerned about the clause as punishment for false and malicious complaints which could be a huge deterrent to the judicial process in the unorganized sector and the most vulnerable victims being from the construction sector. The false and malicious complaints amount to a very miniscule %.
Most of the comments that are sexually coloured are today taken in stride as being just plain friendly. Predominant judgments are always made on the character of the woman who is aggrieved, even today, resulting in cases being dismissed on a mere technicality. So the question arises where we begin our campaign for an equal society. Such social thinking is actually a deterrent to the very basis of the Act. In most of the cases, the situation needs to be perceived and a woman’s stand needs to be taken as witnesses are always not possible.
The speaker concluded by giving examples of the societal views of Sexual Harassment. She said that the complainant still feels social unacceptability. There are wrong judgments made if the complaint is posed for the second time by the same aggrieved and the perception is that the aggrieved must be in the wrong.
Usha Srinivasan
The speaker gave examples of the most common cases of harassment pertaining to the IT sector, where the harassment issues are much more rampant.

  • Physical contact
  • A demand or request for dating/partying
  • Sending sexually coloured text messages
  • Unwelcome physical leering, telling dirty jokes and movie dialogues/songs

The speaker trussed upon a social understanding that if the girl is open to drinking then they are ok with everything. For every reported case, 25 more severe cases go unreported. She spoke of the men in the life of the aggrieved women not willing to support. The perp getting away with “I didn’t mean it” usually throws the incident away from him but the trauma created, the dignity robbed, always makes a woman feel cheap. Today, even movie innuendoes are termed harmless but the actual scene is not so.
She concluded by saying that the society doesn’t understand that the woman gets scared when her personal space is invaded and it is all the more easy for the perp to escalate the level of harassment once the victim is scared. In IT and ITES sector, perps often gang up internally and cover up any loose ends pretty well. In most cases, HR is totally desensitized.
Chair Address:
Sujith Kumar
Being from IT, the speaker, having a firsthand experience of being part of the ICC, feels that the cases are more exaggerated if they originate from the IT sector. Stereotyping of women from IT is actually making them more vulnerable to attacks.
He spoke of the issue with perps being very inventive and the need for the investigators to be emotionally very strong. Investigations are normally emotionally draining and in some places, investigators are threatened. HR needs to be spineless to handle a lot of cases where the prep’s actions and words against the investigators are very aggressive.
Need for effective documentation saves the day for the victim else, the case falls flat. Attention to detail and the art of asking the right questions to bring forth the information needs to be followed. It is very important to be very strict on confidentiality and any advice sought regarding a case needs to be addressed only on the professional situation and no names should be brought forth while seeking counsel.
Today, more often than not, cases are presented where consensual acts become sore. Habitual offenders could have a psychological problem and would have to be treated properly with care.
The speaker concluded by saying that it’s only adequate education and repeated reinforcement that would bring in prevention. Contractual staff also needs to be included in this sensitization and the training also needs to happen in the vernacular.
Session IV : Creating Safe, secure and best places to work for women
Panel Members:
Dr. PVR Murthy – Executive Search Recruitment Consultants
Senthil Kumar P – Vice President – Manufacturing, Ford India
Mrs. Chitra Shyamsundar – AGM –Diversity, HCL Technologies
Chair Address:
Dr. PVR Murthy
The speaker reinforced the need for such an Act and the reasons why we still continue to face issues dealing with Sexual Harassment.

  • Societal psychological problems
  • Unfulfilled personal desires
  • Perps not sensitive to the impact on the victim
  • Power dynamics/ positional power
  • Vulnerability to hero worship

The speaker concluded his introduction by giving ample examples of the cases that has come to the limelight and how the society reacted to each.
Senthil Kumar P
The speaker gave a complete overview of how Ford has set up their business practices and how the issue of Compliance has been dealt with. The following points were presented as best practices in the industry.
Subtle changes in the following practices bringing about the necessary change in behavior:

  • Environment and atmosphere
  • Engagement of the work force
  • Ensuring the right control at the right time.

The speaker concluded by saying that the POS – people operating systems of Ford to be a Best in Class business practice that has helped them to build an atmosphere of equality in the organization.
Chitra Shyamsundar
The speaker started her session by commenting that with women taking up a 28-32% of the workforce populace, it’s time to think of safety measures to keep them coming.
The following are the needs to achieve the same:

  • Security arrangement at work
  • Valid ID for vendor workforce
  • Safe commuting
  • Cabs with GPS tracking facility
  • Pick up and drop during the odd times
  • Women not being first to be picked up or last to be dropped
  • Breath analyzer for drivers
  • Emergency response systems in all locations
  • Self defense training for women
  • Women safety guidebook

The speaker mentioned that’s it takes 30 seconds for a human mind to unfreeze in a shock and 90 secs to understand the situation and a further 90 secs to act on it. So situational training need to be given and women prepared for such situations to expect the unexpected.
The following practices are followed in HCL:

  • Informal discussion groups where women connect
  • ICC (Secure) – 11 cases solved which were considerable
  • Whistleblower forum
  • Inclusion training for all
  • Leveraging internal platforms
  • Blogs for employees
  • Access to doctors and dieticians
  • 24/7 support on psychosocial dilemmas
  • Basic health check-ups
  • Training through e-learning
  • Ascend – Program for diversity in the middle management
  • Inclusion of women in community

The speaker concluded by saying that community training is a sustainable solution for most of the problems faced away from the work place and it needs to be undertaken by corporates.
Vote of Thanks – by Dr. PVR Murthy