INDIA INC has been shy to take a public stand on the ongoing debate around rape, women workers and gender equality. Laws are in place, but self-regulation is not. There is tremendous oversight in how male workers behave with female colleagues. There is little realisation that what managements “let pass” can become reasons enough for emboldening people at the wrong juncture.
“India Inc doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” says Vinita Bali, MD of biscuit and food company Britannia. “We shouldn’t just pay lip service to gender equality, but also follow up on action and behaviour.”
Assocham’s survey earlier this week showed that BPO companies have been affected to the extent of 40 percent. The companies noted that one in three women employees has either reduced working hours after sunset or quit jobs after the horrendous rape, according to the survey. Companies need to go beyond stepping up security every time a rape case makes headlines. The problems are deep-rooted and a change in the management’s approach alone can instill respect among colleagues.
One female worker explains how traditional family-run businesses have not been fast enough in updating themselves to the needs of modern women in their offices. Most don’t have alternative means of communication for women to express and share their workplace challenges. Worse still, many in the organisation don’t feel the need to penalise or reprimand anyone in internal sexual harassment cases. To an extent, there is more communication in new knowledge economy sectors such as biosciences, IT and BPOs, where nearly half of the workforce are women.
Gender issues are not a corporate social responsibility activity but a primary agenda for CEOS, says Pramod Bhasin, vice-chairman of GenPact India. “Men must redefine for themselves what’s harassment, what’s a crime and what’s uncivilised. This matter is beyond law. If a manager is being accused of even being ‘persistent’ about his attention, he should be sacked,” he says.
“India is a large country with mindsets ranging from medieval times to tomorrow,” says former Idea Cellular boss Sanjiv Aga. “Much as I may dislike the articulations of Asaram Bapu or Abu Azmi, I’m neither surprised nor alarmed.” Aga believes it is law in the short term that will determine a solution. “Societal change takes generations. What is of essence is the competence of the criminal justice system, which is in the pits. We should focus on this issue. It speaks poorly of our leaders that they go to any length to justify criminals occupying pride of place.”