Riddhi had taken charge as the senior Human Resource Manager of the Company a year ago. She had been entrusted with the task of revamping the redressal mechanism for employee grievances of varied nature. Though she had been told to revamp the redressal mechanism, she had worked at establishing a fresh process altogether as the existing mechanism had been dismal and most of it had been only on paper. She noticed that a disciplinary committee existed and was quite active and going through their records noticed that the punishment handed out to the errant employees who were mostly junior or mid-level was quite harsh, unfortunately, there was no redressal mechanism to address the complaints the employees had against their senior managers or immediate leads. This had prompted Riddhi to set up the whistleblowers committee, which encouraged distressed employees to anonymously raise complaints against their seniors or any irregularity in the organisation. This move had been met with harshness and resistance from the senior management, with the CEO himself questioning the necessity for the same. It had taken Riddhi immense effort and after several heated exchanges with various members of the senior management, the committee had come into existence. Its implementation and effective functioning were a challenge that Riddhi was still navigating. But she felt content that at least half the battle had been won, for when it came to her next initiative, it had not shaped up as Riddhi had planned.
Riddhi had realised in the process of implementing her assignment in hand that the Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace (POSH) guidelines mandated by The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition & Redressal) Act 2013 had never been notified clearly in the Company. While Riddhi had taken it up as a priority work to formulate the guidelines and have it notified at the earliest, she had aimed at formulating a gender-neutral guideline, but senior leadership team and more specifically the CEO did not seem to agree with her. “Isn’t the legislation itself called prevention of sexual harassment of women at the workplace, then why are you so hell-bent on changing the entire narrative” he had questioned her. The internal committee formulated for the purpose was made to undergo training with a certified POSH trainer. But no amount of planning had prepared them for the case in hand. As Riddhi picked up her files and rose to leave for the meeting, she wished Mr Vardhan, the CEO had agreed to her suggestion all those months back, the situation in hand would have been a little less messy.
Riddhi walked into the conference room with mixed feeling quite lost in her thoughts, “Hello Ms Khanna, you seem to be having a busy day?” the sarcastic comment snapped Riddhi out of her thoughts. She looked ahead and realised that the CEO Mr Vardhan and the Vice President Marketing Mr Bansal were already seated at their place and the sarcastic remark had come from Mr Bansal. Looking at the clock on the wall opposite her Riddhi understood why the necessity for the comment had occurred. The meeting was scheduled to begin at 2.30 P.M and it was 2.40 P.M now and it was one of those unfortunate days when Mr Banal had made it on time and Riddhi had failed to. “Sorry gentlemen, I was getting all the material for this meeting together and ended up taking a little longer time than usual,” Riddhi muttered an apology to both the men in the room as she took her place at the table.
“Hopefully all this preparation from your end will bring some results. I hope to reach closure over this issue today” Mr Vardhan gave a stern response.
“I see no point why we have even been wasting all these weeks over this issue, frankly speaking, I do not even see the possibility of it being genuine.” This was Mr Bansal, Riddhi was not surprised at his response, this man had been dismissive about the issue from the start.
“Mr Vardhan, I can assure you I am prepared about the points I intend to put forth and if I am given a serious hearing, we can conclude today,” Riddhi responded looking at Mr Bansal.
“Ms Kapoor, don’t take things so personally, frankly, this issue is difficult to believe for any normal mortal.” Mr Bansal followed his response with his annoying smirk.
“What is unbelievable here? There have been sexual harassment allegations levelled by one employee against another. While I do not ask you to accept the allegations right at the outset, your dismissive attitude from the start is anything but right.” Riddhi could not old her annoyance any longer.
“We are here for a final discussion and the aim is to close the issue, so can we behave professionally and stop bickering” Mr Vardhan’s stern warning was an indicator that they should get to business.
“Gentlemen as you all know; the agenda of today’s meeting is to discuss the findings of the Disciplinary Committee on the allegations of sexual harassment levelled by Mr Alekh Tandon, Senior Executive Marketing against Ms Srinidhi Singh, Senior Manager Marketing. Mr Tandon has specified in his complaint that Ms Singh is his reporting senior and he says he has not been comfortable with her behaviour towards him since the time started working with her. He has mentioned several incidents where he specifies her style of interacting with him and her body language made him uncomfortable. He has also mentioned that Ms Singh made him stay after hours and called him on weekends to the office when his presence was not required and on more than one occasion tried to get intimate with him, against his wish. He states that he was threatened by Ms Singh of dire consequences if he refused to accept her offer of physical intimacy. These threats were particularly issued before and during the industrial expo which he attended with Ms Singh in November. Mr. Tandon, further alleges that after their return from the expo, Ms Singh has been harassing him mentally and is attempting to sabotage his career because he refused to accept her overtures.” Riddhi summarised the issue at hand.
“The tall tales that people come up with to hide their incompetence. Srinidhi was not pleased with his performance and he had been warned several times as well. She spoke to me about him, she was quite upset that she has had to rate someone this low, but if he did not buck up his performance whose fault is it? I wish you had talked about this side of the story as well, a review should be fair on both the parties, you can’t simply side with the complainant.” Mr Bansal was grabbed the opportunity instantly to question the veracity of the complaint.
“Mr Bansal, you seem to be eager to move ahead with the meeting, you finished half of my job too, before I could summarise Ms Singh’s response to the complaint, you summarised it yourself and conveniently concluded as well. But I see the need to keep this meeting productive, so I shall not ponder further on your conclusion and move ahead with the disciplinary committee’s report and the evidence at hand pertaining to the issue.” Riddhi’s curt reply seemed to have quietened Mr Bansal at least for the time being.
Riddhi continued “As you are aware that the disciplinary committee has been looking into the case as it does not qualify under the organisation’s POSH norms our internal committee constituted to look into complaints of sexual harassment is not eligible to look into the same. The disciplinary committee has looked into the allegations levelled by Mr Tandon and also the counter-allegations levelled by Ms Singh in her response to the complaint. While we do not have access to the conversations between Ms Singh and Mr Tandon which he states were filled with uncomfortable double entendre, but what we do have with us are snapshots of the messages sent by Ms Singh to Mr Tandon which clearly are not professional.”
“Ms Kapoor, inviting a colleague for a drink and offering to take him out for dinner cannot be construed as unprofessional. Being a woman, I did not expect you to look at another woman with such a judgemental lens.” Mr Bansal interrupted Riddhi before she could conclude her report. “He has a point, the concluding has to be fair, we cannot afford to be judgemental.” This was Mr Vardhan.
“The message sent out on a Friday night by Ms Singh says “let’s have fun over the weekend, keep the evening free for me tomorrow.” Gentlemen, please tell me how is this message appropriate? Would you be ok receiving such a message from your senior manager? I am all for team bonding and taking your subordinates on dinner to appreciate good work, but I am sure this isn’t how an invite would be sent in such a case. Hasn’t Ms Singh herself said Mr Tandon’s performance was dismal in the last quarter and this particular message I just read out was sent during the very same period, so I do not see any scope for appreciation. Before you tell me, a good leader would make attempts at knowing their subordinate’s troubles to motivate them more effectively to improve and Ms Singh wanted to invite Mr Tandon for a dinner to have a one-on-one conversation with him, to know why his performance was faltering, but even in such a case this is not how the invite would have been sent.” Riddhi knew she sounded agitated, but she couldn’t help being annoyed at the fact that these men were eager to conclude, all because they believed their pre-conceived notions more than the facts presented before them.
“Ms Kapoor, when you work with a colleague day in day out for months, we assume them to be friends and tend to talk to them a little informally, why are you making a mountain out of a molehill. Frankly, why should a man feel harassed about receiving attention from a woman? It’s all a ploy to make us retract his low rating and save his job without putting in any actual effort.” For a moment Riddhi looked on in disbelief at Mr Bansal’s statements.
“Mr Vardhan, you do not find this statement by Mr Bansal judgemental? Riddhi paused for a moment to allow the CEO to respond, but he chose not to say anything, so she continued. “Since you have chosen not to respond, I will refrain from making assumptions about your opinion. But what Mr Bansal just said was offensive. Trivialising and equating assault with female attention and generalising every man as a pervert is demeaning to the complainant in the present case and men in general. Strangely this doesn’t seem judgemental to anybody. But after Mr Bansal has raised this issue, I feel the dire need to ask this question, this particular case is being processed by you differently only because the gender roles are reversed here?”
“Ms Kapoor, I will be honest, the present case has been difficult for me to accept and understand. I have not come across cases where a man has claimed to be sexually harassed by a woman, let alone the fact of it happening. Women are just not created that way, isn’t that the reason why the POSH legislation has been made keeping the woman’s perspective in mind. But I haven’t been dismissive of the present case, in fact as an organisation, we have offered the best possible review and redressal to the complaint that could be possible. But I am sorry despite all the supposed possibilities that you would want us to believe, I cannot agree that a man would feel unsafe, threatened or sexually harassed by a woman. Frankly, men are not wired to feel threatened by female attention.” Mr Vardhan’s response left Riddhi shocked.
“Thank you, Mr Vardhan, from your opinion it is evident without a doubt that you and Mr Bansal are completely in sync. At the risk of sounding offensive, I can clearly say that you repeated Mr Bansal’s words albeit in a polished manner. I am sorry to say I have never come across such prejudiced opinions before. But should I be shocked? Well, the legislation has been conceived from a woman’s perspective, as they are at higher but that does not mean the possibility of a man being at the receiving end is entirely ruled out. Mr Vardhan let me clarify this, women are as human as men, so yes, they are also capable of the vile, nastiness, perversion and everything that you equate solely to men. Unwanted attention, forced attention, uncomfortable conversation all of this feel threatening to anyone subject to it, irrespective of the gender. The message which Mr Bansal has been terming as a friendly gesture, may I ask him would he be sending such a message to his female colleague? Would he be entirely comfortable receiving such a message from a female colleague out of the blue? So why is it so difficult to accept the reality in the present case? But victim shaming is what has been resorted to in this organisation in the past as well. The situation is the same here, the only difference is the victim is being shamed for not enjoying the harassment and complaining about it. By now it should be clear to you why you haven’t heard of similar cases” Pausing a minute Riddhi continued “As for the poor performance which Mr Bansal has been mentioning at every instance since the start of the meeting, has anybody wondered how did somebody with a 4-point rating suddenly drop down to a 1.5 rating? In this particular case, no red flags were raised concerning the performance or a performance improvement plan discussed with the HR team in compliance with the company policy. Am sure you will have an explanation for this as well Mr Bansal?
“Ms Kapoor, being agitated is not going to bring a solution, we need to be practical and pragmatic.” Mr Vardhan quickly responded to Riddhi’s address as he saw Mr Bansal flaring up.”
“Sorry gentlemen but it has been two hours and the discussion has headed nowhere, I know what the final decision is going to be and you have arrived at it much before this meeting. My suggestion would be to scrap grievance redressal process created for employees, because, with the prejudiced vision of the management, employee welfare is just a mere word on paper here, more importantly, I want to put my time and effort to better use.” Riddhi walked out of the room with these words. She knew her words today could cost her dearly but staying silent would have cost her, her self-esteem.
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!