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Sexually harassed at work? Don’t shut up

A look at how not to misread signs of interest and avoid coming across as a creep at work space.

Published: 18th March 2017 05:21 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th March 2017 11:27 AM   |  A+A-

BENGALURU: I wonder if there are any women out there who have NOT been subjected to some form of sexual harassment at work.

I was 23, working for a production house that made commissioned content for Doordarshan - the first man to touch my breasts after a strange hand shake was a VP for news and current affairs who I was pitching to for a current affairs series - I refused to go back to him. The second time it happened to me was three years later at the hands of the worldwide head of my department. An Australian man he started stroking my thighs at an all staff dinner post a mega company conference in Hawaii. I kept away from him the entire evening, only to be caught up by him while we walked back to our hotel and then being told to come to his room. At that point I boldly stood up and said - absolutely not!

I called my boss an American lady, told her what happened, said I wanted to leave and I cannot work in an organisation like this. She profusely apologised, after a month of investigation the man in question was let go. A stroke of luck for me that it was an American company and he had done this to many women before me, the complaints were just piling up. Of course, we women need to raise our voice when it happens. But the reality is that we go through the following when it does -

■ Disbelief-  did this really just happen?
■ Denial - may be if I pretend it didn't it will go away.
■ Feeling violated and reliving that horrible touch again and again in our heads for many years (I am 44 now!)
■ Helpless, as the situation is so damn unfair !
■ Did I send out a signal that you could do that me?

With all this going through your head one needs immense amount of courage to be able to speak up and of course the trauma does not end there. If you are lucky like me to be in the second situation and the company has a decent code of ethics you have redemption that fairness prevailed. But in most cases it is a battle that leaves you bleeding and broken - as if the episode itself wasn't enough.

Quite a few intelligent people have spoken about rape - saying that we need to educate and raise our sons appropriately to really stop the heinous crime. In my opinion in this case as well an organisation needs to educate it's employees as soon as they join as part of the office rules and it’s culture. Both men and women should be made to either be taken through a presentation or a short movie on sexual code of conduct - stating the rules rather than do's and don’ts. (I truly believe when ones senses stop prevailing their actions are more likely to be of the known rather than unknown – irrespective of right or wrong). There should be a mandatory refresher every month. And here is what this short and relevant presentation should look like –
Sexual Code of Conduct
■ Respect each other
■ Do not violate each others physical space
■ Report immediately without fear if you feel violated in anyway - if you felt that way it really happened. Even if it’s a senior or a client
■ Make it clear that organisation treats all genders equally (hahahaha – but why not!)
■ I’d even add here that “the organisation is one of the safest places to work at because each employee contributes to keeping it that way by being responsible to uphold these values.” An appeal to their morals and value system works for most normal people.
I think it should be short and focused – but please add to it if you think there is something else that will help.  The next step is to push organisations to adopt this – prevention is always better than bitter pills and in this case no bitter pills exist that can make it better.
(The writer is an expert on relationships and co-founder of www.floh.in, a curated network that connects singles in real life.)

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