Mumbai, December 03: The recent spate of headlines related to sexual harassment at the workplace brings to fore several issues that the human resources (HR) department is plagued with, more so in the small and medium enterprises (SME) space where this task is usually shared by the senior management.
While it is true that the whole of Corporate India has a lot to do vis-a-vis sensitizing employees to issues related to gender equality, the problem becomes compounded when companies in the SME space usually function without proper focus on people and process management.
Typically, the role of HR in the SME space is often limited to recruitment, managing payrolls for the finance department to hand out salaries, organize annual get-togethers etc. Experts hold the view that for good people relations to develop in these enterprises, there first needs to be sensitizing of the senior management (read business owners).
The spate of allegations of sexual impropriety against the likes of Tarun Tejpal, Phaneesh Murthy (a second time), David Davidar and Gopal Kanda has brought the matter into sharp focus thus highlighting that most Indian workplaces are ill-equipped to handle such instances.
While the Lawmakers have enacted necessary regulations and the courts have clamped down on offenders, the fact still remains that most companies in India are still not compliant with the provisions of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redress) Act of 2013.
The law, which was first mooted way back in 2005, came into force only in April this year following previous such incidents that grabbed the headlines. Per the new Act, all organizations need to compulsorily sensitize their staff to sexual harassment issues via seminars and workshops.
Even the country's Supreme Court has done its bit by issuing guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment. Known as the 'Vishaka Guidelines' due to the fact that these came into being as part of a judgment delivered on a case filed by a women's rights group called Vishakha.
What is critical is that despite the law being in place and the government of the day doing its bit, India continues to languish in the bottom half of an ILO (International Labor Organization) list that ranks it 11th from below among 131 countries that sees evolved participation of women in the workforce.
Recent surveys have indicated that women prefer not to speak up about sexual harassment at workplace due to either ignorance of their rights or fear of losing their jobs. This is more so in the MSME sector where even the salaries paid to women and men sometimes differ.
While several MSMEs set up ad-hoc committees within their organizations to deal with sexual harassment cases prior to the enactment of the law, it remains ot be seen how many of them now graduate to having a full-fledged committee with the HR managing all aspects of the legal provisions to ensure that the workplace is equal and gender sensitive.
Till such time, it would be imperative for owners of such establishments to take complete ownership of ensuring that women feel safe at work.