Author: Purva Khetrapal, February 2 2018 - You got your dream job. Your male supervisor takes up the responsibility to mentor you. It starts with comments on your physical appearance. You politely smile through it. It further follows with the unwanted gaze but you continue to avoid it. He asks you out in the name of “building a healthy work relationship” but you turn down his proposal outside the workspace. You are back at work and so is the devil supervisor with a list of areas of improvement emphasizing upon your “poor interpersonal skill” that needs to improve to keep your job going!

 

This is exactly how, quietly, many women in the world face an uphill battle at the workplace. A battle against sexual harassment. The numbers are staggering. Every day, thousands of women are sexually harassed in India and globally at their workplace. As high as 38% of women face sexual harassment at workplace, the Indian National Bar Association survey result has reported. According to the same survey report, 70% women said that they did not report sexual harassment by their superiors because they feared adverse repercussions and negative consequences.

 

It’s frightening to see that in a world of growing global opportunities, the risk of facing sexual harassment by one’s supervisor or a colleague is increasingly becoming an everyday reality.

 

Calling a colleague “sexy” in the middle of a work conversation (because those are not the kind of conversations we expect to happen in the professional space) qualifies for unwarranted sexual attention that deserves to be treated rather than ignored. I fail to understand what in the world deprives the people in power from understanding that an employee in the office cannot be motivated with comments about their physical appearance but surely with the praise about her work performance, project strategies, creative energy and much more.

 

Last year a self-proclaimed heterosexual, urbane male, sitting at the top of a premium content agency, shouldn't have got away with sexual harassment by trivializing the issue in the name of complimenting the employee `sexy’! This fever of harassing women in the garb of pretending cool and casual should not be let viral and needs to be addressed with a strategic communication with a focus on driving a social and behaviour change. Any woman can be a victim of this internalized sexism or sexual harassment but more often than not women decide to keep mum about it fearing the consequences that will follow. They choose to feel uncomfortable and unsafe because they don’t want to be labeled humorless, intolerant to “healthy humor”, or maybe a liar, which might further break their confidence.

 

Though the Supreme Court prescribes the employers to create a safe working environment by implementing the Vishakha guidelines, how many women feel it’s safe to approach the committee to report the issue? If a woman faces sexual harassment at workplace, do we as a society give them a safe space to report it or even talk about it?

Yes, the world is gradually making a headway into creating equal opportunities both for men and women, however, the irony is it’s the same world that perpetuates the women to push such issues under the carpet because “you don’t make a fuss about small things, after all, nothing has happened yet!” This is a problematic attitude that must be challenged using communication strategically for influencing a change in the social behaviour of society if we really want our women to thrive, rather than merely survive!

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