Women’s Safety in the Workplace

Author: Dhanashree

The following post originally appeared on this blog.

THIS COULD’VE BEEN ME

by Dhanashree Jambekar

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Pune: Woman techie murdered on Infosys campus, police arrest security guard

As I read this news, again and again, over and over, I couldn’t help but think – this could have been me.

Couple of years ago, I too was 24-25, working in a well-known, MNC, IT firm, with security guards 24 hrs. But I still didn’t feel safe.

There were 4 buildings of 4 floors in my campus. My desk was on 2nd floor in one of those buildings. And there was a security guard on each floor, working in shifts. So at a time, there would be at least 16 security guards inside the buildings with an extra bunch of them on the main gate, surveilling the visitors and vehicles. Around 3000 employees working in the general shift. And I still didn’t feel safe.

Why?

There was a male security guard on the ground floor of my building. Every time I would pass by, he would start whistling or singing songs. And so subtly that no one else would realize his change in behavior. I could understand his intentions just by one-look-in-his-eyes. Even while writing this post, I can feel that vulgar look, I feel like I was getting raped, every time I passed by. It would happen minimum 4 times a day. And it was enough for me to start hating my office, and not want to go there everyday, just to avoid that creature.

I am not a strong girl, I know. I couldn’t give him a bold look and shut his mouth. Forget about making noise and grabbing attention of others to his behavior. I didn’t even dare to tell this to anyone for long time. I wanted to tell this to my mom at least, but I didn’t. I knew what she was going to tell me, I knew she was going to tell me to act and complain and I know that is right. But I just didn’t have the courage. I don’t know if I have it now either.

There was a lady security guard on my floor. And luckily we would get along well. But I was hesitant to tell her. What if the guy is her friend? What if she didn’t believe me? What if it turned back on me? I don’t know how long I bared those poking eyes, but one day at last, I told her. I told her that guard on the ground floor looks at me weirdly and I don’t like it.

Well, thankfully, she too was against him for some reason. She said there are many complaints against him already. And she immediately made a call to her senior right in front of me and told them about my complain. She didn’t disclose my identity as I told her I was scared.

Within few days, he was removed from the office and I didn’t see him ever again.

I got lucky. But this poor girl from the news report didn’t 😦

I ask Why??

I think there is something completely wrong with people’s mentality. It is totally flawed. And it has to be uprooted. But I don’t know how. I just sit at my desk.

Frightened. Sorry. Worried.

But Why???

What do you think are the answers for these WHYs?

Can you think of a way in which this situation could have been avoided?

Do you think learning martial arts is a solution? (Are you going to give the same answer to a 4 year kid, irrespective of the gender, who gets raped?)

It is a time to bring a revolution, in our thoughts, in our education, in the way in which we treat people.

If everyone makes sure that they think right, and take responsibility for at least the other 3 or 4 members in their family to think sanely I think we will be making an effort towards a better and a safe future.

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Added by Priya:

  • How can we make workspaces safe for women?
  • What are some spheres where education/awareness need to be happening?
  • How can well-intentioned male co-workers help?
  • How much responsibility does the company have in providing women a safe work environment?  How do women demand this from their companies?
  • When there is a potentially troubling situation (such as harassment), are there avenues/protocols to report it without stigmatizing the victim?
  • Any other helpful thoughts and discussion and sharing of experiences are welcomed.
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14 thoughts on “Women’s Safety in the Workplace

  1. I feel it’s so irresponsible on the part of firms who hire them and the security agency. I stongly feel not just a background check but constant monitoring is needed. Sad that the girl didn’t report and high time for companies to support their staff, urging them to come forward and tell to supervisors.

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    • How does one do a background check in India? Are criminal records maintained with integrity? When I was growing up, I remember my dad telling us that in a certain person’s case, the record was cleaned up for a bribe. What if some manager wants to bring in his nephew as the security guard and prefers to ignore his past (criminal) behavior toward women?
      I’m not saying you are wrong – just trying to identify potential problems – of course all of this may have changed – I’m not aware of the current situation.

      Like

    • I think it is not just about doing a BGC. And it is also not just about security guards. Sometimes even the senior, educated employees, with a clear background(on paper at least) harass the other colleagues. Women do not speak about it out of fear or they have just lost all the hopes.
      Just like we are taught to respect elders, right from our childhood, or we are taught so many other things and spanked for not following them, why aren’t we taught something good?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Everybody deserves a safe work environment irrespective of gender, age or any other factor and the laws and the company must work to ensure that. There must a non shaming avenue of lodging complaints.

    In this case, I don’t know the company did try to provide security but the quality of the security guards seems bad. I do not however understand the need for guard on each level. Isn’t it enough to have them at the main gate and patrolling near the walls? Why should there be one on every level?

    Really sad that the girl didn’t report it immediately.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, you made an important point. Everybody, irrespective of gender or age deserves a safe work environment.
      Now-a-days we hear so many cases where even in school, small kids (even boys) are abused physically, especially the kg kids because they don’t understand what is right or wrong.
      Is this an expected human behavior?

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  3. I too was deeply disturbed by this incident. Spending late nights/sundays in office is such a common thing for so many of us. The fact that this happened in an MNC, considered to be one of the better/safer places to work in, was extremely troubling.

    How can we make workspaces safe for women?
    Sexual harassment needs to be more than some token seminar that HR needs to check off its list.
    Maintaining records of every employee, background checks plus investigation of any and all complaints. I also wonder whether continuous psychological evaluation of employees – in terms of racist/misogynistic/violent behaviour would be possible. I think HR checks should include these.

    What are some spheres where education/awareness need to be happening?
    Education/ awareness needs to happen at multiple levels – at schools for everyone to understand that violence/harassment is not okay. Also, there need to be more public initiatives by the government – ads on tv, talks in public etc. Women also should be educated on their rights and avenues to complain. Sexual harassment seminars are also mandatory in corporates.

    How can well-intentioned male co-workers help?
    By actively flagging and discouraging this kind of behaviour wherever they see it. By not indulging in casual sexism under the guise of “locker room” talk. By treating women colleagues with the same level of basic personal respect that they treat men with. I think men regularly condemning misogynism in public (and practicising what they preach) would have a great impact on these issues.

    How much responsibility does the company have in providing women a safe work environment?
    Companies are mandated by the law to provide a safe environment for work for all genders. (Bhanwari Devi’s case)
    So yes, they are 100% responsible.

    How do women demand this from their companies?
    By being extremely vocal. By banding together if necessary. I would suggest the formation of groups within the organization to tackle any issues of safety.

    When there is a potentially troubling situation (such as harassment), are there avenues/protocols to report it without stigmatizing the victim?
    To my knowledge, every organization having more than a certain number of people is supposed to have an Internal Complaints Committee headed by the senior most woman in the organization. They are to ensure that all complaints are confidential and that no victim is stigmatized. Not having an ICC is grounds for a lawsuit.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The education piece – they really need to take bullying/ragging in colleges seriously. That includes ragging men (juniors). These college kids become employees. They’re actively learning it’s okay to engage in criminal behavior as long as it’s become a “routine” or a “tradition”.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it’s highly important that women learn to view sexual harassment on par with all other levels of harassment. Would you be embarassed or scared to report a watchman who started verbally abusing you? who threw stones at you with no provocation? who passed snide remarks at your caste/ethnicity?
    Then why the hesitation when the attack is sexual in nature?

    Sometimes, there’s a fear that the attacker could retaliate. But what we need to remember that essentially, any sexual harasser is comparable to a bully. Silence and non-reactive behaviour will only embolden them.

    And yes, I think as a practical measure, all women should learn to defend themselves. I’m not condoning violence, nor am I trying to put the onus on women to protect themselves. But the truth is, we live in a violent world. Most men today invariably find themselves in a violent situation at some point in their life. Women are more frequently picked out as victims because of their gender. Learning self defence could help save your own life at some point of time.

    Like

    • Interesting point you make – yes sexual harassment should be viewed the same way as other forms – but it isn’t – because the woman is made to feel it’s her fault – that somehow she asked for it.
      Sometimes even women who are harassed feel this way – this is what they’ve been taught – if you are getting unwanted attention, you did something to get it.
      In the movie Pink, some blogger pointed out a scene where the jogger ogles at her and she pulls up her zipper higher. Such a telling scene.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That makes me wonder, would women find it easier to deal with sexual harassment if they identified as “human” as opposed to “women”? Society says that women are:
        a. victims of sexual harassment because they deserve it
        b. usually submissive (non submissive women are frowned upon and treated as un-ladylike)
        c. incapable of defending themselves.
        Since these ideas are routinely fed to us, via speech, TV, books and more, do we unconsciously start imbibing these messages and act in that manner? Do we shy away from assertive behaviour? Do we not think of active self defence because we’re unconsciously moulding ourselves to fit the “damsel in distress” persona?

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        • I think it’s okay to identify as women – but our human identity far overrides our gender identity – we need to keep drilling the “women are human” message to our young girls, to ourselves, our sisters and friends, to our coworkers (male and female) and to the world at large. There are 2 things I find effective when talking to sexist men and women – when I’m trying to make them see us as humans –
          – I do the ‘reverse the gender’ test (my husband being asked to dress in a dhoti so as to not “get what he deserves”)
          – I do the ‘try it on a girl child’ test (a little boy with muddy hands is inquisitive, a little girl with the same is un-pretty)

          I’ve raised my sons to see women as equals and humans (I hope) but every now and then, I remind my older son with this simple line (“Remember, any girl/woman you meet, she is someone’s child. Do not hurt her. Just like you are my child and I don’t want anyone to hurt you.)

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  5. It’s really sad how the victim gets blamed, therefore scaring future victims into not speaking up. A long time ago I was interning at a large MNC and I dealt with unnecessary texts from an older Indian male at my workplace (at 11pm at night!). The content was not bad at all, but I felt it was unnecessary to be text messaging me and offering advice at that time at night. Why couldn’t it wait for an in-person convo or an email? The phone number was in my email signature, which is how he got a hold of it, but I couldn’t understand why he was messaging me. We didn’t even work closely together, I barely knew him! It just crossed professional boundaries and I felt I had to say something.

    I ended up speaking to HR (this was outside of India) and the first girl was young and inexperienced but definitely sympathetic. She could see I was shaking as I spoke because I was clearly uncomfortable and scared to bring this up for fear of being blamed or fear of being told I’m overreacting. But something made me feel uneasy and therefore I felt I should bring it up. The next HR lady was Indian, and just wasn’t having it. She completely shut me down, said ‘So? What do you want me to do about it?’. She told me to take the rest of the day off and she would handle the situation but ‘will not tell you what I’m going to do’. WTF. I had no idea if she was going to speak to the man or not, if he would retaliate, etc. I knew what she was thinking though, easier to let the intern leave than for her to have to reprimand a manager. I just couldn’t believe a woman was dismissing me like this when I’m sure she’s faced similar situations in a male-dominated company like that. I left feeling very humiliated, alone, and scared.

    Luckily I spoke to my university counselor and they got the dean involved who then spoke to the company HR and could see she was lying about the situation, so my school pulled me out from the internship with full support. I was so thankful! It did scar me a bit, but I think if I was ever in a similar situation I would do it again, I would stand up for anything that made me uneasy, no matter if someone else thinks so or not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, the texting was totally unnecessary.
      As a rule, I never respond to texts from people who I don’t want to get on texting terms with me. And if someone persists despite my non-response, that would make me uncomfortable too.
      You did the right thing going to HR and glad to know your university backed you up.
      Now if you were working in the company, I wonder how the HR would’ve handled it.

      Like

    • This is a scarily common scenario, have had it happen to myself, and seen it happen to others too. Its good that the university stepped in, because most companies treat interns like dirt.
      Considering the current furore over the TVF and Scoopwhoop allegations, this side of the story is very important. I really wish mainstream media would start highlighting this kind of casual harassment which is taken for granted.

      Like

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