Practitioners Perspectives // February 02,2023

Insights on how Culture, Compliance and Correction influence the way sexual harassment is dealt with in the workplace

Featuring: Viji Hari , Co-Founder, CEO, Kelp HR & POSH Consultant
Curator: Bhuvana Rajaram


Viji Hari Co-Founder, CEO, Kelp HR & POSH Consultant
Curator: Bhuvana Rajaram

Why is POSH and Sexual Awareness campaigns so much in the news these days?

Sexual Harassment has always been there; it is certainly not a new phenomenon. Few key trends that have turned the spotlight on it are:

  • The shocking Nirbhaya rape episode that shook the entire country (India)
  • The rapid advancement in technology and communication tools
  • The presence of media everywhere tracking and reporting such issues

Post the Nirbhaya case, and the wide media coverage it received and how people across the nation was demanding action and punishment led corporates to wake up to this. The Vishaka Guideline of 1997 clearly says that every woman at a workplace has the right to safety. This was superseded by Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2013. This Act is a turning point in the Indian history of women, because it has empowered organizations to take law into their hands and provide redressal to women harassed at workplace.

How much are corporates empowered in the gender sensitization space?

No longer do corporates have to visit a police station, the ‘power of attorney” lies with themselves to investigate, provide remedy and punishment immediately. The Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act, 2013 has made access to justice for women in corporates far easier than in it used to be. And today, organizations must comply with this Act and set up Governance Councils to investigate Sexual Harassment issues.

How can corporate leaders make a difference in this space?

They are the only ones who can make a tremendous impact in this space.

And frankly many business leaders we have come across have sent out a message for zero tolerance when it comes to women harassment.

I would like to cite an example of an organization which had reported no case of sexual harassment. We were surprised but left it at that, however a while later, we started receiving complaints far too much.  On investigation we found that there was a change in management and a new Zonal Manager had a townhall meeting during which he emphasized on protecting women and urged any woman going through unnecessary harassment to speak up immediately. As a result, women found their confidence and courage to report issues.

This is the kind of leadership drive that needs to sweep the organization to bring about safety and welfare for women.


There are three Cs to making sexual harassment a non-issue: Culture, Compliance, and Correction”

How can organizations make this a non-issue?

There are three Cs to it, Culture, Compliance and Correction. The culture of an organization must have enough prominence for women and their safety. The message from the top should go out that there is zero tolerance to any deviation to this. They should promote a culture that raises awareness on these topics. Compliance to the Act of 2013 is vital and enough corrective action should be set up immediately to address such issues.

Where do organizations stand in the gender sensitization space?

Organizations are becoming aware of this more and more. And large corporates are more than willing to implement this within their organizations. And in terms of reporting, Infosys is one of the largest companies to come forward without hesitation to report the total number of sexual harassment cases.

But the fact remains that 3-5% of women across organizations remain victims.

And do you know what is the most often reported sexual harassment act in a corporate? Staring. Staring at women’s body.

But tell us, it’s not only women who are victims right? There are men also!

Agree, sexual harassment is not limited to only women being victims.

There are other dimensions such as men being victims, women harassed by women and likewise men being harassed by men. But the 2013 Act only prevents sexual harassment against women. In fact in June 2019, we did a random corporate survey of 2200 employees from across corporate India, we gathered that out of 80 total victims there were 12 men and 68 women. And less than 50% among these 80 victims have not reported this to their HR because of the fear of losing their jobs or lack of evidence. Fact remains that policies must become more gender neutral. Also, employers must provide trust and encourage victims to speak up without fear.

How is inclusivity part of the POSH purview?

Yes, we work with organizations to protect all types of people from body shaming and any other types of victimization. From an organization perspective the more we are tolerant towards LGBTQIA the more progressive and inclusive we become. And that is the future.

  • Lesbian
  • Gay
  • Bisexual
  • Transgender
  • Queer
  • Intersex
  • Asexual

How do you think is the healing process happening with women victims?

Women should heal right after and put it behind them and start moving in a positive direction. The society and family support are key, and they should not be further destroyed by victim shaming/blaming.

Importantly, victims should not blame themselves and speak about it openly and fight for their rights. In this context I applaud #METOO as it needs tremendous courage to speak up. Women should emerge strong and if moving out of the organization helps, they must go for it, but report before you leave. As there could be other victims like you who could be suffering in silence.

How are the millennials reacting to this?

Millennials are sometimes far more lenient and more outspoken. They give in easily and harassers take advantage of the same. They think these are easy ways to move up the ladder and crave for corporate favours. Sometimes, they also seek attention as when we investigate several millennial related cases, we have found misrepresented facts and the real scenario is largely different from the problem reported. At the same time, they don’t hesitate to speak up. 

What are the best books to read up in this space?

In Diversity space, Books that I would recommend are Own It by Aparna Jain and of course Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. In Preventing Sexual Harassment, I would recommend my own book BCC: Behind Closed cubicles, a collection of real life short stories.

What is your motivation to take up this cause?

Having had a long IT career, I have travelled much and have been exposed to different cultures and people. And I realized that women being victimized is a common incident everywhere. And even while in the corporate I have played the buddy for victims, and over a period I grew attached to the cause. So, I took the opportunity to make a difference in this space and have simplified and customized this initiative for organizations. Also, its language has been made easier to comprehend so that actions are born out of this to protect women.

What are final thoughts to working and other women?

My closing remarks would be that we live in a world of everything happening swiftly. So, women don’t have to live in guilt and remain victims forever. Either you learn to speak up to the harasser and ask them to stop their behaviour or report to the HR right way. There is no compromise in this. And organisations and managers play a crucial role in setting the right examples.

All this said, it’s not a doom and gloom scenario. And with so much awareness and communication on sexual harassment, corporates are serious about preventing it. And let’s be assured that our women workforce is being protected.

Key Takeaways from the interview:

  • Fact remains that 3-5% of women across organizations remain victims.
  • Most often reported sexual harassment act in a corporate is staring at women’s body.
  • A random corporate survey of 2200 employees across corporate India, says that out of 80 total victims there were 12 men and 68 women.
  • There are three Cs to making sexual harassment a non-issue: Culture, Compliance and Correction


Viji Hari

Co-Founder, CEO, Kelp HR & POSH Consultant

Global Coaching Lab’s Thought Leadership initiative endeavours to bring to you different perspectives that will help you become the best leaders and manage your teams more efficiently. In this context, paying enough attention to diversity and inclusion we bring to you insights on how you can create a workplace that is safe for women and promotes a healthy coexistence of men and women employees.

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