Life's Like That

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Women at work

There is really no nice way of saying this so I am just going to get to the point. Someone I know works in a office which is, to put it mildly,a terrible place. Not only are women employees subjected to unfair treatment, they are also subjected to a number of disgusting jokes, inappropriate discussions and even worse. Sometime back,this girl, A,was forced to sit in on a discussion between her immediate boss and his boss on how they do not like to read a book if it does not contain a healthy amount of sex. Both men elaborated on their literary tastes and described how much sex and what kind of sex is the most fun to read . She left the meeting at that point saying she had to go home to her son. Her boss was unhappy about this and the next day lectured her about how she needs to stay late and work late if she does not want to commit "career suicide". But hold on, the worst is yet to come.

A couple of days back, A had to stay late and went to meet the head of the organization (this is a small Indian company) for some work. In his cabin. There, the head of the organization (HOTO)laughingly opened a mail that he had received from his friend, even though A clearly said she did not want to see it. The mail contained pornographic images. The HOTO seemed to think it was a good joke and absolutely cool to show the contents of the mail with a female employee, late in the evening when she was alone in his cabin with him. I suppose this man thinks there is absolutely inappropriate or perverted in this situation. Or maybe he is unaware of the term sexual harassment. Im trying hard to give him the benefit of the doubt but I think he is a sick pervert and needs to be slapped with a lawsuit and slapped in person. Hard.

Which brings me to my point. A did nothing in both the situations I 've mentioned here. She walked away feeling disgusted and violated and angry with herself for not reacting. When we discussed it and I asked her why the hell she didnt raise a hue and cry about it, she said:
A) These are very senior people in the organization. People who own the business and people who report directly to them. Who is she going to complain to?
B) Even if she did go to the rather ineffective HR department, what were they going to do about it?
C) She has no idea how effective it would be for her to go to the police / womens cell.

How many of us have been in similar situations and chosen to stay quiet or leave the company rather than raise a hue and cry about it? I know I have. Several times. Because its not easy to take people to court in India. We dont have the resources or the time or the energy to get into long drawn legal battles. Its much easier to keep quiet about it and leave the organization. Im not sure many of us even know the process of filing a case with the womens cell...if such a thing exists. And even if one did, I'm not very sure of the outcome. Readers Digest recently did a feature on sexual harassment in India, and used the case study of a girl in the police force who was being harassed. She lodged an official complaint about it and tried to ensure that the guilty got punished. As a result, she was transferred from one god forsaken place to another, and eventually not promoted. The guilty, high ranking officials in the police force got away with a small period of suspension from services. She was victimised at every stage till she finally quit the force. Seems to me that the moral of the story if that you are going to have to quit anyways, complaining about the issue or trying to ensure you get justice is just going to prolong the process and make it extremely traumatic for you.

Multinational firms in India have policies against sexual harassment, which I'm told, are taken pretty seriously. Unfortunately, not everyone has the opportunity of working for a multinational organization. Some people, like A, work for smaller lesser known Indian firms where policies and processes are not clearly defined. Where the organization heads are powerful and waging a war against them is seemingly impossible. What do these women do? There is no effective legal method of dealing with this issue. Or is there? I don't know. Which is a bloody shame. I am pissed off with this situation with A. I have been telling her to take up the issue with the HOTO...mail him saying it was not acceptable or speak to him directly. Then again I wonder, am I saying this so easily and with so much conviction because it happened to A and not me? A case of easier said than done? Given the way the organization is I'm not surprised she feels helpless. In her place would I be able to overcome my helplessness and address the issue? What would you do? What do you suggest that A should do? And is there any effective legal steps she can take to make that asshole pay for what he did ?