Women safety has emerged as a subject of priority for most organizations today. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important to highlight a strong stance toward fostering a diverse and inclusive environment as well as address workplace harassment issues. In line with this, EY Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services along with The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) jointly hosted a session in Delhi earlier this week on women safety at the workplace. The session covered key areas of concern for women at the workplace, understanding relevant laws and the steps that can be taken by organizations to mitigate future risks.
A report titled Reflections on the state of women safety at the workplace in India was released, which highlighted that while large companies look at solving this issue in a proactive and reactive manner, under-reporting of sexual harassment cases in some sectors and smaller organizations, turned out to be a major roadblock for corporates in their endeavor to shape a safe atmosphere for women at work. Some other reasons for failure of reporting safety concerns include lack of understanding about the laws covering women safety, lack of faith in the compliant process, fear of retaliation by the harasser or organization, self-judgement and the attached social stigma post reporting a sexual harassment case.
The subject of women safety at the workplace is a broad umbrella, covering many aspects. While the Government and organizations continue to strengthen and enhance awareness levels on safety of women at a broader level, in most cases it is only when an incident of harassment takes place that it leads to multiple discussions in the society. It may have a kind of a chain effect with everyone suddenly voicing their opinion on a particular incident and what could have been done to avert it. That said, it is seen that such discussions are short-lived. Realizing the importance of such cases can enable cities become more gender sensitive, and potentially discourage harassment at the workplace. Thus, the emphasis has to be on eliminating women safety issues at a nascent stage than adopting a reactive approach to do damage control.
Some of the measures that organizations can adopt to enhance women safety in India are:
- Getting women to speak up: Encourage women to step up and speak to the relevant committee in the organization in case of any issues such as harassment and improper conduct and situation. In case of severe cases, which may be directed to the Government or any welfare committees, it is important to note that registered complaints are fast-tracked so that justice is served for the aggrieved women at a faster rate.
- Deploying technology: Organizations with internal pick-up and drop facility can create certain policies and procedures to streamline safety measures such as tracking public transport through GPS and installing CCTVs. Alternatively, women at an individual level can take advantage of the plethora of tech-based women-friendly mobile apps that have GPS facility in built in them to send alerts to family or friends in case of distress.
- Instituting gender-sensitization trainings: Corporates need to conduct gender-sensitization trainings and awareness programs for both men and women across their operations. Besides providing regular training to employees, there exists a need for robust training modules in companies that concentrate on gender discrimination. A grievance guideline could help a distressed woman in raising her concerns and solving problems.
- Mandating appropriate work practices: Organizations often tend to choose productivity over safety, which could send incorrect signals to employees, especially women. Hence, the senior management of an organization should themselves be engaged and involved in making safety a priority.
- Instituting safe working conditions: With a growing economy, working multiple shifts and late hours at the office are quite common. While men burn the midnight oil without too many security issues, the current environment may not permit women to do so. To manage this problem, an organization can permit women to look at options such as telecommuting and leaving the office on time and catching up on unfinished work at home. Other measures include employing female security guards at necessary points in offices and providing for a basic pantry inside the office so that women employees need not venture out for dinner when working late.
- Adopting a zero tolerance policy: Organizations need to successfully demonstrate zero tolerance toward any form of harassment at the workplace. It should be embedded in an organization’s various policies and principles, such as the code of conduct. Continuously monitoring and revising policies to address specific concerns could also help in mitigating harassment cases in the long run.
- Dealing with cultural matters: Today, we live in a connected world where geographical boundaries are often crossed for business and trade. This exposes each of us to different cultures and what is acceptable in one country may be completely unacceptable in another. Organizations, especially large ones, should therefore conduct sensitization trainings for expatriate employees before they start work in foreign regions.
- Engaging third-party service providers: Large organizations, especially those with a wide geographical spread, can engage specialists that can conduct trainings around appropriate behavior at the workplace.
It is important to understand that it is the fundamental right of every woman to work in a safe and secure environment. Thus, it becomes the responsibility of the entire ecosystem to ensure that there is a conducive environment generated for them. If India is going to be able to effectively contribute to global gender parity, it is imperative that such laws safeguarding women’s rights are upheld, not only in form but also in spirit. It is about time that all stakeholders involved work toward a common goal to achieve this.
Download the full report here: Reflections on the state of women safety at the workplace in India