Why a safe workplace for women is a myth and will remain so!

Almost 70% women do not report sexual harassment at work. Understandably so, because some of these behaviours seem to be harmless and are deemed normal, and most women don't know how to deal with it even if it makes us uncomfortable.

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sexual harassment at workplace
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Headlines about sexual harassment at workplace are in the limelight lately. Starting from alleged sexual harassment charges on TVF’s Arunabh Kumar or Uber’s horrendous work culture. But, sexual harassment in the workplace is not new and is rampant everywhere.

A safe workplace for women is a myth and going to remain so.

And here is why, this grim reality is not changing anytime soon.

Most of the cases of sexual harassment at workplace go unreported

Almost 70% women do not report sexual harassment at work. Understandably so, because some of these behaviours seem to be harmless and are deemed normal. And, most women don’t know how to deal with it even if it makes us uncomfortable.

A recent campaign done by David Schimmer (Ross from Friends) outlays what sexual harassment looks like at workplace and it might not always be as blatant as asking someone for sexual favours or passing lewd comments. Have a look here

The unwanted attention someone showers at you, a colleague stopping by your desk all the time for a small conversation ( which you clearly don’t want to have), someone asking you for a coffee break all the time in the company canteen specially when you are alone, you being called ‘baby’ ‘ sweety’, clients calling a female sales representative for a meeting because they are ‘female’, those uncomfortable stares. There are numerous ramifications of harassment at workplace, it is not always “physical” or clearly “verbal”.

In such cases what do you report? Who do you report to?

The HR of your company works for the company, and they will try their best to keep the reputation of the organisation intact. That is the brutal truth as accepted and quoted by a veteran HR herself. 

“And as an employee, what do you do if you’re being sexually harassed at work? The sad answer is that despite what your work orientation may tell you, going to HR is by no means a surefire way to stop this kind of behavior.”[sic]

Sexual harassment at workplace is normalised 

And this is not going to change because as a culture a “little flirting” has been normalised. He has just asked you out for coffee you know you got to network. Your boss calls you sweety, he is a friendly boss. So on and so forth.

But the problem is graver than you think because as a society we have been told if you step out into the world this is bound to happen, and we should learn to ‘deal with it’. So you see this is not a workplace problem. This is a cultural issue of our society. Because people you deal with in workplace will not magically change their behaviour or start believing that a certain behaviour is NOT OK because it’s an office. And, this cultural shift is going to take I don’t know how many years or decades or centuries and celebrating “women’s day” once a year is not going to solve the issue.

And, we cannot wait for a ‘godmother’ to wave her magic wand and change the society. So, the only way out is we should take charge.

The only way ahead – take charge!

Make your boundaries known:

Now, a colleague you are ‘comfortable’ with asking you out for a coffee or stopping by your desk to have conversations is normal but the operational phrase here being someone ‘you are comfortable with’. Just because you are friendly with one does not means you would want to be friendly with everyone. And, as cliched it may sound ‘it is your choice’

So ladies, please don’t ‘deal with it’ because it’s bound to happen, CALL IT OUT.

State it loud and clear- You are in a professional environment and would like to be treated professionally:

You don’t like to be called ‘sweety’ make it known. You don’t like a certain colleague’s unwanted attention or small talks ‘tell them so’ you don’t like someone commenting how pretty you are every day ‘say so’, you know the ‘business meetings’ mean no business, don’t take them. Be firm, be clear. Anything that is making you ‘uncomfortable’ is NOT OK.

Document everything:

If you are dealing with a sexual predator (colleague, boss whoever) make sure all your conversations are documented. If you receive an unwanted text, mail, message etc. make sure you don’t delete it out of frustration but keep a copy of it. Just in case.

Stop being polite: listen to your gut feelings

Sometimes just because we want to be polite (This implies to men and women both) we deal with a lot of crap. But if your gut feeling says a particular colleague has malicious intentions, listen to it and maintain a safe distance.

So, whether cultural change happens today, tomorrow or decades later, don’t wait for the world, in general, to become safer for women. Sexual harassment is not right anywhere and you should not deal with it just because you have chosen to step out in the world. You ought to stand up for yourself.

So ladies, take charge, be vocal, be bold.

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Surabhi Ghosh Chatterjee
Surabhi has spent her childhood in Himachal and further stayed in Chhattisgarh, Pune, Delhi and now in Bangalore. Having stayed in different part of the country enables her to understand and appreciate the cultural difference of all these states. She tries to use the beauty of all these cultures in her writings. At present She is working as a marketing communication professional. She has worked in advertising for some years